A recent Pew survey says a lot of Americans now respond “None”. Of the 22% “unaffiliated” about 7 percent are “atheist” or “agnostic”.
Once upon a time, I might have thought that was a good thing. But it’s important to distinguish the baby from the bathwater.
The traditional distinction between “moderate” and “extreme” religion may not really be all that useful. There’s nothing moderate about pacifism, or faith-based economic justice, or faith-based environmentalism, and in a violent, polluted, capitalistic world, that’s all to the good.
A better distinction might be “pro-human” vs “anti-human”. Does a religion work for a world that humans can live in? Or does it look with eager anticipation to the apocalypse, in favor of a mythical new world? Religious oppression often finds its support in the notion that this world is bad, and the mythical eternity is good.
I’m not that keen on “faith”, but I do like “community”. It’s fashionable to say that religion does community very well, though religion’s track record of inclusiveness isn’t anything to write home about. The tendency to exclude people who are “not like us” is a human trait, which emerges in any endeavor, including religion. You can find evidence of human cussedness among the non-religious. The atheist community has its share of anti-feminists, social Darwinists (which has nothing to do with Charles Darwin or evolution), and outright racists.
No external philosophical marker that I have found confers decency and community on the people who claim it. Individuals decide to include their fellow humans, or not, in the circle of community. This goes for Christians, for Muslims, for atheists, and for all I know, probably stamp collectors.
How easy it is to be surrounded by people who are just like us! The comfort of social homogeneity is a trap: it leads us to think in terms of “us” and “them”. We should be choosing our enemies more carefully than that.
- Discuss this post on G+, Facebook, and Twitter
- Dave Hill: America’s religious face is changing, like it or not
- Yes, I am a straight-up atheist. But in my view, human decency seems unrelated to what religion a person has, or if they are religious at all.
- Mother Jones: More Americans ditching organized religion