By Sheldon Gottlieb
, from CFI/Secular Humanism Online News -- April 2009
Based on my experiences in the Midwest and Deep South, I can confirm that Michele Goldberg’s analysis (America, one nation under no God? The Guardian
) of the increasing political clout of atheists and nonbelievers in American society is right. I, too, noticed the increasing polarization in society between believers and nonbelievers. Nonbeliever ranks swell as members of the growing confused middle finally release their grip on their last attempt to cling to aspects of religion.
Goldberg may have conflated two aspects of the rise of secularism in the USA. I think she intertwined the intellectual and the political components to make them appear as one, i.e., political. She rightly acknowledges that because of the political situation in the USA, nonbelievers and secularists had to politicize their approach to life to gain civic respect.
Many people come to nonbelief and secularism primarily from an intellectual perspective, not for opposing religion. I found that the growth of science and technology, particularly the greater understanding of evolutionary biology, supplemented by the successful law suits against Creationists and Creationism in all its forms, the many published books denying god and affirming the deadly influence of religious ideology in society, along with talk radio, college campus symposia on evolution and religion, newspaper and magazine articles, and letters to the editors and op-ed pieces have provided people with intellectual tools with which to counter unsubstantiated belief.
American secularism from a political, not intellectual, perspective may be defined by opposition to organized religion. Because of the powerful political clout that organized religion has, especially since the meteoric rise of evangelical Christianity in the 1980s, nonbelievers, as Goldberg writes, have had to become increasingly organized as political groups to demand “their share of civic respect.” Politics is the working reality of American society.
Unfortunately, religion-pandering politicians have exacerbated polarization. The office of the president cannot be depended upon to reduce the intertwining of church and state. During G.W. Bush’s administration there was an overt indication that government might be undergoing a shift from secular-oriented to a religiously oriented when he developed his faith-based programs. President Obama, despite his efforts to restore science to its proper place in society, has retained and expanded Bush’s faith-based programs: he signed an executive order establishing the new and unprecedented White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which has a broader mission than the faith-based initiative program created by President Bush. President Obama, in contrast to the behavior of previous presidents, has been opening public rallies with prayers that have been commissioned and vetted by the White House.
Removing religion as a powerful political force is difficult. Religion is instilled in children long before they are exposed to science. Religion fills their minds with fear, fairy tales, unreason, cognitive dissonance, and hate based on a sense of superiority and separatism. It provides simplistic answers to life’s questions and claims to be the sole source of morality.
We live in a scientific and technologically oriented society on which the economic and political survival of a nation depends. It is imperative that the negative influences of religion be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, if science and reason are to prevail and America is to continue to grow and maintain its preeminent position in the world. For this to occur, there must be, inter alia, a complete overhaul of the education system involving all aspects of curricula. We need to develop a tiered, truly integrated K-12 and college curricula with science and technology at the core. Sanitized history and philosophy courses with their current inherent protection of religion and promulgation of subtle anti-Semitism will have to be revamped.
There is hope for the U.S. Hope centers on reaching children through modern electronic/computer technology. Pre-school aged children are now being exposed to technology at the same time that they are being exposed to religious influences. By so doing, children are being exposed to rational thought and, thereby, the ground work is being laid for future science education to counter unsubstantiated religious belief.