Atheists are distrusted more than any other group in the United States according to at least one poll. Things such as the “war against Christmas” and the culture wars in general help to create the perception that atheists and other secular thinkers are working together to destroy “traditional” values within American culture. “Family values” and Christianity are being discriminated against under the banner of the First Amendment. This secular goliath, led by academic elites, Liberals, and homosexuals, is threatening to destroy thousands of years of cherished, God-ordained, ideas.
If you listen to such luminaries as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc, then you may be aware of a concerted, omnipresent, and culturally destructive power structure behind the media, schools, and the atheistic scientific community that threatens to take God out of the world. This conspiracy has been in motion for decades, if not centuries, and will continue to destroy traditional Christian America until we are all living in an Atheistic, Communistic, and permissive culture that will drag the world into the recesses of hell.
What makes this feat so amazing is that it is carried out by a small (yet growing) and largely politically impotent group of people made up of often fiercely individualistic people. The various organizations for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, etc throughout the United States, despite their differences, splintering, and lack of cohesive voice, have somehow managed to take control of the culture.
Wait…. a relatively small, disorganized, and powerless minority without any more in common than a shared disbelief in a divine being (for which no evidence exists) has somehow managed to overpower a majority who follow an omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal creator of all that exists?That some serious undertaking.
If you’ve ever talked to more than one of two atheists at a time, you’ll find that it is often difficult to get them to agree to much more than said shared disbelief, let alone organize effectively. The organization and size of the various Christian communities, despite their differences, with their massive media presence and cultural acceptance are in a much better place to maintain influence than any group of atheists. Therefore, another theory must be presented to account for the secular threat that faces religion today.
To begin with, we need to define secular. Secularism is not anti-religious, but rather a-religious. A secular person is not, at least not necessarily, against or opposed to religion. A secular person is someone for whom religion is a minor concern or at least of vanishing concern in making decisions about their society and culture. Their decisions are not made with any religious notion in mind, whether it is to follow or intentionally rebel against one. Secularism, therefore, is not the same as atheism.
Most people believe in some kind of divine existence. For the most part this belief does not shape the entirety of a person’s worldview; people still believe in using critical thinking of some kind for most of their every day decisions. Rationality, logic, and science have won out the day for the vast majority for what kind of medical treatment to get, how to understand how our computers work, and roughly how much we should pay for groceries. These are the tools that the secular world uses. They answer questions about many things, and still leave us pondering over others. When questions about ethics, purpose, and origins of life come up, most people pull out some kind of god or religion, but for most things god is essentially irrelevant.
Most of our decisions in life are made based on the secular tools we all have available. Secular ideas are everywhere, and to an extent they do threaten many religious ideas. But these secular ideas are not the result of a conspiracy to implement them in society by atheists, humanists, or any other freethinkers; they are just ideas that work, which is why we use them. It just so happens that skeptics, which tend to be atheists, tend to accept ideas which work. Thus, when many theists see secular ideas pervading culture and they see atheists and their ilk promoting these ideas, it looks like the ideas are emanating from these people rather than the other way around.
That’s right, the secular ideas, technologies, etc that have been developed throughout history—whether they were created by secular people or not—and tend to impress the power of rational thought and scientific methods onto people. When these people apply these methods onto the world, many of them tend to move further away from religion (especially more fundamental versions of religion) and become more secular people in general.
It is no surprise that some people employ these tools with more effort and to more areas of concern. Some people are meticulous with reason when it comes to their finances but will not even touch their spiritual life with those same tools. Most atheists that I know have simply applied their secular tools to religious ideas and concluded that they don’t hold water.
What this means is that not all people will become atheists. Many will still believe in a God or gods, but will find a balance, reconciliation, or separation between science and religion in such a way that their worldview is not threatened by secular culture. This is partly because secular thinking does not threaten religion unless said religion is so anti-science and non-rational that it is incompatible with all of the stuff that those secular tools create. The problem is that many religious people—fundamentalist Christians especially—accept claims about the world that secular tools tend to break when applied to them. It is from this that some Christians conclude that they are being attacked, oppressed, or discriminated against.
These people are not being discriminated against; they are simply disagreed with by people who accept secular methods for figuring out how the world works. If they feel persecuted, it is because they accept ideas that are unacceptable by standards of rational thinking. They are allowed to believe whatever they want, but they have to accept that when they try to claim that their beliefs are a part of our tradition, law, and culture, they have the right to be mistaken. Christianity in general is indeed a part of our shared history and culture, but not a part of or laws. And as far as tradition is concerned, sometimes traditions need to change just as they have been doing throughout history.
The more that secular ideas are understood and internalized by people, the more culture will move away from religion and belief in gods. I don’t think either will ever fully disappear, and perhaps that is alright. Science, rational thinking, and logic do not support many religious claims, but they also do not disprove many others. But the more we process towards a more complete understanding of the world the less that religion is asked to explain. Further, the explanations that religions continue to offer are all pseudo-explanations or simply insufficient, at least for those who have applied their secular tools to them. The many good ideas of secular culture will tend to support the atheistic position rather than the theistic position.
So, many people may not like atheists, but in most cases atheism is the result of use of the best tools that humankind has yet developed. Our disbelief in deities is simply due to the fact that, despite it’s presence in history, culture, and human life, religion just doesn’t work, at least not when we apply those highly regarded methods. I see it as an optimistic sign that secular ideas are accepted widely. I hope that it means that the future will hold greater organization among atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers of all kinds. This will be a sign of brighter futures.