Nonbelievers Experience an American Resurgence

January 26, 2007

Author: David E. Anderson

Source: The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life/Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

The United States, the polls repeatedly show, is a religious country, with 90 percent of Americans saying they believe in God or a supreme being and more than 40 percent saying they attend religious services each week.

But there is another group, much smaller and less often heard from: unbelievers. In recent months, in books and on a sold-out off-Broadway stage, these religious skeptics have been raising their voices and asking to be heard.

In the one-woman off-Broadway show "Letting Go of God," for example, Julia Sweeney, the former "Saturday Night Live" star, tells the audience: "This Old Testament God makes the grizzliest test to people's loyalty. Like when he asks Abraham to murder his son Isaac -- as a kid we were taught to admire it. I caught my breath reading it.

"What kind of sadistic test of loyalty is that, to ask someone to kill his or her own child -- and isn't the proper answer, `No'?"

She is just as hard on the New Testament.

"It was really hard to stay on Jesus' side when he started saying really aggressive, just hateful things," she says. "In Matthew he says, `I come not to bring peace but a sword."'