America’s Functional Atheism

by | October 20, 2019

By James Haught

James Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is 87-years-old and would like to help secular causes more. This series is a way of giving back.

Some jokes reveal truths. Remember the quip that “no Christian wants to go to heaven right now“? Obviously, the hidden truth is that most Christians secretly doubt church promises of paradise. (Unlike Muslim suicide bombers.)

Well, I think secret disbelief goes deeper, saturating most of this “Christian nation.” A majority of Americans behave as if they doubt the reality of gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, visions, prophecies and the rest of church supernaturalism. For most of society, daily life proceeds in a manner generally called “functional atheism” (acting as if God doesn’t exist).

Even priests and ministers have secret doubts. That’s why skeptics created The Clergy Project, an online refuge where troubled preachers come out of the closet to reveal their uncertainty about holy dogmas. Scores have confessed, so far. Disclosures first were published in a report titled “Preachers Who Are Not Believers” and later assembled in a book, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.

At a British book symposium, author Graham Lawton declared that “no one really believes in religion, not even priests.” He said cultures give lip-service to supernatural beliefs, but it’s a false pretense, as in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

“If you ask quite religious people about the claims that are made by religion – like the fact that God’s watching you – they don’t really believe that,” he said.

Well, Lawton is mostly right, but not entirely. America contains a significant streak of what sociologists call “intense” religion. A 2017 Harvard study found that — more than in other advanced nations — hard-line, narrow-minded, far-right Christians remain fervent in the United States. In fact, they’re the heart of the Republican Party’s base. Big-money television preachers still reap hundreds of millions of dollars. Also, an estimated 10 million Americans are Pentecostals who “speak in tongues.” These worshipers clearly believe supernatural dogmas.However, they’re a shrinking fringe, relentlessly retreating. Most of America is turning secular with amazing rapidity. Church membership has dropped 20 percent in the past two decades. Around a third of young adults say their religion is “none.” In general, supernatural faith is dying, and the rest of the nation lives by functional atheism.

Panic is growing among some church figures. Conservative writer Rod Dreher fears America’s swelling secularism so much that he wrote a book, The Benedict Option, urging believers to renounce mainstream society and bond in private communes like Benedictine monks in monasteries. For Dreher, the Supreme Court approval of same-sex marriage was a Waterloo, the worst of many defeats, for his type of hidebound, intolerant Christians. It cast them as bigoted gay-haters out of step with the nation. Dreher wrote:

“Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.”

Well, the Bible decrees (Lev. 20:13) that gay males must be put to death. Does Dreher want Christians to hold to that biblical teaching about sex?

So far, I haven’t seen any fundamentalists heading for cloisters. But maybe they should, because they’re shriveling to an unappetizing fringe, while the rest of America increasingly lives by functional atheism.

Link here at Daylight Atheism.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

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About Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere. You can contact Scott via email, his website, or Twitter.

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