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.
What’s the most significant occurrence so far in the 21st century?
Worsening weather calamities caused by global warming?
Endless suicide bombings and massacres by religious fanatics?
Snowballing acceptance of gays as equal humans?
Kakistocracy (government by the worst) under a ludicrous president who has told 10,000 countable lies?
Recurring gun massacres in America?
All of those are important, but I nominate another: The remarkably rapid collapse of religion in advanced democracies. It’s major news with far-reaching impact.
Sociologists are stunned by the abrupt downfall of supernatural faith in Western civilization. The swift cultural transformation gained recognition in the 1990s and then accelerated.
For example, more than half of United Kingdom adults now have no church identity, according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey. The Guardian of London reported:
“Fifty-two percent of the public say they do not belong to any religion, compared to 31 percent in 1983 when the BSA began tracking religious belief…. One in four members of the public stated, ‘I do not believe in God,’ compared with one in ten in 1998.”
The London Telegraph added that 26 percent of Britons labeled themselves “confident atheists,” up from 10 percent in 1998. It quoted researcher Nancy Kelley as saying the surprising retreat of religion is “one of the most important trends in postwar history.”
Similar findings are reported across western Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the like. Secularism has soared since the 1990s. Europeans spent centuries killing each other over religion, but now it elicits a mere shrug.
America traditionally was an exception, a faith stronghold, but the United States is joining the secular tsunami. A recent Gallup poll found that church membership fell twenty percent in the past two decades. One-fourth of American adults now say their faith is “none” – and the ratio is one-third among those under thirty.
In fact, this country has more nonreligious adults than any other nation except China, according to a 2015 book, American Secularism.
However, like many profound culture shifts, the change is barely noticed in daily life. Television still teems with big-money evangelists who buy air time to beg for cash to buy more air time. Politicians (especially Republicans) still invoke the holies daily and demand public displays of the motto “In God We Trust.”Speaking of Republicans, the GOP relies heavily upon white evangelicals as its political base. As religion shrinks, the future power of the conservative party is in doubt.
Polls show that born-again whites were 27 percent of America’s population in the 1990s, but now they’ve slipped as low as 13 percent. But they’re intensely active in politics. They gave 81 percent of their votes to Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Why do fundamentalists embrace a vulgar, shallow, obnoxious, juvenile, self-worshiping racist who abuses women and boasted that he could “grab ’em by the pussy”? Why do they want the extreme opposite of Jesus? Wake Forest University church historian Bill Leonard says white evangelicals flock to Trump because they’re in “panic at the precipitous decline of Christianity.”
In other words, conservative Christians feel their dominance of America’s culture evaporating, and they’re desperate. For example, they spent centuries demonizing “evil” gays – yet most Americans now accept homosexuals cordially, and the Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriage. It was a crushing blow to the “religious right.”
In fact, repulsive political activity by white evangelicals is a strong reason why many tolerant young Americans renounce religion.
Of course, faith remains strong in Muslim lands (where several nations decree death for “blasphemy”) and in the tropics (where millions of Africans and Latin Americans are Pentecostals who “speak in tongues”). But in Western civilization, profound demographic change is happening in this 21st century. White Christian America is fizzling away, month after month, year after year. Old Puritanical taboos are disappearing. The alliance of Bible-thumping evangelicals and the Republican Party has a diminishing future, doomed to minority status. Churches are shrinking. Secularism is soaring. Humanist values wield ever-greater strength in public life.
All I can say is: Hallelujah!
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 Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.