Monday, October 15, 2012

The non-religious continue to grow, but that doesn't mean they're letting go of God

The big news in the atheist sphere is the new Pew Research Center report showing that Americans who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or non-religious continues to grow.  Over the last five years, the combined number has grown nearly 5% with the largest gains among those who are simply unaffiliated.

While I'm happy to see the numbers of agnostics and atheists growing, I'm not going to get too excited over the growth of "nothing in particular".  I can only speculate, but to me it seems this could be a natural reaction to the excessive moralizing of the Conservative Protestant and Catholic churches, especially over the last decade.  From what I've seen, most people don't seek religion to hear doom and gloom or to receive constant lectures on how to live their lives.  Okay, maybe some want that, but the vast majority seek religion to find community, acceptance, or seemingly reasonable answers to life's difficulties.  Whether or not organized religion is the best place to find those things is another argument, but it does provide them nonetheless.

Now, the past couple decades have seen Conservative Christianity seize control of a major US political party, and the Catholic Church has come down strongly in support of several of the same interests as the Religious Right.  An incredible amount of time and effort has been invested trying to halt society's natural evolution and return it to the "Eden" of the 1950s.  Nevertheless, time marches on and people's opinions change.

Obviously, I'm on the outside looking in, but it seems to me that if I were the member of an organization whose ostensible purpose was to explore the deeper meaning of life, I would be extremely disappointed to find that organization become so invested in petty political mud-slinging.  It must cheapen the experience when the leaders of these organizations continue to insist that gay marriage will destroy marriage, despite all evidence to the contrary.  It must also take an incredible degree of mental compartmentalization to be the member of an organization whose founder clearly supported redistribution of wealth and then hear the leaders of your organization argue for the exact opposite and encourage you to vote for Republicans.

What I'm trying to say is, don't celebrate too much.  Just because people are disillusioned with Christianity doesn't necessarily mean they're seeking what the non-theists are selling.  Sure, atheists and agnostics are growing, but no religion in particular is growing faster, and they aren't necessarily looking for scientific answers.  I'm sure many still believe in a God of some sort, and many are those who eagerly snap up "The Secret" or one of the countless other New Age tomes of nonsense.

Still, it's nice to see atheists and agnostics growing, but I would argue for caution.  A lot of committed atheists out there are just as bad as the most judgmental Christians.  We've all seen them trolling the internet, picking fights and being generally nasty just because someone holds theistic beliefs.  It does the rest of us no favors, helps fuel the "militant atheist" argument, and turns people off in the same manner as Conservative Christianity.  We can continue to grow our numbers, but we can't do it by taking the low road.

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