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Sat Dec 20, 2014, 08:50 PM

 

We’re putting an end to religion: Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and the exploding American secularism

Saturday, Dec 20, 2014 06:30 PM EST

Phil Zuckerman

Excerpted from "Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions"

What is going on? How do we explain this recent wave of secularization that is washing over so much of America?

The answer to these questions is actually much less theological or philosophical than one might think. It is simply not the case that in recent years tens of millions of Americans have suddenly started doubting the cosmological or ontological arguments for the existence of God, or that hundreds of thousands of other Americans have miraculously embraced the atheistic naturalism of Denis Diderot. Sure, this may be happening here and there, in this or that dorm room or on this or that Tumblr page. The best-sellers written by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—as well as the irreverent impiety and flagrant mockery of religion by the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, House, South Park, and Family Guy—have had some impact on American culture. As we have seen, a steady, incremental uptick of philosophical atheism and agnosticism is discernible in America in recent years. But the larger reality is that for the many millions of Americans who have joined the ranks of the nonreligious, the causes are most likely to be political and sociological in nature.

For starters, we can begin with the presence of the religious right, and the backlash it has engendered. Beginning in the 1980s, with the rise of such groups as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, the closeness of conservative Republicanism with evangelical Christianity has been increasingly tight and publicly overt. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, more and more politicians on the right embraced the conservative Christian agenda, and more and more outspoken conservative Christians allied themselves with the Republican Party. Examples abound, from Michele Bachmann to Ann Coulter, from Mike Huckabee to Pat Robertson, and from Rick Santorum to James Dobson. With an emphasis on seeking to make abortion illegal, fighting against gay rights (particularly gay marriage), supporting prayer in schools, advocating “abstinence only” sex education, opposing stem cell research, curtailing welfare spending, supporting Israel, opposing gun control, and celebrating the war on terrorism, conservative Christians have found a warm welcome within the Republican Party, which has been clear about its openness to the conservative Christian agenda. This was most pronounced during the eight years that George W. Bush was in the White House.

What all of this this has done is alienate a lot of left-leaning or politically moderate Americans from Christianity. Sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer have published compelling research indicating that much of the growth of “nones” in America is largely attributable to a reaction against this increased, overt mixing of Christianity and conservative politics. The rise of irreligion has been partially related to the fact that lots of people who had weak or limited attachments to religion and were either moderate or liberal politically found themselves at odds with the conservative political agenda of the Christian right and thus reacted by severing their already somewhat weak attachment to religion. Or as sociologist Mark Chaves puts it, “After 1990 more people thought that saying you were religious was tantamount to saying you were a conservative Republican. So people who are not Republicans now are more likely to say that they have no religion.”

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/20/were_putting_an_end_to_religion_richard_dawkins_bill_maher_and_the_exploding_new_american_secularism/

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Reply We’re putting an end to religion: Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and the exploding American secularism (Original post)
rug Dec 2014 OP
bvf Dec 2014 #1
NeoGreen Dec 2014 #6
vlyons Dec 2014 #2
longship Dec 2014 #3
Manifestor_of_Light Dec 2014 #4
MisterP Dec 2014 #5
cbayer Dec 2014 #7

Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Dec 20, 2014, 09:02 PM

1. I'll bet this alarms a lot of people.

 

Last edited Sun Dec 21, 2014, 01:54 AM - Edit history (1)

Good.

ETA: Although I don't think the increasing outspokenness of atheists is form of political pushback, as the piece seems to be saying. If you're a believer with the need to cling to the supernatural, yet rightly disgusted with how a handful of yahoos have twisted your religion, I'd think you would be far more likely to find comfort in a different religion (or sect) than to abandon belief altogether.

Seems to me that arrival at atheism stems more naturally from examination of reality, and the recognition that the supernatural has no rational place in it.

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Response to bvf (Reply #1)

Sun Dec 21, 2014, 09:38 AM

6. While I agree that the apparent phenomena is quiet welcome...

...I read the article as suggesting more of a slow disenfranchisement or "my party has left me" response to the 1980 onward theocratic entanglement of the religious right and the republican party (RP), as apposed to a direct "push back". There are very few republicans who are calling out the "crazies" (i.e. Buchanan, Bachman, Coburn, Falwell, Inhofe & Palin) as crazy.

I perceive a slow (glacial) cultural shift occurring in the US, by the moderate right away from the far right, as people seem to be responding (negatively) to the crazies who, since 1980, have been trying to take complete control of the RP (i.e. Dominionists and their ilk) and subsequently the US as a whole. Moderate republicans can find themselves in a quandary, do they: Embrace and become one of the crazies? Hold their nose and hope the crazies bring in a net + of votes? or reject them and (typically) become 1) libertarian, 2) Democratic or 3) apolitical.

It might be that it is easier to distance oneself (or express a distance) from the crazies, on a personal/spiritual level, than on a public/political level.

So in a way, I see the Dominionists as, ultimately (I hope), being the source of their own demise.

Of course, the history of this has yet to be written, the apparent shift is not necessarily linear, and I could be way off base in my perception.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Dec 20, 2014, 09:23 PM

2. If so-called Christians actually practiced the real teachings of Jesus

that is: feed the poor, heal the sick, practice peace and forgiveness, and love thy neighbor, then maybe folks wouldn't abandon that religion. There's an enormous amount of hypocracy, self-righteousness, and just blatant ignorance and greed that pervades the Christian church, especially the "prosperity Christians." The hard core clinging to Christian non-sense like resurrection, virgin birth, the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and the Trinity god-head doesn't make matters much better either.

BTW: I'm a Buddhist. I don't think my spiritual path is the only path. Buddhists don't proselytize. If you want Buddhist teachings, you have to make the effort to seek them out and ask for them.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sat Dec 20, 2014, 10:01 PM

3. I am a firm believer that secular activism does some good in the world.

And although I really like Richard Dawkins, I often find myself cringing at some of what he writes, especially extemporaneously, especially on Twitter, often outside his biological expertise.

I think secular activism does no good if one presumes in any way, that religion should, or could, be defeated. I think both ideas of that argument are utterly delusional. Interestingly, Dawkins is one of the people who first led me down this path. He first came up with the concept of a cultural meme, a genetics-like idea which transmits itself through culture. Now there are other ideas which may have elements of evolutionary psychology to their arguments, which are ideas which I would only cautiously embrace.

The main force of my personal atheism is now addressed to a concept embraced by many of the atheist horsemen, but likely originates from Daniel Dennett. That even if religion may be an evolutionary adaptation (the evolutionary psychology hypothesis) or a cultural effect (the memetic hypothesis), or something else entirely, it might behoove us to try to understand it, how it works, and if there is anything that should be done about it. Given that, what?

I always go back to a statement by Dennett in a discussion at Hitchens' home between him and Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris, often entitled "The Four Horsemen" video.he also expresses it in detail in his wonderful book, "Breaking the Spell." He basically opines that, no matter the correct hypothesis, religion is very likely a permanent fixture in culture. Rather than defeating it, maybe the world ought to find a way for it to evolve into a less virulent form. His book is a detailed and compelling argument for research and education on these topics, to understand religion more deeply.

That's why I don't see religious people as necessarily a threat. Even my religious friends here might see it the same way, that the threat exists with extremism, not religion per se, especially given it's nearly universal adoption worldwide. This may be because religion may very well be embedded into human culture, if not our genes. And by its elimination, as Dennett posits, "we may take the hind side" of those actions.

But there is no doubt that religion is often a horrible influence on world affairs. I cannot say that I see much of the same for secularism, let alone non-belief.

An interesting post.
R&K

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sun Dec 21, 2014, 01:32 AM

4. Something I am seeing with young people:

I have met some that are both Hindu and atheist, and both Jewish and atheist.
They are keeping their cultural heritage, but rejecting a literal interpretation of the worship of god or gods.
I find this interesting.

I study Buddhism as an atheist, as gods are not needed in Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was asked about gods and he said they were irrelevant. He wanted to teach people how to deal with their lives and other people.

As Christopher Hitchens asked, "Show me something good that a religious person can do that a non-religious person cannot do." One does not need religion to do good deeds. Religion is an extra framework to put around the doing of good deeds, but it is not necessary. If you are a humanist or a Taoist, you should do the right thing merely because it is the right thing to do, not because of reward or punishment in the supposed afterlife.


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Response to rug (Original post)

Sun Dec 21, 2014, 01:53 AM

5. "supporting Israel ... celebrating the war on terrorism" jumped out at me

"Christianity has only 15 years left" --1880
--1898
--1909
--1919
--1933
--1966
--1973
--2003
--2014

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Response to rug (Original post)

Sun Dec 21, 2014, 11:23 AM

7. He makes some interesting points, but he also makes some critical errors.

Conflating secularism and atheism is a mistake. Many religious people are also secularists. Those that continue to misuse the term to mean non-believers have big holes in their arguments.

His inclusion of popular culture is also really off the mark. Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert have the ability to distinguish between different flavors and expressions of religion. They do not promote "philosophical atheism". Honestly, what does that even mean?

The texture of the religious fabric is changing, but that is nothing new. I agree with his understanding of why there has been a significant increase in "nones", but not with his saying that it represents "irreligion". Studies show that it clearly does not.

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