Would religion be weaker today, or perhaps less prominent and influential, if atheists had not drawn such attention to the issues of religion being false and/or harmful?
In other words, have our criticisms, discussions, and missives been more harmful or helpful in terms of the goal of lessening the proliferation, strength, or general status of religion? That is not to say, of course, that such a thing is a manifest or explicit goal of atheists, but just for the sake of discussion, I feel okay with saying that some do hold such a goal...or perhaps it's better to view things as an increase in secularization or the influence of humanism, etc.
At any rate, I ask these questions because I just finished reading a journal article written by Christian sociologist named Rodney Stark (1999, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 14, No. 1). He mentions "village atheism" (which I have a vague notion of but didn't get a chance to look up further) in 19th-century America. He follows this by saying that believers learn to ignore this atheism and that unbelievers are not interested -- which is why organized atheism has become so anemic.
So I'm wondering about the parallel there, i.e. if the storm that atheists have brought to the fore has actually caused desensitization in believers through predictable and frequent exposure to criticism and opposition (so that it loses its "shock value", according to Stark) but simultaneously given believers of all stripes an "other" against which to organize, thereby increasing their solidarity? The Christian backlash and response to new atheism is/was considerable, and neither can the consequences, changes, and foci which marked their response be ignored.
In the end, have we simply made the aforementioned goal more difficult to accomplish?
I don't think the "village atheist" has that much affect one way or the other. I do think that song artist and secular media have made a much larger impact than any group of atheist has. I also believe that media reporting wrong doings of prominent theist has had a devastating effect on theology's ghoulish hold in the states.
I would say that we have had the effect of bringing many fundamentalist beliefs out in the open (either by pointing them out ourselves, or provoking a loud fundamentalist reaction). The effect on any given Christian would be to either switch to a more liberal belief system or reinforce their fundamentalist views.
Overall, I see more people moving towards a wishy-washy view of God, but those fundamentalists remaining are becoming increasingly vocal. The "middle" of Christianity is disappearing.
Atheists may be strengthening religion's response to our challenges, but as for religion itself, no. Being that most religions and at least the Abrahamic religions are based on fixed books and nearly equally fixed dogma, the foundations of their supposed strength has not changed. What may change is the spin that their proponents attempt to put on it to attempt to plug the holes we repeatedly poke in it.
Oh, sure, they become more boisterous and their rhetoric more strident ... and maybe they SMELL stronger because of the sweat they get up at us ... but fundamentally stronger? No, I don't think so.
I have to agree with the opinion that today's media outlets allow a lot more information to be dispersed into public conversation. There are few topics people shy away from anymore! I think the internet has opened up discussions that wouldn't necessarily occur in a face-to-face group setting. For ex: The topic of religion in a modern, secular society...how powerful will citizens allow it to become? How much does it influence behavior? These debates can sway opinions: they open up the channels of freethinking.
It is no longer taboo to criticize religious behavior when it over-reaches or when its adherents attempt to claim 'immunity' from public scrutiny. These days, very little is too sacred to investigate! And that really irritates people who want to hide behind their religious walls. And the criticism doesn't even have to be from non-believers like you and me. Liberal churches can step up to the plate and do more to rein in the extremes. They also have benefited from their special status and want to protect it. They want to keep their liberal memberships, too, and don't want to be tainted by the backward thinkers of the far right.
I think rational people will make reasonable decisions and irrational people won't. It isn't atheism that worries the fundamentalist Christian right, it's that people will eventually come around to see the facts: People don't need Church to Be Good. People will shop around and find what fits for them and organized religion will always have fluctuating membership. And many people are not joining any congregations at all ...thus, the money it takes to run the organization will eventually dwindle and churches will close due to lack of interest and funds! It's disillusion at work. Nobody's going to buy something they don't think they need. We're getting to be savvy shoppers in the market of ideas. But I don't think it's going to happen quickly. It's a gradual process and will take time. Promote freethinking and questioning and we'll get to our goal some day.
I don't believe atheism strengthens religion in any way.It encourages debate and such debates actually help to downplay the importance of religion in our lives.An organized form of atheism is what the world really needs now.Now more than ever.
Assuming short-term conservation of religiosity--which is a fine approximation (note that I said short-term)--over short periods of time, the effect of what atheism is present in the population becoming more localized (concentrated, effectively) is that the same happens to the religiosity. Stepping out of the short-term approximation, I'd imagine that the religiousness of the religious would decay over time, too, but who knows.
Eschewing attempts at qualitative math for this paragraph, I'd say that the atheist community's having formed and come together somewhat does present something more of a target for fundies etc., but I also have a feeling that they would make virtually the same accusations of some slippery slope slide into an atheist-initiated oblivion whether we were organizing into secondary communities or not. Well, that or that they'd choose gays, women who hold jobs, alcohol, or any other thing of three myriads of other options to fill in the blanks in their sermons and that we're just the whipping boy of the day for right now.
"Purity is a thing that cannot be attained but by piling effort upon effort." --Hagakure
We are in the beginning of a struggle that must last at least thirty years before we could consider lessening our efforts. We can never change the minds of those who are bent to feel that we are violating their rights in not thinking the same things as they think (except by sleep-deprivation brainwashing, which is not viable, primarily due to--y'know--human rights and stuff) but by swaying minds that are still forming, we may make the future world a better place. Revolutions in science never happen overnight; rather, the old guys who would cling to erroneous old models, theories, and beliefs simply die and those who come new into the field look at the options before them and choose the newer, less wrong theory. It is the same thing here. We just have to keep trying.
Backing off won't get us anywhere good. "If"s aren't a course of action. Our options are continue and stop. Things weren't as good before we took some action, and things still aren't good enough. To press onward is the only solution.