There is No God: Atheists in America Hardcover – 16 Apr 2013
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David Williamson and George Yancey ably integrate the sociology of religion with political sociology in an insightful analysis of contemporary atheist Americans, a largely unknown and under researched minority. The authors show how, for many atheists, their non-theistic world view meshes with a strong commitment to political progressivism that is very much a mirror image of Religious Right's theocratic conservatism.--Barry A. Kosmin, director, Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, Trinity College
David A. Williamson and George Yancey ably integrate the sociology of religion with political sociology in an insightful analysis of contemporary atheist Americans, a largely unknown and under researched minority. The authors show how, for many atheists, their non-theistic world view meshes with a strong commitment to political progressivism that is very much a mirror image of Religious Right's theocratic conservatism.--Barry A. Kosmin, director, Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, Trinity College
This study puts into context the historical conditions and the sociopolitical realities that have set the stage for the evolution of one of the most understudied and yet revealing minority groups in the contemporary United States. For an introduction and sociological picture of some of the most critical issues surrounding American atheists, begin here.--Jesse M. Smith, University of Colorado at Boulder
David A. Williamson and George. Yancey ably integrate the sociology of religion with political sociology in an insightful analysis of contemporary atheist Americans, a largely unknown and under-researched minority.--Barry A. Kosmin, director, Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture, Trinity College
Religious people assume that the growing atheist minority in America lacks a sense of morality. There is No God gives voice to committed atheists who have a strong moral compass, pointing not toward God but in the direction of rationality, and humanism. Williamson and Yancey describe the long history of atheists delight in subjecting theism to the test of science and logic, from Diagoras to Diderot to Dawkins. They predict the societal struggle between atheists and theists will be resolved by those between the two extremes.--Ariela Keysar, co-principal investigator, American Religious Identification Survey, Trinity College, Hartford"
Williamson and Yancey have successfully walked the fine line between the two extremes of the religious-atheism divide. The authors messages are honest, thoughtful, and respectful of the people and points of view along the continuum from those with absolute god belief, absolute no-god belief, and variations in between.--Raymond F. Paloutzian, Ph.D., Co-Editor, Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2nd ed."
About the Author
David A. Williamson is associate professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. George Yancey is professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including Just Don't Marry: Interracial Dating, Marriage, and Parenting and One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches.
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The sociological study in the book was done from three sources: a survey of 1,451 atheists, face-to-face interviews of 26 atheists from the Midwest and 25 atheists from the South, and primary literature like atheist newspapers and newsletters. The researchers looked into organizations that specifically were against political conservatives in order to find many of the subjects for the study. As such, the study brings about some very interesting empirical trends since it focuses on those who willfully self-identify as "atheists" and proud to self-identify as such. Some people "lack belief in gods", but out of that broad demographic, not all of them choose to label themselves as "atheists" for many reasons. The atheists in the book not only self-label themselves as atheists, they are vocal about it and go further by treating atheism as being more than merely "lacking belief in gods" by incorporating values, philosophies, goals, communities, practices in it. Atheism as an alternative belief system may sound odd to some, but the fact that some atheists treat it as such cannot be denied. Clearly the very existence of atheist organizations and groups should be enough to make one notice that atheism is not always just an opinion or concept, but is an actual social force and a real phenomenon of people who have more in mind about what it means to be an atheist and what it means to promote atheism to the public at large.
One of the goals of the book was to find atheists who had very strong convictions on their own atheism and so when the authors define atheism as "the affirmative belief that there is no God (usually no supernatural as well)" they are not necessarily talking about all atheists or all forms of atheism. Throughout the text the authors do mention that this study is just about a smaller demographic of atheism. Indeed those who are really convinced of their atheism, have strong political views, and make atheism into an activism just like other belief systems/religions have done; are noticeable, but probably are not representative of the majority of atheists that are out there. After all, not all atheists are this intense in their convictions and beliefs, nor do all atheists care for such things so the limits of the study should be kept in mind. Still, it is interesting to see how some atheists try to provide positive justifications/reasons for their atheism, socially manifest and publicly grow their atheism, rather than just treat atheism as mere "lack of belief in gods" and leaving it at that. The findings in this study ultimately result in blurring the lines between what is religious and what is secular. Probably because secular people and religious people are not qualitatively different and people in general are not really linear in their beliefs, belonging, and behaviors either.
The following is a list of some of the contents found in this book (this list is not exhaustive):
Ch. 1 - Understanding Atheism in the United States
Atheism in the book is defined as "the affirmative belief that there is no God (usually no supernatural as well)" (1) and Atheism in this sense is the anti-religious version; some recent writers like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker, Victor Stenger, and the like have been recently called "atheistic fundamentalists" due to their assertive messages; some atheists simply are content with their lack of belief in God, and others are more assertive in pushing their beliefs on others; "Contemporary atheism in the United States gained national attention in the 1960s through the voice of Madalyn O'Hair, the prototypical fundamentalist atheist." (2); In a Pew Forum, 5% of the US population reported to not believe in God, however, of that 5% only 24% actively self-identified as "atheist"; the books focus is on a specific demographic - only on individuals who self-identify as "atheists" and are committed to their nonbelief - as such, the book excludes individuals who label themselves "agnostic", those who don't label themselves as "atheist", and most of those who are not affiliated with religion (most of the "nones/no religion" demographic) because most, but not all, are religious or spiritual; the US ranks in 44th place in terms of the number of atheists globally with Northern and Western Europe (led by Sweden at 46-85% being atheists) and Asia (led by Vietnam with 81% being atheists); a growing number of people in the US are willing to be identified as "atheist"; though atheism merely specifies what some "do not believe in", some atheists go further than this and specify what atheists "do believe in"(i.e. Madalyn O'Hair) and the latter ones are seen as "fundamentalist atheists" by some; most of the self-identified atheists are white and relatively well educated; atheists in the US often feel marginalized, but many interviewees used the phrase "coming out" to describe the growth of their demographic; billboards with atheistic proclamations, invitations to join atheist groups, and marches espousing atheism are more common place today than in the recent past; brief history of the word "atheist" which reached the common understanding of "having no belief in deities" in the 17th century, not before; the voices and opinions of atheists today are largely shaped by the voices and opinions of religion in the forms of countering and negating religion; religion has been perceived as a form of social control and religion has been used to create alternate social dynamics (i.e. Protestant Reformation); two parallel dynamics in the West that are shared by believers and nonbelievers: moving towards individual rights and reliance of rationality; "In the sociological sense of the term, both atheists and believer activists who attempt to control public discourse can be regarded as sectarian and fundamentalist in the broadest sense of the word." (11); one find in the study is that a majority of atheists replace faith in God with faith is science and innate human goodness (humanism) and they feel liberated from many fears; both atheism and religious conservatism are fighting for some degree of control in social and moral grounds and both use political agendas to meet their needs; "A common characteristic of atheism is its criticism of religion and people who are religious, especially religious leaders." (13); Christian fundamentalism emerged in the 20th century due to the need to defend their worldview; the study in the book was done on members from organizations who were either anti-religious or advocates of strict separation of church and state in 2 parts: online survey of open ended questions and face-to-face interviews (half from Midwest and half from the Southern Bible Belt; many atheists in the study were dismissive of religion in general but were insulting to evangelical Christianity, they prefer that believers should keep their beliefs to themselves and leave everyone else alone, stop influencing politics - basically stop proselytizing the world; atheists were pretty harsh in some cases by referring to the religious as throwbacks in the evolutionary scale - "Particularly in the online survey, atheists commonly referred to those who are religious as developmentally impaired, brutish or unevolved." (15); atheists in America tend to be white, well educated, and old
Ch. 2 - A Brief History of Atheism
Atheists in Jewish history; Greek and Roman atheists; atheists in Christian history; atheism in the past 4 centuries and instances of association with other concepts; the emergence of Christian fundamentalism in the 20th century; the emergence of atheist organizations in America after the 1950s that preached affirmative belief in atheism as an alternate worldview (American Atheists, Freedom From Religion Foundation, etc)
Ch. 3 - Who are the Atheists?
Some limitations on the study, these findings may or may not be generalizable to "ordinary" atheists (most ordinary atheists are not members of polarized organizations like the ones used in this study) - "While there is evidence that the percentage of atheists in the United Slates is growing, this is still a small group. In a report that otherwise documents the emergence of individuals without traditional religious beliefs, at least one study found that self-identified atheists only make up less than 1 percent of the individuals in the United States. The small size of this group makes it difficult to study since it becomes somewhat tricky to find enough respondents to do meaningful analysis. To conduct useful quantitative analysis of atheists, it is necessary to collect data from a large number of potential respondents. For this reason, conducting a useful quantitative investigation is not feasible. However, given the dearth of our present knowledge about atheists, there is still much work that can be done in developing a qualitative understanding of this group. Qualitative analysis can inform us about the patterns of thought that are common among atheists. Furthermore, such work can provide us with testable ideas that can be substantiated or refuted in future empirical work. Even though we cannot automatically generalize our findings to all atheists in the United States, we are still taking another important step in our understanding of this subculture."(33); one approach used to collect data was online surveys conducted on many members of organizations that specifically oppose the Christian Right because many atheists gravitate towards those kinds of organizations and, in the end, the usable sample size of atheists was 1,451 for that part of the study; another approach used to collect data was investigating primary literature from organizations dedicated to supporting atheism such as atheist newspapers and newsletters and even subscribed to two such organizations since atheists often get lots of information and perceptions on their worldview based on writings by other atheists; atheist leaders of those organizations make active attempts at attracting people to their organizations by painting their organizations, and atheists in general, in the best possible light; another approach used to collect data was face-to-face interviews with 26 atheists from the Midwest (more progressive region) and 25 atheists from the South (more conservative region) to seek any common or universal elements of atheist's beliefs irrespective of environment and also to see how if different intensities of conflict with religious groups affected their views; overall three sources were used in the study: survey, interviews, and primary literature; from the online sample - 72.6% male, 93.8% white, 48.9% over 45 years old, 40.2% had a graduate degree and from interview sample - 70.6% male, 86.3% white, 49% over 45 years old, 35.3% have a graduate degree (these demographics matched pretty well with findings from Baylor Religious Study which included that 24.2% had made more than $100,000) meaning that atheists are generally male, white, older, well educated, and occasionally wealthy - "majority group status"; "There is no denying that even with its relatively recent gains in social status, atheism is a religious belief that has minority group status." (39); their individualism, majority group status, and relative wealth may shield them from social problems others have to face and may reduce their need for seeking external help such as from religion, whom some saw it as a crutch; there is a paradox - atheists have an individualist orientation while arguing that society as a group is needed to remove marginalization; "Atheism, like other philosophies, is linked to the social interest and position of individuals who have adopted that philosophy." (42); "It is also noteworthy that atheists are fairly likely to come from nonreligious or weakly religious homes." (42); 52.9% from the online survey and 55.3% from the interviews came from nonreligious or weakly religious homes and nearly half of all the atheists claimed that they never believed in the supernatural even as small children; "However, it is fair to state that generally atheists come from a less religious tradition than non-atheists. Coming from such a tradition undoubtedly made it easier for some of them to embrace atheism since they could perceive it as a possible religious choice from a very young age." (43); for those that did have religious beliefs at some point, about one third of them had college affect their loss of faith, but "This story is not proof that higher education automatically deprives religious believers of their faith. The high number of religious individuals with college degrees provides evidence that individuals often obtain higher education without losing their faith." (43); interestingly 65.2% of the interviewees stated that they had never had doubts about their atheism, only 50% of the interviewees offered positive evidence for atheism and the other 50% contended that the evidence for atheism was the lack of evidence for the supernatural - this implies that atheism is often assumed as true a priori and many never really question atheism or do a critical assessment of atheism - "Thus, it is surprising that individuals who perceive themselves as quite open to finding the truth wherever it may lead them have so few doubts about their current belief system. Such a propensity speaks to the possibility of atheism being less of a rational system and more of an ideology that meets important social needs for individuals who embrace this belief." (45); 42.2% of the atheists stated that their conversion to atheism was influenced by reading books by atheists; "The fact that atheists are likely to grow up in families where religion is relatively unimportant indicates that social interactions do help shape the probability that someone will be an atheist. But atheists tend to trace their evolution toward atheism through reading books rather than social interactions."(45-46); atheist literature is a popular medium from where atheists tend to reinforce their beliefs among the atheist community; "Preliminary analysis of our data indicates that atheists perceive themselves as more rational than other individuals in society. This perception of rationality empowers atheists to subscribe to the idea that they have found a transcendent truth about the absence of supernatural reality." (47); "But there is no denying the confidence atheists have in their thinking about the supernatural. We will show in chapter 5 that this confidence also extends to their understanding of society and and their political orientation. But for now it is useful to look at the nature of this confidence in general. Given the fact that atheism is ultimately unprovable, a fact that our respondents recognize, why do such highly educated individuals speak with such confidence about adopting this epistemological system of thought? We need to more fully explore the extent and the source of the confidence that so many of our respondents exuded. In the next chapter we will do just that.." (47-48)
Ch. 4 - Foolishness of Religion
"Partucularism, in the context of religion, is the notion that one's particular religious belief is correct and all others are wrong." and "We did not see a lot of the type of proselytizing among atheists that evangelical Christians are known for. However, we did pick up on the notions of particularism in that atheists tend to be convinced that supernaturalism is a myth and all religious beliefs are incorrect. Even as many of them admit that they cannot prove that atheism is the only correct belief, they contend that the evidence is that there is no deity and it is foolish to believe otherwise." (49); atheists in both the survey and interview think that religion is irrational, but they do not rely on positive arguments for atheism; atheists have a hard time understanding why intelligent people have religious beliefs (one example is Ralph, raised in a "post-religious" family, in the book); college played some role on atheists who lost their faith after having one in their youth, but it was not the main or only drive for becoming an atheist; Sam's case is illuminating because he tried both the Atheist camp and Christian camp and in his extensive experiences with both he learned about the rational side of Christianity and atheist organizations so though he is an atheist today, his extensive exposure to Christianity has made him have more much more respect for religion than all other atheists in the study, however, other atheists have traumatizing experiences such as feeling mislead or deceived; "More specifically, atheists tend to see people of faith as individuals who are devoid of scientific learning and training. This allows them to state that those who do not accept the rational and scientific reality of atheism are illogical. In the last chapter we pointed out that many atheists contrast science and religion. These atheists perceive atheism akin to science and science as incompatible with religion. As a result of this perception, some atheists have a dichotomous understanding in which science and religion are polar opposites. They perceive their stance supporting atheism as support for the rational application of science. For this reason, they argue that atheism is the accurate assessment of truth or reality while religion is the assertion of fantasy." (57); because of the simplified and dichotomized understanding of science and religion, many atheists see religious folk as anti-science and nonreligious folk as pro-science; "The particularism of atheists is built on the notion that they have used logic to determine what is true and what is not. They are convinced that the evidence they have is more powerful than any evidence religious individuals can generate since their evidence is based on science and logic while religious individuals rely on myth and superstition for their evidence. This helps them to be comfortable with the idea that atheism is an accurate assessment of reality even though it cannot be proven if the same rigorous assessment that atheists apply to religious belief systems is applied to beliefs about atheism." (58-59); due to the dichotomous beliefs atheists had, all the bad things went to religion and all the good things went to atheism; "Ultimately, atheists have developed a particularism not premised on making sure that everyone find the right deity but rather making sure that everyone uses rationality to come to the same conclusion. That conclusion is the irrationality of religion and the need to minimize, if not eliminate, the effects of religion in society." (63)
Ch. 5 - Progressive Politics as a Tenet of Atheism
Religion is correlated with political conservatism and atheism is correlated with political progressiveness; there is overlap in ideologies in some instances; atheists see themselves as being just as moral, if not more moral, as religious believers; political progressiveness was almost an inherent part of the atheism of most atheists in the study; political biases and personal experiences factored into their belief in atheism; atheists think that social structure (structuralism) is an important issue while Protestants tend to believe in the individual's ability to make rational decisions to succeed in life; education issues are very important for atheists; "separation of church and state" can have a few different meanings; atheists often fear government being controlled by religious politicians; many of the atheists did not view interpersonal relationships to be a proper venue to contest religious ideas; "Atheism in America is a politicized movement. It is through these political efforts that atheists hope to make alterations to our society." (82); atheists may be just as politicized as their religious conservative counterparts
Ch. 6 - Toward an Atheist Morality
Many atheists hope to have a secular society where religion is downplayed or eliminated; some look towards Europe as a template of America's future; indoctrination of children seen as a bad thing; morality on how people should conduct their lives is not an important component of atheism, however, atheists were incredibly hostile and stigmatizing towards religious and conservative attitudes and showed high levels of intolerance by demonizing them; discusses a few of the attempts at removing religion from America (i.e. court cases against religious displays, attempts at removal of "In God We Trust", billboard campaigns on foolishness of religion); "While many atheists tend to reject personal evangelizing for atheism, they still do not mind the public presence of such billboards that they obviously hope will bring more atheists to their social movement." (96)
Ch. 7 - Atheism in the United States
Hunsberger and Altemeyer study on increase in "nones/no religion" due to political reasons rather than increase in religious skepticism mentioned; of the "nones/no religion" very few went from religion to atheism; a bit more on history of atheism; on the growth of atheism being nominal; "...we do find some expected patterns and a few non sequiturs in explaining the emergence of modern atheism - even modern atheistic fundamentalism." (109); "What we find as we study the explanations of our respondents is a rejection of religion's capacity to appeal to anything scientific. In fact, none of our respondents even mentioned that they had, in their search for truth (if they believed in such a thing), studied apologetic arguments or the defenses of religion that have been published by religious scholars. This may be because (1) they simply failed to mention it, (2) they simply chose not to explore religious alternatives and literature before obtaining an atheist identity, or (3) they simply believed apologetic arguments were not based on science and already had an overriding commitment to science as the only arbiter of ultimate truth. Virtually all atheists appeal, so it seems, to scientific, quantifiable data and not just logical statements." (111); "Whether the emphasis is on science or politic or any other area of life, it seems atheists do what is quite predictable. They support efforts, public or private, that justify their belief systems and advance society in the direction they believe it should go, which is almost without exception in the way of progress. Old and outdated way s of thinking, often entrenched in religion, are just anchors that hold us back from that progress. Conservative theists do the same with opposing goals and rationalizations." (112)
Ch. 8 - Summary and Conclusion
Many summaries, but a few stood out like: power and control are central to the conflicts between atheists and theists we see; "Technically, we would argue, religion is not typically seen by atheists as an enemy; at its very best it is seen as merely a waste of time and a drag on social progress...The individuals whose messages contemporary atheism is attempting to negate are Christian fundamentalists and traditionalists who are evangelizing, proselytizing, judging, and, of utmost importance, attempting to influence social policy and law." (107) [the same is the case for Christian fundamentalists against atheist fundamentalists and their tactics against religious freedoms for instance]; "Contemporary atheism, particularly the new, aggressive, fundamentalist atheism, is overtly anti-religious." and "The aggressive nature of contemporary atheism appears to have its roots in the fundamentalist reaction to the progressive movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the conservative social and political, actions of those who moved to the Religious Right in response to progressivism's infiltration of religion." and "In summary, our research led us to support the argument that atheism seeks to negate religion, especially religion when it attempts to control social and moral boundaries through political action." (116); Southern Bible Belt atheists (having more exposure to religious folk) tended to have less fears of theocracy than the Midwestern atheists (who had less contact with religious folk)
Overall, this book deserves a wide audience. Its pretty short, but it really does shed some excellent light on the topic.
For those interested in sociological/empirical research on diverse topics for other groups in the religious landscape, one can check out:
Varieties of Unbelief: Atheists and Agnostics in English Society, 1850-1960
Religion without God
American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (sociological research on evangelicals and fundamentalists on demographics and key characteristics)
Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media (many interesting sociological findings on many topics and demographics)
Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults
Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (sociological research on Muslims on demographics and hot topics)
The authors suggest that atheists who have made a connection between irrational individuals and religious fundamentalism do so because of their political framework in which they operate. What absolute rubbish. The fundamentalist fanatics who crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed thousands of innocent people, and it was an irrational act by true believers, who thought they were doing the work of God. One doesn't have to look too hard in history to find the deleterious effects of religion: the Crusades, Witch Trials, Spanish Inquisition, female genital mutilation. This isn't a matter of political position. Any group which esposues the murder and mutilation of thousands because they believe they are in league with the devil has all the hallmarks of insanity.
More than once the authors, who should know better, trot out the imbecilic position that atheists are comfortable with the idea that atheism is an accurate assessment of reality even though it cannot be proven. Atheism is the default position when there is insufficient evidence to support belief in a or any deity. It is not a statement about what is, but only about what is not. What's more it is impossible, except in mathematics, to prove a negative. How would one go about proving there is not now, nor has there ever been a God or gods.
The authors suggest that atheists have created a "relatively simple" calculus for understanding religious individuals. It is their opinion that atheists believe science is the best, perhaps the only way to understand reality. Fair enough, but then they go a step further and suggest that there is another way of understanding reality, namely through the religious method. And that this supernatural method of acquiring knowledge is accurate, and verifiable. If it isn't accurate and verifiable why bring it up as an alternative..? Reading tea leaves is another method of understanding reality too, but the authors don't suggest it as an alternative to epistemology. The authors further suggest that the atheists perceived a transcendent truth about the absence of the supernatural. I have news for the authors, namely that atheists don't believe in transcendental truths.
The authors enjoy using the quotations of those they interviewed to show that, when these subjects claimed they were not influenced by others in their decision to become an atheist, they were able to discover someone who was influential in their lives who was an atheist or espoused a lack of theistic belief. This is after this therefore because of this reasoning.
All in all it is a fair to poor attempt at conducting a sociological study. It would have been better if the authors had kept their personal biases at bay instead of injecting them in at every opportunity.
They should know, but I don't think they do, that there are "hard atheists" and "soft atheists." Really, all that atheism means is the non-belief in God. Not all atheists share a common "world view," as the authors seem to think. Hard atheists want to spread the word that there is no supernatural entity in the sky looking after us. Soft atheists don't believe in a personal God, but they have no missionary zeal about it. It just doesn't mean much to them, one way or the other.
And then there are agnostics, those who say they don't know if there's a God; some also believe that if there is a God, we have no way of knowing this God.
I don't think the authors go into these distinctions, but as I say, I didn't finish the book, so I could be wrong, though I did quite a bit of skimming. The meager index at the end wasn't much help, either.
What really turned me off on this work? The authors, fairly early in their "history of atheism," referred to the beliefs of classical Greeks and Romans as "pantheism," and they did this more than once, and it was obvious they were talking about the belief in "multiple gods." Well, that's simply incorrect. The Greeks and Romans, by and large, were "polytheists," believing in many gods. Pantheists see god or divinity in all things in the world, and that's what the "pan" means. It's such a simple distinction, really, but if I'm going to read a book that purports to give me an educated look at atheists and theists, and they don't even know the difference between a polytheist and a pantheist, well, I don't think I'll bother going on, and that's when I started to skim.
So, my apologies for not finishing the book, but how can they write about such things without knowing a polytheist from a pantheist? So, I feel I'm being generous in giving it 2 stars.
However, I can emphatically state that the Christian God does not exist, and neither do any of the other gods ever put forth by Man. How do I know that? Because every one of those gods has been proved to be impossible to exist by simple logic, and because there is no evidence for the existence of any one of those gods over the other. By that last statement I mean that the "proof" that someone has that their god is real is exactly the same "proof" that another person has that THEIR god is real. And so, ALL gods must therefore exist if we must conclude that the argument for god A is as sound as the argument for god B, C, D, etc.
The Christian God is the god that most Americans believe exists, and a growing number of American Christians (mostly ultra-conservative evangelical Christians) want to force our government to accept the Christian God as the supreme lawgiver. Their agenda is to change the U.S. Constitution to reflect their belief system, and then use it to make homosexuality, abortion, gay marriage, and the use of birth control illegal.
Atheists are the least trusted and most despised people in the U.S., because we are a threat to the control that evangelistic ultra-conservative Christian leaders have over their followers. Atheists do not want, and have never advocated for, the Constitution to declare all religion unlawful. Most atheists are champions of religious liberty for all Americans. Personally, I don't care what you believe or don't believe as long as a) your belief system remains personal, and b) you treat people who believe differently than you in the same fashion as your fellow believers.
When a group of people want to impose their will on another group, or when they want to ban all choices of lifestyle except for their choice, they are attempting to create an authoritarian and totalitarian society. It's a bad idea when religious people gain control of a government and create a theocracy, and it's equally bad when anti-religious people gain control of a government and prevent democracy.
If the Christian God exists, then I'll surely find out when I die. And if he wants to punish me for my non-belief, I'll certainly criticize him for doing such a poor job of proving his existence while I was living. If he's a reasonable fellow he'll give me a pass!
My point is that I have a civil right to decide whether or not to believe in the Christian God, or ANY god, or to reject them all. And so do you. And if your belief or lack of belief causes you to be a good person, who am I to change your mind?