The news just keeps coming in about the rise of atheism, even in the good ol' U.S.A.! The latest research shows that the people who actively self-identify as atheist or agnostic now outnumber Mormons (1.6% of the population vs. 1.4% of the population). And if you count people who are technically atheist (don't actively believe in the existence of God, but don't call themselves atheists), we're 12% of the population!
So why is it that the Mormons can count senators, governors, even serious presidential contenders among their ranks? While non-believers get so little respect that people are astonished when the president takes one second to acknowledge their existence?
My guess is that a lot of it has to do with lack of organization and lack of geographical grouping. (Also, perhaps, the lack of the special right to tax-free political organizing that the religions enjoy.) But, since we all know that atheist is the new gay (see here), let's take a page from the gay and say it's visibility.
Sure you can put the Dawkins "A" on your blog and/or join Mojoey's atheist blogroll, but who are the people most likely to read your atheist blog? That's right -- your fellow atheists. It seems like it would be good to be "out" in real life. But this is where we're at a big disadvantage: there's practically no reason for it to come up in conversation!
Compare to the gay example. Even if you don't put a picture of your spouse on your desk -- even if miraculously nobody ever asks you about your home life or what you did over the weekend -- eventually your family is going to get invited to the company picnic. And that will clue in your colleagues. (Wait a minute... your S.O. is a woman, just like you.... What...? Oh, I get it...)
Religion is the same way -- it comes up naturally. "Why do I do a partial fast once a week? Because I'm a Hindu." "Why don't I ever drink coffee? Because I'm a Mormon." "Why won't I shake your hand? Because I'm an Orthodox Jew and you're a woman." (And, yes, I have heard that last one from a colleague at work...)
But atheism? It's just not the same! If religion doesn't happen to come up, then it seems inappropriate to bring it up. The best I've done so far is to wish my colleagues a "Happy Darwin Day" on Darwin's recent 200th birthday. The one replied "Oh, I believe in 'Intelligent Design' -- Hahahahaha!!" and the other one is always cracking irreverent jokes about his Baptist upbringing.
Nevermind, they're probably already atheists anyway...