Municipal Mendacity

By James Haught

Every city skyline is graced by stately steeples, spires, bell towers, domes, minarets and other outlines of cathedrals, temples, mosques, synagogues and sacred edifices of many sorts. The array seems majestic — until you realize that it represents an extravaganza of lies.

The holy architecture proclaims a supernatural realm of gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prophecies, angels, demons, saviors, blessed virgins and other magical entities that actually don’t exist. Intelligent, educated, modern people know that the whole rigmarole is imaginary, purely fictitious. Yet the panorama dominates each cityscape — a graphic testimonial that humanity lives with myths.

Suppose an extraterrestrial landed and inquired about the religious facades. Could you explain that they represent a past era when humans believed supernatural claims, but many no longer do? The ET might notice that people still attend the worship places. Could you explain the attendees as leftover stragglers from the age of blind faith — people who haven’t yet adopted scientific thinking?

To be truthful, the stragglers aren’t insignificant. They’re huge, although shrinking. More than half of American adults still call themselves Christians. The nation has around 400,000 houses of worship of all types. American believers donated $127 billion to religion in 2016. The Internet has thousands of websites — maybe millions, counting individual church sites — espousing faith.

Amid all this religiosity, a few voices say: Wait — don’t take it seriously. It’s just a chimera, a fantasy rising from the human imagination. It has no actual reality. It’s a game played by the culture, like Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Halloween witches, the Easter Bunny, etc.

Fortunately, millions of young Americans no longer take it seriously. Since the 1990s, an astounding number of educated people have turned their backs on supernaturalism, declaring their religion to be “none.” The “nones” climbed rapidly to around one-fourth of U.S. adults, and 40 percent of those under 30. American churches lost 20 percent of their members in two decades.

America is following the secularization that swept Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and the rest of Western democracy since World War II. If the snowballing trend continues, religion will shrink to an inconsequential fringe in the West (but not in Muslim lands).

Although Europe lost most of its religion, mighty cathedrals still grace European cities. They’ve become mostly tourist attractions, not citadels of faith. I hope that’s the future for spire-laced American cities as well.

(August 17, 2020 — Daylight Atheism)

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.

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*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*

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.

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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.

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Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian 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.

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Image Credit: James Haught.

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