Saturday, May 28, 2005

Purgatory Without End: Why Is America Still So Prone to Religious Wars

(Courtesy of Arts Journal)

Purgatory Without End: Why Is America Still So Prone to Religious Wars
The Economist


In the wake of the creationist “Scopes monkey trial” in 1925, the evangelicals (though technically victorious) realised they had lost the PR battle, and retreated from American public life. Now they are popping up all over the place, from the bestseller lists to pop music. In the wake of Scopes, the Bible Belt (H. L. Mencken's tag) was seen as a home of hicks. Now evangelism is the religion of the upwardly mobile, of McMansions and office parks, with evangelicals almost drawing level with (traditionally upper-crust) Episcopalians in terms of wealth and education.

Over the past 25 years, these more confident evangelicals have become the most powerful voting block in the Republican Party. Now they want to redefine the boundaries of church and state to make more room for public displays of religiosity and for faith-based social policy, and to put the “culture of life” back at the heart of the American experiment.

For evangelicals all these positions are as mainstream as it comes. They point out that the banishment of religion from the public square is a recent development. You only have to go back to 1960 to find children praying in schools and Hollywood sentimentalising Christmas. They point out that Roe v Wade (1973), which protects abortion, was a wonky decision, based on a post-modern reading of the constitution; and that the revolution that removed religion from public life has led to social breakdown.

Yet for a growing number of secularists these positions are the very definition of extremism. School prayers are unAmerican. For them, Roe v Wade is up there with Brown v Board of Education in the pantheon of Supreme Court rulings. And they regard the past 40 years as a period of enlightenment, not breakdown. These secularists are as determined to preserve the status quo as the Christian conservatives are to reverse it—and they have made the Democratic Party their shield.

Which all suggests that America's religious wars are only going to intensify.

To Read the Entire Essay


Susannity said...

As an atheist/anti-theist, I didn't really bring up the topic of religion or discuss it in a debate-like manner unless prompted. Now I am more open in bringing up a "controversial" view in front of others, thereby instigating discussion. The reason is that I believed that if I didn't question/attack religion out of respect for followers, they would do the same. That is pretty much not what I have found. Evangelism is a big part of most religions. I believe other non-believers like me, and the few I've met whom I've discussed it with, feel that to be silent inadvertently portrays acceptance and that acceptance is not reciprocal. So for those on the fence, they do not realize there are alternatives. And for those who are believers but espousing what I believe to be ugly, unloving, bitter beliefs need to know that there are those who find their beliefs to be that way and that it can't be "easy" to spew forth those messages unchallenged. In addition, if either side "gives an inch", the other tries to take the mile, so it forces polarity - you must be black or white as gray means you might give credence to something the "other side" believes. My own personal belief is morality is something that is a necessity for human survival, with us being the animals we are, and that one does not need to be religious to have morality. Most of the religious folks I have spoken to feel morality without religion makes no sense, which just exemplies the "animal" part of my previous sentence to me.

Michael Benton said...

Susanne, you know I am fellow anti-theist...

I find most religious people to be very respectful of my beliefs and many of them to be genuinely curious about what I believe. I've had many stimulating and reqrding conversations in the past year with people of faith... for me the key is to talk with them respectfully and to be willing to listen to them.

Then there are the abusive Christians on our campus who scream at students walking by the free-speech zones telling them they are sinners, sluts, evil and condemned (seriously... screaming)

... and there is this small minority mentioned in this article that hold such influence way beyond their numbers. How has it happened? I'm curious...

I'm willing to talk to anyone, perhaps not always respectfully, but I do listen, what bothers me about the last two examples is they do not listen and they want to erase what is different from them, as if difference cuses them to doubt and for them doubt is the worst thing possible because it leads to reflection....

sorry rambling...

Susannity said...

Doubt is the one thing that makes a theist most uncomfortable imo. Doubt challenges faith and faith is all that holds one to religion.

You are fortunate that most of the theists you have met are "respectful", but I wonder if even though they don't scream it, if they are really any different from the screamers you mention in all other aspects/beliefs. I think that's why when you say the small number who hold such influence and question it - when we look at the Christian society we live in - is that really many believe similarly even though some may be more tactful in what they share or how they share it, but that is why there is such a convergence and movement of these principles. It is not a few that influence the others to believe, it is the few telling all of the believers to come forward and show your strength as you are a majority of the population and it is time to lay down god's law. These few are the leaders calling forth the army of god in their minds, and the army is united. Much of the world that is not homogeneous has religious wars. Part of religion is the duality of right/wrong, and someone else has to be wrong. Why should America be any different? We are just fortunate that the physical killing is limited, and that we choose a sword in the legal system.

Michael Benton said...

I'm sure it helps that many of the theists I am meeting are professors and students who are generally open to discussion of beliefs/perspectives.

I would think that your and my anti-theist position would also qualify as a faith-based perspective, as in it takes a very strong sense of faith to hold the worldview we have and it is supported by very strict frames? What do you think... atheism as faith?

I also have some Unitarian friends provide me with good examples for religion.

What is the opposite of "belief"? Non-belief, no I don't think so because I don't see non-belief as an options for human perspective, it must be "doubt" ... I just watched the movie Contact and I found the scientist played by Jodie Foster a good example of an anti-theist who practices the scientific method of doubt, yet is open to deeper meanings when they are presented to he (even as she doubts and struggles with those meanings)

Michael Benton said...

Please excuse the rushed writing-mistakes

Susannity said...

Yes, I agree anti-theism is a form of faith. I believe all beliefs are a form of faith as we have faith in our perceptions being real. My perceptions led me to be a follower of science. I do not currently believe in a "higher power/being", but I am open to what might be considered supernatural if my perceptions indicated such a reality, like Jodie Foster's char. I once asked a friend of mine who is a very strong Christian what he would do if his dead Grandmother (who he loved deeply and was also a strong Christian) came to him (somehow materializing) and told him there was a form of afterlife, but it was not Christianity, that Christianity was all wrong. He told me he would think that it was not his Grandmother at all, but the devil trying to trick him. My husband had a boss once who when my husband told him of a trip to the petrified forest and how petrified wood was created etc, laughed and said "you don't believe that do you? The earth is only 6000 years old." So can faith be moved by perception - I don't know.