Monday, March 16, 2009

We're in for a rough landing

As an atheist, I often wonder where the we're headed with regards to religion in this country. There are essentially three factions vying for influence: the secularists (atheists and agnostics who support secularism and favor a future where the power of religion over public life is lessened), conservative Christians (who wish to marry government more closely to religion and favor a "traditional" future for America, where the power of religion over public life is increased), and liberal Christians (who have far more moderate views than their conservative peers).

I really did hope for a Soft Landing, but the ARIS poll indicates a mainline decline, liberal Christianity losing power with respect to conservative Christianity.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Christianity is losing ground in the United States, but evangelical Christianity is not. Just over a third of Americans are still born-again. Meanwhile, the mainline churches, beacons of progressive, rationalistic faith – the kind that could potentially act as a bridge between religious and non-religious Americans – are shrinking. "These trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more 'evangelical' outlook among Christians," write the report's authors.
It seems that we're headed towards a future where liberal Christianity is powerless before their more conservative brethren, leading towards a country polarized between atheism and fundamentalism. I could be wrong about this, and I rather hope I am, because it could have harmful repercussions in the ongoing culture war.

The country as a whole continues to progress towards a more secular future, and I have no doubt that it will eventually be more similar to other western nations, where religiosity is quite low. But instead of making a smooth transition - with more aggressive and fundamentalist religious views dying out to more tolerable and reasonable ones as the country moves closer to secularism, we seem to be headed towards a more rougher transition, with extremist religious views long outlasting moderate religious views, with a death grip on the politics of a country whose populace longs for a more enlightened and less parochial state of affairs. We will indeed eventually achieve such a result, but what damages will the country endure from fundamentalist ideologies on the way out?

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