Global atheism on the rise

(Photo: Reuters / Andrew Winning)The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (R) and atheist scholar Richard Dawkins pose for a photograph outside Clarendon House at Oxford University, before their debate in the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford, central England, February 23, 2012. The name of the debate is ?The Nature of Human Beings and the Question of their Ultimate Origin?

Some would say the past year has been good for the atheist.

In October 2012, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a report finding that the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans under the age of 30 had increased five percentage points in five years.

While not all of sometimes referred to as "nones" were atheists or agnostics, 33 million were, or 6 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2013 and, of course, last week, Pope Francis created a buzz when he announced that atheists, not just Catholics, had been redeemed by Christ.

It is not only in the United States, globally, atheism is on the rise.

According to a 2012 WIN/Gallup poll, a full thirteen percent of the world self-identifies as "convinced" atheists.

Meanwhile, the number of people worldwide who considered themselves religious decreased from 73 percent in 2005 to 60 percent.

China, a country noted for a coolness toward religion since its socialist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, is the world's most atheist country.

Forty-seven percent of the Chinese people describe themselves as convinced atheists, and an additional 30 percent said they were "not a religious person."

Following China, the rest of the world's top five most atheists countries are Japan, the Czech Republic, France, South Korea and Germany.

While many may equate "atheist" with "anti-religion," China and France were the only two top atheist countries cited in the U.S. State Department's latest report on international religious freedom:

China for a myriad of State-sponsored offenses, and France for an incident in which an Islamist extremist killed three people – a rabbi and three children – outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.

In some parts of Europe where robust secularism often seen as hostile to religion is on the rise Richard Dawkins an academic is seen as one of the most prominent acolytes of atheism.

He is not winning everything though.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, defeated the atheist professor in a debate at the University of Cambridge in England in February as a vote taken at the conclusion of the debate ruled that religion does have a place in the 21st century.

The debate motion that "religion has no place in the 21st Century" was defeated before an audience of some 800 people at the Cambridge Union Society's chambers, the U.K.'s Independent newspaper report.

Dawkins lost the debate by 324 votes to 136, as he failed to convince the house that religion has no place.

"Religion has always been a matter of community building, a matter of building relations of compassion, fellow-feeling and, dare I say it, inclusion," Williams, who stepped down as the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion on Dec. 31, said in his address. "The notion that religious commitment can be purely a private matter is one that runs against the grain of religious history."

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