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What's Different About Today's Student Atheists?

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Atheism on college campuses is certainly nothing new, but there's something different about today's secular students. Unlike their parents' generation, atheist, agnostic, and humanist college students today more often consider their secularism to be an important, primary aspect of self-identity.

Nothing demonstrates this point more clearly than the rapid growth of the Secular Student Alliance, the umbrella group for organized atheism and humanism on college campuses (and now high schools as well). SSA chapters have grown from less than 50 in 2007 to over 250 today, and there is no sign of slowing down.

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With religious skepticism on the rise among young people and online social media making visibility and organization easier than in the past, the secular student phenomenon is unlikely to fade. Students see it as an effective and necessary response to the Religious Right, a sensible means of combating religiously motivated activism. Moreover, from a practical standpoint, it is a great way of meeting like-minded friends, people who perhaps have also read and enjoyed bestselling books by "New Atheist" authors Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett.

Thus, today's campus atheism is a far cry from that of the past. It is organized, well-funded, identity-oriented, and populated by young people who will not back down in the culture wars, who see their non-theistic lifestance as something that can contribute to a better world.

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