10 signs that religious fundamentalism is receding
Days can be dark right now – after all, as the memes proclaim, the axial tilt is the reason for the season. But things are looking bright for those who would like to see humanity more grounded in science and reason. If you’re a non-believer in the mood to party, here are 10 reasons to celebrate.
1. Atheist coming out is on the way. In May 2013, after a deadly tornado destroyed her home, young mother Rebecca Vitsmun gave a unexpected response when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked her if she was thanking the Lord for her decision to flee. Vitsmun tells the story in a sometimes tearful way interview with Seth Andrewshost of think atheist. “I had this moment when I realized you were either lying or telling the truth, and I’m not a liar.” At that time, Vitsmun revealed herself not only to a nationwide media audience, but also to her Christian relatives and friends.
Vitsmun’s situation was extraordinary, but openness about disbelief is becoming more and more common. From Hollywood celebrities like Angelina Jolie to high school students, skeptics are opening up about their beliefs and values, or simply refusing to lie when asked. (A book that reads quickly, Mom, dad, I’m an atheistoffers guidance for those considering when, where and how to come out.)
2. The tip of free-thinking is less sharp and less edgy. In past generations, declaring oneself an atheist required an indifferent attitude. The social and even financial costs were so high that most recognized atheists were also staunch social activists, people who had a high degree of zeal and a great tolerance for conflict. Most were also white men who were relatively safe to take on the religious establishment. Until recently, therefore, atheism was practically synonymous with anti-theism, and even today people complain that the pioneers of the neo-atheist movement like Dawkins, HarrisDennett and the late, great Hitchens are needlessly antagonistic.
But thanks in part to their courage and their flamethrowers, a new generation is emerging, one that sees atheism not as an end, but as a beginning. by Alain de Botton TED conference and book, Atheism 2.0, simply posits the non-existence of God and then goes on to discuss what humanity can glean from the rubble of religious traditions. Many young people are shedding labels and embracing what fits religious holidays and traditions, just as they mix and match cultural, racial or gender identities. As borders soften, more women, Hispanics andblack people join or even lead conversations.
3. Biblical sexuality is discarded. Finally. In the latter part of December, marriage equality became law in three more states: New Mexico and – drum roll – Utah! Even more exciting is the fact that legal changes can barely keep up attitude change on queer sexuality. Things are also changing when it comes to straight sex, and that’s not in line with biblical priorities. Perhaps the most recurrent sexual theme in the Bible is that the woman consent is not required or even preferred before sex. By demanding an end to rape culture, today’s young women and men portray Bible writers as members of an Iron Age tribal culture in which women were property like cattle and the children– to be traded, sold and won in battle. No wonder the culture warriors have stepped up their fight against contraception and abortion. Imagine if, in addition to everything else, all women had access to expensive high-end contraceptives and the power to terminate ill-conceived pregnancies.
4. Believers in recovery get their lives back. Most atheists and agnostics are former believers, which means that many carry an old psychological baggage of childhood beliefs or a cycle of post-childhood conversion and unconversion. While many former believers come out of the religion unscathed, some do not, and recovering believers now have a name: collectors. A small but growing number of cognitive scientists are exploring the relationship between religion and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, and panic. Marlene Winell, a California consultant who works full-time with recovering fundamentalists, has drawn attention to a pattern she calls Religious trauma syndrome. Darrel Ray created a matchmaking service for lay clients and therapists, while Kathleen Taylor in Oxford has raised the question whether religious fundamentalism itself can ever be addressed.
5. Communities come together. When two British comedians, Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, launched a “kind of church” for non-believers last January, their Sunday assembly attracted worldwide media attention. In December, they were on a 40-day tour of 40 cities, from Auckland to Portland, helping local groups start their own assemblies.
Their eccentric This effort is part of a much larger movement among atheists exploring how to build communities that provide mutual assistance, outlets for wonder and pleasure, rituals to mark holidays, and organized volunteerism. Some, like Sunday Assembly or Jerry DeWitt Community Mission Chapel, deliberately draws on the structure of the traditional church service, with music and a brief lecture followed by tea and coffee. Others, like Seattle Atheists, use social media to organize a wide range of conferences, community service opportunities and recreation. The Harvard Humanist Community opened the doors to a new Humanist Hub for students and locals on December 8. Same clergy who lost faith unite for mutual support and friendship.
6. Secular giving is increasing. In times of crisis, religious communities often step in to provide emergency aid or to help the poorest and most desperate. Beyond proselytizing, churches are able to provide real service because they have both the will and the infrastructure to do so. More and more, atheists and humanists are saying, we have to do the same. Since 2010, the Beyond Belief Foundation gave nearly $1.5 million raised from non-believers who can donate as little as $5 a month, and is now turning to building a humanist volunteer corps, which is also one of the goals from Harvard Community. In July, the Beyond Belief Foundation will host its first conference, Humanism at work.
7. The religious right heals the wounds. The bets are still off on whether the Catholic Bishops and Southern Baptists step down or simply change brands, but either is good for people who care about science, reason, compassion or the common good. What is clear is that the two most powerful hierarchies of the religious right have realized that they cannot simply seize the reins of power and remake secular institutions along theological lines. Pope Francis has given a mix of signals about the amount of evidence and compassion that will guide the church’s priorities, mostly like yes if you are poor, no if you are a woman. Russell Moore, new leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, has warned that Baptists should not be “the mascots of any political faction”. The takeaway for all of us? Fearful, authoritarian conservatives have been pushed back in their patriarchal power games, and they know it. Shedding light on cruelty, bigotry and ignorance works.
8. Texas evolves! The state of Texas is such a large textbook market that Texas standards can influence content across the country. This means that a handful of well placed butterflies in Texas can reshape the next generation’s understanding of science or history. Thanks to the hard work of Texas Freedom Network and young activists, Texas public school texts will teach biological sciences rather than creationism. This fall, critics appointed by the Texas Board of Education pushed for creationism to be included in the texts, but publishers pushed back. Acceptance of evolution is growth Across the country. As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that adapts best to change. In the end, the review committee itself creationist arguments rejected. This is the evolution!
9. Millennials are picking up the slack. When it comes to the separation of church and state, young people are partnering with established players like the Freedom From Religion Foundation for real victories. Many of 2013’s most promising and inspiring freethinking stories had young protagonists, and we can expect more of the same in the future. Zack Kopplin was still in high school when he took on the state of Louisiana over creationism in schools. Today, he is a full-time science advocate and columnist for the Guardian. ” evil little thingJessica Ahlquist, whose lawsuit forced the removal of a prayer banner at her high school in 2012, has pursued a path of secular activism. Inspirational stories from other young church and state activists can be found here.
10. Rebuilding the separation wall isn’t the only place millennials are leading the way. Young adults who grew up isolated in abusive homeschooling situations have networked, Homeschoolers Anonymous, so they can support each other and fight for change. When a Catholic school in Bellevue, Washington fired a gay teacher, hundreds of the students went out singing “Change the Church”. Their protest was echoed by students from other schools and former Catholic students. A new documentary film with a millennial production team, The unbelievershas been described as a rock concert love fest between biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Larry Krause and their young science-loving fan base.
For those who want to find secular inspiration rather than join a fight for rights and reason, young photographer Chris Johnson has created a coffee table book that challenges readers to take hold of this precious life: A Better Life – 100 Atheists Talk Joy and Meaning in a Godless World. The title says it all.