In America, which sociologists often describe as a uniquely religious country compared with the rest of the Western world, a vast majority of people have faith. According to Pew, 86 percent of Millennials, or people aged 18-33, say they believe in God, and 94 percent of people 34 and older say the same. It’s true that a growing group say they’re “not certain” about this belief, and it’s also true thataffiliation with formal religious institutions is declining. But in terms of pure belief, self-described atheists and agnostics are a small minority, making up only six percent of the population.
The Western world in particular is probably less religious than it was 150 years ago, and the dynamics of belief and observance have certainly become more complex—the growing number of people who are unaffiliated with a specific religion is especially fascinating. But if the age of atheism started in 1882 as Watson claims, most people still haven’t caught on.
The Age of Atheists will likely stay confined to certain intellectual circles: The casual philosopher, the dogmatic non-believer, the coffee-table book collector. But insofar as its argument represents a broader pathology in contemporary conversations about belief, this book matters. Most people form their beliefs and live their lives somewhere in the middle of the so-called “culture divide” that outspoken atheists and believers shout across. The more these shouters shout, the more public discourse veers away from the subtle struggle of the average person’s attempt to be human.