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The Big Answer

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Forecasting The Future Of Religion

an article in The Humanist by Jeffrey S. Victor

(our site's article review)

Europe has been evolving for millennia, while the U.S. has been evolving for only a few hundred years. But supernaturalism has disappeared rapidly there but only slowly here, says Victor. France is 40 percent atheistic or agnostic, while the U.S. is only three percent (of course, it’s socially unacceptable to say “atheist” here, while it’s not there, so many people in the U.S. obviously keep their atheism to themselves out of the need for social acceptance—for instance, atheists are not electable). Sixty percent of Americans believe in the devil here while there it’s only fifteen percent. Regular church attendance is very low there.

Regular church attendance is very low in Europe—perhaps they still recall the Inquisition!
Regular church attendance is very low in Europe—perhaps they still recall the Inquisition!

The situation is similar in Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Germany, etc. On the other hand, fundamentalist supernaturalism is growing all over the world—among Christians, Muslims, Jews, and even Hindus and Buddhists, he tells us. Fundamentalism has taken over and is now in control of the countries of Iran, Libya, the Sudan and North Yemen. In the U.S., Christian schools have spread throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of kids are being taught Creationism beliefs rather than evolution, and that humanists (which include many of the best and wisest people in all of history) are devils. Fundamentalists have increasingly scary amounts of political power, and when wackos listen to their distortions and dogma, they sometimes persecute or bomb abortion clinics, while the demagogues that incited them sit around looking innocent.

Abortion clinic bomber
Abortion clinic bomber

Religious awakenings are common during times of shocking social change, so all this isn’t that new. It’s kind of like in the rat-race of life there are those who just cannot keep up, so they decide to run backwards. And going backwards—regression—is precisely what this is about, as Fromm, the Tofflers and others have informed us. See The First Enlightenment Versus The Second Enlightenment.

But although Christian fundamentalists are relatively harmless, according to the author, the same isn’t true of Islamic fundamentalists. People who are willing to die because it’s the “will of God” (an old Gulf War, Saddam Hussein phrase that sounded obscenely ludicrous to non-Islamic people with even a modicum of education) are very dangerous.

Our most sacred national document, the Declaration of Independence, was drawn up by one of our wisest and most famous Americans, Thomas Jefferson. His dream was for an Enlightenment religion based upon reason, the scientific method of inquiry, and humanistic values. This is one of the reasons why people look at our wisest people (Thomas Jefferson, Erich Fromm, Carl Sagan, etc.), notice that they are humanists and not supernaturalists, and have little patience for the ranting and raving of fundamentalist leaders who put down such people as Satan in disguise. See The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan.

Obviously, it’s more likely that the ranting and raving demagogues are the devils, not our national and scientific and psychological and philosophical and political heroes. People are known for their actions, not their ugly, divisive sound bites. Only the grossly uneducated or brainwashed buy into the bigoted hate messages of the demagogues, but they are gaining power for now. Education is the only known cure for their spread. And yet the grossly uneducated phenomenon is spreading, not receding.

It didn't help that Freud and the fundamentalists both think man is born evil
It didn't help that Freud and the fundamentalists both think man is born evil

This isn’t to criticize the vast majority of peaceful, tolerant fundamentalists of all faiths—everyone is entitled to their beliefs. The criticism is aimed at the hate-mongers, the violence inciters, the labelers who call the best of our species devils, the nuts who seem poised to try to take us all down as the 21st century opens simply because of their beliefs that supernatural powers are planning to end the world any day now and they’re terrified of not being on God’s good side. See how the poison of authoritarianism gone mad can affect people?

One of our great authors depicted as a devil for not subscribing to fundamentalist dogma
One of our great authors depicted as a devil for not subscribing to fundamentalist dogma

Is there a lesson to be learned in the fact that more mature European societies are ditching supernaturalism in favor of either private spirituality or secular humanist beliefs? And the fact that the adolescent, self-conscious, self-obsessed, young American culture is going through a period of fundamentalist fervor? Yes, but each person must learn this lesson on his or her own. It’s not one that can be taught effectively. Look at the mature and beautiful buildings, roads, bridges and art of Europe. Compare it to the less mature American counterparts. They aren’t better or worse—it has nothing to do with that. They’re just more mature.

See The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature and The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State.

In August of 1999, the Kansas Board of Education voted to “delete virtually any mention of evolution from the state’s science curriculum, in one of the most far-reaching efforts by creationists in recent years to challenge the teaching of evolution in schools,” according to Pam Belluck of the New York Times. This may embolden other school boards to force teachers to refrain from mentioning evolution or force teachers to teach creationism. One board member with the courage to oppose the new standards said that: “the effort to emphasize the rock of ages more than the age of rocks could make Kansas science students the laughing stock of the world.” Such a repeal of progressivism, the Enlightenment, science and rationalism represents an attempt to tear down the vital wall between church and state and force fundamentalist dogma down the throats of children, including those with no religious beliefs. The rest of the advanced countries in the world are looking at the regressive backsliding in this country and shaking their heads sadly. Is this insult to secularism a portent of 21st century religious wars to come? We hope not.


See also:

Forecasting The Future Of Religion

Using Religion To Judge Preferable Futures: An Assessment

Challenges to American Values: Society, Business and Religion

The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State