Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is Religion Here to Stay?

In the comments of a recent posting we heard the oft-repeated argument that a majority of Americans are believers and nothing is going to change that. It's an example of an irrational argument but it seems to be part of the defense mechanism of most believers.

I don't think it's true. I think the USA will change, just as Western Europe has changed. Here's what PZ Myers calls [A heartening graph].

There is one other possibility that some of my colleagues fear. Instead of a slow steady evolution away from superstition, we may see an ugly revolution in the USA as the two sides of the debate adopt mutually antagonistic points of view. There's an argument to be made that what many of us see as a hopeful sign is actually the precursor to establishment of a religous fundamentalist state—or at least a civil war where the attempt is made.


  1. It's all about the slow gradual process...

    Glad to see we're making some headway.

  2. Unfortunately, I think the second ugly scenario might take place after the US election. It now seems very likely that the democrats will win, in which case all of the right-wing devotees will become even more polarized and try to come up with reasons (including religious and superstitious ones) why they lost. The types of things that are being said and yelled out at Republican rallies are quite frightening. It will be very interesting to see what's going to happen, especially in the long run about 10 years from now.

  3. I'd certainly like to see some exponential acceleration of that lower line, and why doesn't the catholic line change? I'm too impatient for gradual processes.

    I'm not a good judge of people, especially irrational ones, but it seems impossible to me that a civil war has even the slightest likelihood. Hopefully there'll be one incredible moment when the majority of people just realize how ridiculous and terrifying religion is and those top two lines will plummet. I won't hold my breath though.

    How about an atheist president? :P

  4. So, if the stock market goes up, does that mean all wealth will eventually reside in the market? John Wilkins has a more sober assessment. While religion may not "always" be with us as John says (human evolution is still going on, right?), it will take more than just intellectual enlightenment to get us to that point.

    As for a civil war, I doubt that will occur ... for a particular definition of the term. Our Civil War occurred over ideology in an otherwise viable society where there was a stark and irreconcilable difference between the ideologies which, in turn, had huge economic consequences for identifiable segments of the country. Previous civil wars were over such things as who would hold the monarchy/government, with similar consequences for identifiable factions. As far as religion goes, it is (for the moment) too fragmented and spread equally across the political landscape to serve as a nucleus for such competing segments of society. On the other hand, if religion began to lose out significantly in society, you could have rebellions, insurrections and terrorism.

  5. Religious behaviour is inscribed in the human brain and, ultimately, in the human genome.
    Religious behaviour is a variable element of human nature, expressed TO ONE DEGREE OR ANOTHER, in every individual.

    So, in one form or another, religion will always be with us. The real question concerns the political influence and power of reactionary, obscurantist Christian and other fundamentalisms and evangelicalisms. Are they "here" to say? Well, Christian reaction has proven to be an endlessly oozing boil on the bum of U.S. political culture. Not so in Canada where the "social gospel" has been a much more important strain. Equally bogus, of course, given that we live in a God-free universe, but quite enduring and even beneficial.

  6. Here is what I find interesting: American political leaders are more religious NOW than they were at the start of the country.

    George Washington hardly ever went to Church, and Thomas Jefferson thought the idea of a divine Jesus to be ludicrous.

    Even at the turn of the previous century, this country elected a Unitarian President (Taft).

    So yes, there is a real chance that America, as a whole, might become less religious.