Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I don't think you understand the dynamics of what has been going on in the US for the past 40 years. The religious right has moved out of the pulpit and into politics.

Their goal is to convert the US into a theocracy. The current candidate Mike Huckabee is not only a minister, but has recently stated that he wants to rewrite the US constitution so that it conforms to the bible.

Christianism (my term) in the US is also seen as one of the prime factors behind the invasion of Iraq. Bush called it a crusade before he was told to water down his invective.

Statistics show that a non-believer would be distrusted by the vast majority of voters which is why the obviously non-observant pretend to be religious. Howard Dean was the most recent example, but Reagan before and now Bush don't attend traditional services. They do something "privately". Bush's religion is a personal version, not an institutional one.

This kissing up to the religious has meant that criticism of theology was off the table until this latest wave of critics. They are tasked with two things. The first is to repeat all the arguments against the supernatural (again) for a new generation that hasn't been exposed to them before. The second is to open up a space in public discourse where others can express their problems with organized religion and religious doctrine.

To do this they have to be polemicists. Moderate voices don't get heard. So they may go over the top on occasion. It's a small price to pay compared to all statements made by religious/political leaders who are promoting their power politics. Did you know that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for homosexuality? One of our "respected" religious leaders is sure of it and said so.

Several people, especially Sam Harris and Hitchins were traumatized by 9/11 and see Islam as an implacable foe. They dislike Christianity, but most of its power was in the past, they see Islam as a current threat. If you think the world is on the brink of a universal conflagration do you say "fire" or "F I R E!!!".

If you compare the degree of religiosity in western Europe to that in the US you will see why they become so intemperate.

It's not only foreign affairs that have been impacted by US religious dogma. The issues of funding stem cell research, family planning techniques in the third world, AID's prevention and government support for religious organizations have all been directly affected.

Much of the recent rise in AID's in part of the world can be traced back to US religious policies on the "morality" of homosexuality and prostitution.

You are, of course, free to criticize their approach, but is it this you object to or their aims? Who else is willing to take on the religious establishment? Look what happens when anyone offends religious sensibilities in the Muslim world: Salmon Rushdie and the Danish Cartoons are typical cases.

There is even a faction in the US who thinks that the second coming will happen when the appropriate events take place in the middle east and this effects their position towards Israel. This then translates (indirectly) into US policy. We see how well that is working.

If you have any examples of others being more effective then these four please cite them.

Jonathan Miller produced a show on the history of disbelief for the BBC last year. It's worth hunting down on the web. His main point was that until recently being an atheist was punishable by death in many places and that any discussion of unbelief is fairly recent and restricted to a small corner of the world.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 04:28:37 PM EST
I fear we are working ourselves up about a phenomenon at the precise moment when its peak has passed, and a rapid process of decline has already set in. And that phenomenon is not religion, the decline of which has a long history, but specifically the political influence of evangelical Christianity in the USA.

The Edge article by Paul and Zuckerman should be required reading for you, Helen, Ted, and anyone else in this respect.

Note: I do not disagree with you about the harmful effect evangelicals have had on American politics for the last 40-odd years. I completely agree. But its moment has passed and we are on the verge of a new age, my jaded, cynical brothers and sisters! Know hope!

What is actually happening here and abroad is a great polarization as increasingly anxious and often desperate hard-core believers mount a vigorous counterrevolution via extreme levels of activism to the first emergence of mass apostasy in history. No major religion is expanding its share of the global population by conversion in any circumstances, much less educated democracy. Disbelief in the supernatural alone is able to achieve extraordinary rates of growth by voluntary conversion. Why?

It is to be expected that in 2nd and 3rd world nations where wealth is concentrated among an elite few and the masses are impoverished that the great majority cling to the reassurance of faith.

Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation that is irreligious shares a set of distinctive attributes. These include handgun control, anti-corporal punishment and anti-bullying policies, rehabilitative rather than punitive incarceration, intensive sex education that emphasizes condom use, reduced socio-economic disparity via tax and welfare systems combined with comprehensive health care, increased leisure time that can be dedicated to family needs and stress reduction, and so forth.

As a result the great majority enjoy long, safe, comfortable, middle class lives that they can be confident will not be lost due to factors beyond their control. It is hard to lose one's middle class status in Europe, Canada and so forth, and modern medicine is always accessible regardless of income. Nor do these egalitarians culture emphasize the attainment of immense wealth and luxury, so most folks are reasonably satisfied with what they have got. Such circumstances dramatically reduces peoples' need to believe in supernatural forces that protect them from life's calamities, help them get what they don't have, or at least make up for them with the ultimate Club Med of heaven. One of us (Zuckerman) interviewed secular Europeans and verified that the process of secularization is casual; most hardly think about the issue of God, not finding the concept relevant to their contented lives.

The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material.

It is the great anomaly, the United States, that has long perplexed sociologists. America has a large, well educated middle class that lives in comfort--so why do they still believe in a supernatural creator? Because they are afraid and insecure. Arbitrary dismissal from a long held job, loss of health insurance followed by an extended illness, excessive debt due to the struggle to live like the wealthy; before you know it a typical American family can find itself financially ruined. Overwhelming medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy.

To be a bit more serious: The fits fundamentalism will throw as it fades into insignificance can still be ugly. Contra Dawkins, I hold that we need to mobilise the moderate majority to keep it in check.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 08:11:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To quote an old saying: "From your lips to God's ear". Unfortunately I think there is a bit of mischief still to run its course before one can close the books on this latest version of the "great awakening".

I track the religious phenomena fairly closely in the US, I get a few magazines from organizations devoted to promoting secularism and they report the contradictory evidence often.

The rise in those reporting no religion has gone up in the US steadily, but at the same time the influence of religion in government is at a high not seen since the last cycle around 1900. When I was growing up in the middle of the last century there were no serious programs like the weekly "On Religion" program on the BBC and the one on NPR. There was no regular religion column in the NY Times and there were no national chains of religious broadcasters.

So what we have is a minority which has managed to infiltrate the agencies of government and won't be rooted out all that quickly. The biggest lasting legacy will be in the Supreme Court and several of the district federal courts. These justices will be there for decades.

It's hard to tell about the Muslim world, but it appears that religion has also moved beyond its normal sphere and into politics. The most visible instance being Iran, but there are strong religious factions in other places such as Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Whether a rising standard of living and exposure to western ideas will damp down religious factionalism remains to be seen.

So while the trend is towards less religion there is a long path ahead and much unpleasantness may still be in store.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 09:43:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Handmaid's Tale looks like a possibility for the US.

As for the Middle East - look at the history of British and US intervention. In particular, Iran has had one democracy overthrown. A rise in fundamentalism makes a whole lot of sense.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Jan 21st, 2008 at 10:58:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dogmatic beliefs are waning, but maybe this process is just not fast enough. Think of the inevitable spread of potentially dangerous technologies and growing global interdependence and try not be worried about fanatics. I can understand Hitchen's position (even when I don't agree): there's no cheek to turn if your head is blown off.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 02:14:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Contra Dawkins, I hold that we need to mobilise the moderate majority to keep it in check.

Some of the moderate majority already agree with him, e.g. the UK bishops who joined with him in opposing the introduction of creationism in some UK schools.

But it's difficult for them because the extremists will say to the moderates "our views are based on faith just like yours".  Hence Dawkins' argument that moderates lend respectability to the extremists (both being based on faith) - but not saying that the moderates are therefore responsible for what some extremists decide to do. So he thinks that we need to get rid of the excuse of faith in general in favour of reason and evidence.

He clearly has just the "hope" which you recommend - the hope that even the US might change to become as secular as most of Europe (which didn't take that long, but nor was it so fast we can afford to do nothing to speed it up). But given the state of the US now, he does not think one can just complacently sit and watch and wait. Damage is being done now and so he's doing his bit - and he's said he doesn't think it's the ONLY way (even though, as I pointed out before, his supposed stridency has been exaggerated). Aren't there better targets for criticism ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 06:41:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted, to cut to the chase about this: I think it is important that we get the emerging secularism right. Of course there are more worthy targets than Dawkins. Note the opening line of this diary.

I tend to agree with ThatBritGuy on who those more important targets are. And at least it's something most of us here can agree on.

But disagreements are good to have, at times. They can clarify a lot. Without sanctioning everything anyone has said in these religion debates, to wit... except my own statements, of course... To ramble on, despite being sort-of-dragged into this, I find the debate enlightening and am happy that we have it.

To make this more than a short rant:

But it's difficult for them because the extremists will say to the moderates "our views are based on faith just like yours".

Do religious extremists really say that about moderates? Because I have never heard it. And I've seen and heard a few tapes of suicide bombers, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants and have read plenty about people like, say, Fred Phelps. I have never heard them utter anything even remotely along the lines of:

You deserve to be killed, INFIDEL! ...Oh, but really, you can't challenge me because it's my faith and you agreed to have moderate religious people keep their faith, so that must mean it's OK for you.

Not even Achmed the dead terrorist!

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2008 at 07:25:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I tend to agree with ThatBritGuy on who those more important targets are. And at least it's something most of us here can agree on.

As rdf and I have pointed out, the religious in the US remain a threat in themselves, and have campaigns specifically related to their beliefs which do a great deal of damage - and I suspect some of these are an embarrassment to some of the neo-cons and it is just simplistic to think the latter are the cause of all important problems.

But disagreements are good to have, at times.

I'm sure you don't really expect ME to disagree with THIS :-)

    But it's difficult for them because the extremists will say to the moderates "our views are based on faith just like yours".

Do religious extremists really say that about moderates? Because I have never heard it. And I've seen and heard a few tapes of suicide bombers, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants

I was of course imagining a direct encounter where moderates criticised the extermists' beliefs; I don't think the latter are likely to just volunteer the answer. But the logic remains; ultimately most religious believers have a problem strongly criticisng extremists in general terms because both ultimately rely on the same basis - faith. By giving respect to beliefs based on faith, as has been widespread, especially in the US, because some of them are nice moderates, we neglect the very necessary strong criticism of such an irrational basis for beliefs. As a result we have the absurd spectacle of two Republican Presidential canidates - frontrunners! - one of whom supports the teaching of creationsim and wants to change the Constitution to favour religion, while the other is a Mormon - and none of the mainstream media ridicule this - must respect people's faith - NO !(the Late show is off-air I think).

Dawkins et al are just carrying out long overdue, strong, well-publicised critiques which many moderate Christans, doubters and atheists welcome and feel necessary.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2008 at 01:37:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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