Will Everyone Eventually
Be An Atheist?

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Wednesday, November 24, 1999 5:03 AM

In enough time, perhaps. But I doubt this will happen in our lifetimes or even within the next few hundred years. Freethinkers have been predicting the demise of since the time of Charles Darwin (150 years ago), but, if anything, the incidence of religious credulity has increased since then -- at least in America. Religion has gone down considerably in Europe, though, to the point where I would say faith in God is no longer much of a factor in European life. The religious institutions, though, still play a very active role in the communities both in Europe and especially in America. Here are two reasons why I think religion will be with us for a long time.

Firstly, some think religion in general has too much going for it. (See Michael Shermer's new book "Why We Believe" for the argument that religion has certain advantages that no other group can claim.) Even though the tendency in Europe is moving away from a belief in a personal deity and more toward a deistic or pantheistic force, the religious institutions are still active in providing the services that they always have. America is more religious today than it has ever been before. We've been to the moon, but 45 percent of Americans are young-earth creationists. Go figure.

As for Shermer's argument that religion has a lot to offer, I think we cannot overrule the possibility that religion's position (to be able to provide these things) is artificially maintained. In other words, we don't live in a society where secular groups and agencies have the resources to even begin offering those things that religion has monopolized for thousands of years. The fact that both Gore and Bush are pushing to give government money to religions to increase their competitive edge in the charity business doesn't look good, because I would like to see secular agencies allowed to compete with the religious groups in meeting the needs of the communities. The Bush-Gore choice (Some choice!) will squash any chance of secular agencies being able to compete with religion to see if We, the People can do a better job at doling out these resources more fairly and more efficiently. As it stands, if we give more money to the churches, we will need to spend precious resources policing the churches to make sure they don't exploit their position to proselytize to those who receive the benefits. It seems much easier simply to administer these resources through purely secular government agencies.

Secondly, and more realistically, I think the tendency toward credulity may have been selected into the population for a long time, through persecution of nonbelievers. Conversely, the tendency toward skepticism has been selected out of the population through the same means of state persecution of nonbelievers and other-believers. (See chapter 4 of Victor Stenger's "Physics and Psychics," reprinted in the November, 1999, issue of "Positive Atheism," for this argument.) This argument is very powerful to explain why, in this day and age, so many people are fleeing toward superstitious beliefs. That people would be superstitious at all is, to me, an enigma. I absolutely cannot fathom why people would be religious in this day and age -- until I examine my own mind and my own occasional urges to flee to religion. Author Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange) likened this tendency in himself to a vestigial organ or muscle (like the human appendix or the muscles on our heads that used to move our ears). Just as these organs are there in the body but no longer used or necessary, these tendencies toward faith and credulity are there in the mind. Unfortunately, they have today become a liability, whereas for most of the history of civilization they could be conceived as having been an asset toward securing the peace and allowing a clan to thrive.

Thus, I am predicting that religion will not go away any time soon. We can only hope that religion never comes to dominate the government like it did in the Dark Ages. To hope it goes away entirely, I think, is to hope unrealistically.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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