Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

After The Dust Settles

I've been mulling this question privately for some time now, and since Aaron's post over at KTA brought it to the fore, I suppose I'll submit it for public consideration.

Much lamenting takes place amongst atheists gathering in the blogosphere as well as in the real world, railing against the supposed downtrodden status of those without a god-belief in this country. The University of Minnesota study which found that atheists are the least trusted group in this country is frequently cited, as is the quote from George H. W. Bush suggesting that atheists should not be citizens.

And yes, those are both disquieting facts to consider, but I just don't know if they're that big of a deal.

Matters of religion rarely come up in day-to-day life, and the average stranger next to whom you stand in line while waiting to order a burrito probably doesn't care if you've been to church this week, much less is interested in arguing the finer points of theology. Even close friends and acquaintances probably aren't going to care much, because if you're someone who lacks a god-belief, chances are you're not going to spend much time around those that do.

The obvious exception to this would be those who have recently lost their faith- like me, these fresh atheists likely have religious friends and family, and have been immersed in a religious environment for which every interaction becomes an altercation following their deconversion. These people, like Reed Braden of Unorthodox Atheism, have available to them today an instant platform to voice their objections to religion and report every religiously motivated injustice (Reed himself reports that he has drawn the ire of his school administrators for loaning a copy of "The God Delusion" to a classmate), and thus tend to get a bit more attention than the average non-believer.

My point here is not to downplay these facts- yes, it is unfortunate that atheists aren't considered trustworthy; yes, it is unfortunate that atheists can risk disciplinary action for sharing their opinions; yes, it is unfortunate that atheists might even be fired for their unbelief.

But it just doesn't seem to make that much of a difference to the big picture.

Maybe I've been fortunate so far, but I've never run across a zealous fundamentalist on the street or otherwise who took me to task for my atheism. I go out in public on a regular basis and chat very openly with my friend Derek at restaurants or bars about the nonexistence of God and the mythological basis of Jesus without attracting a single stare. Hell, every month the NTCOF descends on a local Jason's Deli after their church service and discuss all manner of atheistic topics, with nary a raised eyebrow seen by myself for over a year now.

Say what you will about the current President Bush, but I think an offhand comment to a German reporter ("'re equally American whether you're a Jew, Muslim, Christian, or Atheist...") easily cancels out an offhand comment by his father.

And can things really be that grim when large groups of Muslims are fighting against theocracy?

Yes, yes, I know that religious belief isn't dead everywhere, and there are still problems that need to be addressed in the world. But I think that this is increasingly more the exception than the rule. As Aaron points out, churches in Europe and America are being abandoned. Here in Dallas, the only congregations that are growing are the megachurches, whose religious content is diluted significantly, leaving little more to the church experience than social feel-goodery glazed with a thin patina of liberal Christianity. Just take a look at the website for one of the most successful Dallas megachurches, compared to the hardcore Reformed church in which I grew up.

I just don't see atheists being regarded as the societal pariahs that many people think we are. I've been regularly attending a local Southern Baptist apologetics class for more than a year, and I'm continually welcomed, thanked for my contributions (mostly the pastries my wife makes), and missed when I'm not present. True, I haven't been asked to babysit anyone's kids yet, but I was welcomed into their monthly respite service for local disabled children and their families. These are no theological pushovers, either- they may not be seminary-trained, but they take their faith seriously enough to keep Kevin Harris cranking out as many apologetics lectures as he possibly can.

So to summarize my points: religion does seem to be diminishing in either popularity or rigor; atheists may not be trusted, but they're not bothered either; and there is the real potential for believers and non-believers to commune without animosity.

Maybe I'm just being too optimistic here, but is there really anything else we need? Is there any reasonable criterion for victory? It seems to me that anything beyond this point is essentially a victory lap. If Richard Dawkins, whatever you think of him, can have a book called "The God Delusion" on the New York Times bestseller list for 8 months and counting (and whatever you think of the book itself, it's been influential enough to motivate a Christian "catch-up" attempt at rebuttal), then I don't think non-belief is in danger of extinction anytime soon.

Given all this, I want to look ahead to what is going to happen after the dust settles. In the years to come, as the need for religion continues to wane and the average person is more accepting of their non-believing neighbors, what then? Will blogs like this one fade away into oblivion? Will the Rational Responders be out of a job? Is that a bad thing?

Will churches be a thing of the past entirely? Will people still congregate to discuss morality and ethics in a rational context, as does the NTCOF? Or will people like Dawkins and Dennett be as obscure to future generations as Democritus and Epicurus are to us? Is that a good thing?

I honestly don't know, myself, but I think it's something that should be considered, because I think I can see the end of the horizon in the distance.

Post a Comment


At 5/09/2007 6:23 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Excellent points all around, Zach. Also, you raise some thought provoking questions.

I firmly believe that atheism is now departing on the bullet train to victory. I believe that it is inevitable and that we are already seeing the metaphorical snowball/train/whatever graining speed, although its still just the beginning IMO.

In late 2005 blogged about my amazement of seeing a guy in a dance club with an atheist tattoo! Would that have happened even 30 years ago, in some discotec in the late 70s? I think not.

The churches with the biggest attendance in Europe are those that have been converted to coffee houses and residential lofts (LOL) and no longer have any religious activities happening within. How deliciously appropriate of an end of an era.

The blasphemy challenge, the war on xmas, the war on easter... these have all been huge successes. Would these campaigns have gotten any traction or positive attention 30 years ago?

While atheists only make up 8% of the population, they have absolutely DOMINATED youtube. The Blasphemy Challenge was the most recent atheistic tour de force, and the Christian response cant hold a candle to it in terms of numbers. For being only 8% of the population, the atheists have been whooping ass all over the internet and other new, hightech communication mediums.

I believe that this shift is mostly generational in that the youth are embracing rationalism in much higher numbers than their parents and other forerunners. The youth, in their embracing of the internet and such, end up self-educating and widening their own perspective of the world in ways the older generation never could. You gotta admit that this atheism thing started taking off shortly after the internet took off. Its the new "hippie" in a "movement of the youth" kind of way.

All I wanna do is help speed it up as much as possible :)



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