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.
Eventually, America will be a society in which intelligent, educated people ignore supernatural religion, while a fundamentalist fringe retains magical practices, including ‘speaking in tongues.’
That’s how I read the snowballing secular trend that flared in the 1990s and seems unstoppable today. Increasingly, young adults shun church, and parishioners who remain are the hard core that sociologists call “intense believers.”
Most people don’t grasp the enormous degree to which religion already has died in America.
When I was young in the 1950s, church-backed laws made it a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath, or clubs to serve cocktails, or adults to look at something like a Playboy magazine or nude scenes in an R-rated movie, or to sell a lottery ticket, or to read a sexy novel. (Our mayor sent cops to raid bookstores selling Peyton Place.) Gay sex was a felony. Jews were banned from many clubs. It was a crime for an unwed couple to share a bedroom.
But all those theocratic taboos shrank and disappeared. The nation’s values evolved. Religion lost its power. It occurred so gradually that few noticed.
America today is mostly a “functional atheist” society. Daily public life, business, government, entertainment, politics, newspapers, television, radio, magazines, etc., rolls on without a hint of magical gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, messiahs, visions, angels, demons and other church dogmas. The culture behaves as if they don’t exist.
Maybe the retreat of supernatural faith stems from rising intelligence. The Flynn Effect shows that the average American I.Q. rises three points per decade. And studies show that skeptics are smarter than believers. As intelligence improves, fewer folks swallow voodoo.
As the churchless cohort keeps growing, a shrinking fringe of fundamentalists and evangelicals still embrace supernatural beliefs. Only “intense” believers remain loyal, making religion more ardent. Studies find that around one-fourth of all the world’s Christians now speak in “the unknown tongue.” Such people have little place in modern, scientific society.
The collapse of religion can be seen in America’s growing tolerance of homosexuality. Most of the nation now accepts gays as fellow humans, while many churches still declare them evil. (The Bible decrees that gay males must be killed. “They shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Lev. 20:13.) Americans generally became kinder, leaving clerics and the Bible behind. Morality evolved, but religion didn’t.
Some “religious right” figures can see their cause faltering. Republican Pat Buchanan, who spent decades demanding that America enforce “God’s eternal laws,” now writes that inclusion of gays spells “the crackup of Christianity.” Baptist preacher Oliver Thomas wrote in USA Today that modern gay acceptance means that “we got it wrong” for twenty centuries.
America’s culture as a whole is quitting religion, following a secular trend that swept Europe after World War II. Maybe this nation’s future can be seen in European examples like these:
More than half of British children attended Sunday school at the start of the 20th Century, but by 2000 only four percent did. A 2000 Ipsos-Mori poll asked British adults to choose from a list of “inspirational figures.” Nelson Mandela was picked by 65 percent. Britney Spears was named by six percent. Only one percent chose Jesus.
University of Toronto researcher Stuart Macdonald described “the rapid secularization of Scotland,” noting:
“The Church of Scotland, which had the power to force its morality on the society to the extent that swings in public parks were chained up in the early 1960s in order that the Sabbath be properly observed, is now invisible within Scottish society.”
America is riding the same wave. Since the 1990s, the share of adults who say their religion is “none” has climbed rapidly to one-fourth, and it’s one-third among those under thirty. A new Gallup poll found that American church membership fell twenty percent in the past two decades.
The secular surge seems sure to continue. Religion is dying, right before everyone’s eyes. The future belongs to atheism, or at least functional 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.
Image Credit: James Haught.