The Future Belongs to Atheism

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 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.

Image Credit: James Haught.

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