The Fear Factor: Are Atheists and Christians Fearful of the Future Should the Other Side Win This Cultural War?

I hear this coming from Christians, that they fear for their future if atheism gains more political influence, as I do coming from atheists concerning the Christian influence in our society. Are these fears justified? Can we all right now decide to commit ourselves to the separation of churches and state in advance of who wins this cultural war? Will that help assuage our respective fears? In hopes this could help I do. I strongly affirm the separation of churches and state. And although atheism is not a church nor a religion I strongly affirm that there should be no anti-religious test for state office and that no one should teach or affirm atheism in our schools, nor that words like "We Are a Godless Nation" replace the words "In God We Trust" on our currency (even if we would remove the present words off our bills), etc. etc.

22 comments:

jbudrdanl said...

I am new to this blog and just received your book (which I will very carefully read in the next couple of days), but I'd like to comment on this post because this "culture war" idea has always bothered me. I am an evangelical Christian and former atheist who was not raised in a religious home, never went to church, and knew very few church-going people in my youth. My conversion to Christianity came as a result of individuals in my life, not because of a culture.

Individuals make up culture. The myth of a culture war is a convenient excuse for alarmists of all political/religious stripes to call soldiers to some make-believe battle ground. Culture doesn't shift in a day. It changes constantly over the course of time. No "side" will ever "win" a war that doesn't exist.

I affirm the tenants you suggest in the post, but not because of any war. I support them because the foundations of this nation were built upon such ideals. If I wanted to live in a Christian nation, I would move to one (like South Carolina or Kansas).

No side will win a war that exists only in the minds of a small minority of activists. The rest of us live in relationship with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. We seek to have a positive influence on them each day in ways that we see fit. This "war" mentality is best to fanatics like Jim Dobson and Josh McDowell and Richard Dawkins.

Let's keep the inflammatory rhetoric low and the engaging intellectual discussion high. That's what I hope I have discovered by bookmarking this blog.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for commenting. There are indeed people who are battling this out, so to speak, and these people want different cultural results. They are indeed scared if there's a mjor shift in power to the other side. These are undeniable sociological facts no matter whether you like them or not. But one thing you said seems reassuring to me personally. If neither side will win this war then there's probably nothing to fear from each other, and if so probably nothing to hate.

Kevin H said...

First, there are just too few atheists to have a major impact on immediate cultural changes.

But let me hasten to say that atheists/secularists tend to pack a bigger wallop on the arena of ideas than, say, Mormons or the Religious Right, the latter of which are marginalized by major media outlets.

Therefore, media go to the universities for commentary, and secularism has a strong presence there.

Evangelicals are not the Religious Right. They by and large are more intellectual, tolerant, and educated. The death of Jerry Falwell and the aging of Dobson and Robertson are only a part of the transition in Evangelicals.

However, the new Evangelicals are more subtle in political activism. Outrageous behavior, demagoguery, and reactionism is frowned upon.

So, it's hard to predict who will be more successful in cultural divides. New Atheism and New Evangelicalism is still being birthed.

I can only predict that atheists will not be as maligned as in the past. The face of atheism was Madalyn Murray O'Hair - a horror movie!

Today's atheist leaders have a beautiful new face, education, and image. Unfortunately, they are just as wrong as Madalyn :)

K

ahswan said...

I get a sense that many Christians fear a secular culture more than an atheist one (which is far less likely).

While it is popular to take a different view, the US was formed as a more or less Christian country; and not only Christian, but Protestant. While there was no allegiance to a single denomination, Christianity was indeed favored (although there were obvious hold-outs who put up with the rest).

Even Jefferson held to a more or less Christian worldview, as represented by the severely edited Jefferson Bible.

I think many Christians believe that moving to a true secular or religiously diverse nation is seen as being marginalized, which none of us like.

However, history shows that "God's people," whether Jew or Christian, thrive during times of marginalization, persecution and exile. Many believe that Constantine was the worst thing that could have happened to the Church. And, they may be right.

I tend to believe that the Church in America needs to be marginalized; Christians have grown fat, lazy and ignorant (in general, of course). That being said, I also believe that turning America into a true secular nation would compromise the original intent of the Framers to the point that we may see the Union begin to unravel. Well, perhaps that's already happening.

Just my 2 cents.

Kenn said...

Comparing the geographical concentration of non-believers to that of of the 2008 presidential race, there is reason for concern.

Liberal Democrats did well in the Northeast (New England) and Northwest (Seattle region) where atheists comprise the highest democraphics.

Athesits tend to prefer big government. Theists prefer small government.

Rev. Ouabache said...

Athesits tend to prefer big government. Theists prefer small government.

Right. Which is why George Bush did such a great job to contract the government while he was in office. No, wait...

stevec said...

I like your use of "separation of churches and state," rather than "separation of church and state,"

Dan Gilbert said...

I would not argue for a government that is pro or anti religion. I would promote a government that is completely neutral toward religion. My opinion is that neutrality was the aim of the Constitution.

What I generally see is attempts to remove "religion" from politics is seen as an attack on religion rather than as an attempt to keep (or make) government religion-neutral.

ie... removing prayer in public schools is not anti-religion. It's neutral. It's not promoting atheism OR religion. It's removing both of them from the picture entirely.

I think that point is frequently missed.

But, as you said, John, separation of "churches and state" would essentially accomplish that neutrality that I hope for.

Sinbad said...

"Are atheists and Christians fearful of the future should the other side win this cultural war?"

Of course they are, and with good reason. On the one hand, the elder Bush suggested that atheists don't deserve to be citizens. On the other hand, Sam Harris suggested that people might have to be killed for religious belief alone. So long as error ("you're wrong") is turned into something far stronger and far harsher("you're mentally ill") and each side is utterly and certainly convinced of its rightness and righteousness, it's difficult to see why either side would ever leave warfare-mode.

Sinbad said...

Put another way, the key to competing factions living together peaceably and productively is that they treat each other with respect. Note that the other view itself needn't be respected. But, at a minimum, treating another with respect includes civility, courtesy and charity.

Kenn said...

Rev. Ouabache,

Just comparing trends.

busterggi said...

Is there a bigger form of government than the kingdom of Yahweh that evangelicals want?

Is that you finbar?

Rev. Ouabache said...

Kenn

It's never good to make generalizations like that. There is a growing group of secular libertarians out there.

Carbon Based said...

"Rev. Ouabache,

Just comparing trends."

What "trend"? Republicans have NEVER shurnk govenment nor have been they been fiscally responsible.

both are myths.

What your comparing is what they claim to want but not what they actually do.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
icelander said...

Will [separation of church and state] help assuage our respective fears?

It seems to me that this is what the culture war is all about. If Christians (not all, but some) could be convinced not to try to write their morality into law, I wouldn't care what they worshiped, provided they left me alone.

Conversely, fundamentalist Christians are afraid that things like gay marriage, abortion rights, and evolution-only science classes are battles in the culture war, when really they're church-state issues.

So you can't separate the culture war from church/state separation.

Kevin H: First, there are just too few atheists to have a major impact on immediate cultural changes.

Atheists, no. But the non-religious are the third largest religious group in the nation after Baptists and Catholics. And one thing almost all non-religious people share is a belief in the separation of church and state.

Kevin H:
But let me hasten to say that atheists/secularists tend to pack a bigger wallop on the arena of ideas than, say, Mormons or the Religious Right, the latter of which are marginalized by major media outlets.

That's amusing. I think that atheists are far more marginalized. Or, at the very least, are greeted with outright hostility when they're put on cable news.

goprairie said...

There IS fear and there is REASON to fear. Because people just don't GET it. Because my friend and I wrote each wrote a letter to the local paper protesting the "moment of silent reflection" in school and there were, over the next 4 weeks, FOURTEEN replies, from the 'what does it hurt' to the rabid 'people like you are destroying familuy values'. If I have a bar of liquor store, I can't sell my wares on parts of Sunday. Why? I can't mail a letter at my post office or deposit or withdraw funds from my bank on Christmas day or Easter. Why? Christianity is pervasive iin our culture in so many ways that we take for granted and constnat vigelence is needed to stop more ways from creeping in. Does my landscape business with a 'nature' themed name suffer unfairly due to the religious reference in 'Sonshine Landscaping'? Doe people assume from the weird religious reference they will get a better deal, a higher quality landscape job? How creepy is that? Boy Scouts is still one of the best ways to get a kid involved in nature and give them skills and confidence but if I am gay, I cannot be involved in my kid's troop leadership and if my kid is gay, he can't be a member. If he is an atheist, he better be quiet about it or he won't be able to advance to Eagle scout. Yeah, it is a private club but if that is the only service of its type offered in a community, then what? Non-religious fear more of this sort on intrusion into their lives and that is valid and should inspire them to fight it. But religious should realize that it threatens THEM too, because if they look at the numbers, their demonination is in stark minority, so if any one PARTICULAR Xtian religion gets its tentacles too far into state issues, all the other sects and demoninations and cults will suffer loss of THEIR rights in the process. Few GET IT but this separation of religion and state benefits BOTH sides. ANd we should begin backing out of all the ways religion is already involved in matters of state.
The thing is, even if your relition is BANNED in public places, you can still practice it in your home and your heart. Banning would not be a good thing, but in reality, it would not prevent private practice of any religion. But all this religious creep into public life DOES hamper the rights of those who do not believe in it.

Kevin H said...

That's amusing. I think that atheists are far more marginalized. Or, at the very least, are greeted with outright hostility when they're put on cable news.

KH> Individual atheists on talking-head shows are one thing. The dominance of a Naturalistic worldview in the university and pop culture is to what I'm referring.

Kevin H said...

It seems to me that this is what the culture war is all about. If Christians (not all, but some) could be convinced not to try to write their morality into law, I wouldn't care what they worshiped, provided they left me alone.

KH> On the surface, this is the bottom line on several things.

First, many secularists or atheists don't have a beef with God, only his followers imposing "their morality" on others.

This tends to clutter the issue of whether God exists or whether Christianity is true.

Second, laws legislate morality. There is no way around it. I suggest we work not toward "my morality" or "your morality", but Our Morality. We all tend to hold to the same basic moral values and duties. Moral reformation and legislation attempts to call us back to what we already know.

Gary Charbonneau said...

Second, laws legislate morality. There is no way around it. I suggest we work not toward "my morality" or "your morality", but Our Morality. We all tend to hold to the same basic moral values and duties.

We do not, however, hold the same basic understanding of what morality is. Nor do we hold to the same basic understanding, in case of disagreement about what the laws that legislate morality ought to be, about how one goes about settling the disagreement. If the Christian insists that some Bible verse or collection of Bible verses constitute some final source of authority on a matter of morality, then there are no common premises that the Christian and the atheist can share to arrive at a conclusion.

The Christian need not, of course, base his arguments on an appeal to scriptural authority. Here's an article by William Lane Craig asserting that "abortion on demand is a moral outrage." Near the end of the article, Craig writes, "Now you'll notice that I've not appealed at any point to the Bible in all this. That's because, contrary to popular impression, abortion is not, as such, a religious question."

Craig is to be applauded for plainly asserting that a moral question is not a religious question. Far too many Christians seem to be utterly unable to distinguish the two kinds of questions. Craig is also to be applauded for framing the issue in such a way that an atheist and a Christian could, if they agree on Craig's entirely secular premises, reach a shared conclusion. In this case, Craig's arguments for the immorality of abortion are so transparently bad that one gets the sense that secular reasoning on moral questions must be somewhat foreign to his way of thinking. But at least he's provided potential common ground on which a Christian and an atheist could meet without ceasing to be, respectively, a Christian or an atheist. And that's a start.

الفرقد أبو الفرقد said...
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Kevin H said...

We do not, however, hold the same basic understanding of what morality is.

KH> I suggest we do agree on what morality and ethics are. We do disagree on what justifies or grounds morality.


Nor do we hold to the same basic understanding, in case of disagreement about what the laws that legislate morality ought to be, about how one goes about settling the disagreement.

KH> Agreed. How the moral values are to be applied (Applied Ethics) is certainly a source of disagreement.

On another note, it seems that a major conflict is the supposed eradication of public displays of religion, i.e. the relegation of religion to private life away from those who might be offended.

Most Christian Americans would say that their Faith, and religion in general, is not the sort of thing that is closeted.

Unfortunately, "neutrality" often sends the signal that the Christian and religious heritage of our country is no longer allowed expression in public life.

So, what's the atheist or secularist solution to this?

K