Abortion illuminates the status of faith in the US. Religious fundamentalists, their political poodles, and a God-fearing Supreme Court want a national ban on the procedure. The majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose. Hence we have a social civil war — in which the religious/political crusaders have rigged the electoral system to deny the majority of Americans their will.
The bad news for Bible-thumpers is that they are rowing against the tide. Free thinking has grown steadily as more Americans turn their backs on indoctrination. Organized fundamentalists have noticed. As their numbers decline, their noise has increased. Although, it may be their last hurrah — unless they establish an Iran-style theocracy.
God knows they are trying.
The worse news for team God is that this increase in ‘non-believers’ is occurring as more ‘still-believers’ shift from the church-based Sunday service orthodoxy of traditional Christianity to a more self-tailored religiosity. It is one thing to say you believe in God. It is another to show your belief by attending services.
Today 81% of Americans say they have faith — down from 98% in 1965. However, only 47% belong to a church. Even that number overstates the case. How many churchgoers do so out of habit or social pressure rather than a belief in God? My father, an atheist, regularly attends church because my mother likes to go. And she might also be an atheist, for all I know.
Let us also note that self-reporting polls are biased by respondents who answer based on social expectation rather than true belief. An atheist in Alabama is less likely to admit to apostasy than a non-believer in Vermont.
The worst news for religious fundamentalists is that they have a limited window to get their theocracy in place. Increasing secularization in the US seems inevitable. Younger adults are less likely to have faith than their parents. Today, only 68% of 20-year-olds believe in God, down 10% in five years.
This seemingly inevitable rejection of the church raises the question, why are people fleeing organized religion? One theory is that as people become better educated, the proof for God becomes more tenuous. A survey of monotheism — the faith of 56% of the world’s population — shows that Abrahamic religiosity exists where ignorance flourishes. Contrast the deeply religious Middle East and Africa with secular Europe.
The coexistence of ignorance and faith is also evident in the US. The most religious states tend to have the least educated populations. Sadly, this is a self-enforcing trend. The conservative passion for dumbing down school curriculums is a red-state phenomenon — where religious aversion to facts has ushered religion into science class.
Political freedom also plays a part. Religion is most important in theocracies and other authoritarian states - which tracks with the fundamentalist Christian love of governmental interference in people’s private lives. For all the conservative paeans to liberty, no group is more dedicated to shredding individual freedoms.
It is not just reproductive choice. The religious fundamentalist wants to mandate who people are allowed to marry, what kinds of sex are allowed, who can have it, and whether contraception should be legal.
This infliction of one group’s rules on the whole of society is another likely reason for religion’s declining popularity. Everyone hates bullies — except for the bullies and their sycophants. This distaste of coercion is especially true among the young — who have a sharper sense of fair play than their elders. The acceptance of LGBTQ and interracial relationships is greater among 20 year-olds-than it is among 70-year-olds. (NB there are many tolerant citizens in every age group. And there are young just as intolerant as sanctimonious seniors.)
Religion should be a blessing. So many people benefit from their faith. It gives them meaning, guidance, comfort, community, an explanation for the inexplicable, and hope for good things after they are dead. But that is not enough for the zealots.
These miserable people cannot leave well enough alone. They use their belief to butt into other people’s business. The Founders knew that state religion is anathema to individual freedoms. Today’s religious oppressors are proving them right.
Ironically, America is a country where many so-called Christians spit on Jesus’s legacy while many atheists attempt to follow his call to look after the poor, the downtrodden, the immigrant, the prisoner, and the sick. If America is a country of Christian values, it is no thanks to conservative Christians.
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