why atheism continues its steady rise

Religious fundamentalists are deeply offended that people no longer fear them and feel free to criticize their worst habits.
god fossil
Illustration by Koren Shadmi

There’s a reason why you should never, never try to tackle complicated questions in bullet point format. You’re going to skip over the really deep and important arguments and reduce a very complex issue into a few quick stereotypes, usually the most pervasive ones you see flying around. That’s exactly what happened here, as a discussion about the complexities of leaving traditional religion are reduced to their most simplistic and often quoted versions.

Sure, the list is not complete and these are supposed to be the three top reasons why more and more younger people are leaving their faith or feel safer coming out as atheists, but they’re missing what should’ve been the main reason for doubt of traditional religious narratives and one of the included points is a downright combative “onward Christian soldiers” plea to defend the faith. Were articles about the reasons for atheism’s growing popularity commonplace and often featured elaborate discussions of the points involved, I would skip this completely, but unfortunately, it’s these sorts of regurgitated oversimplifications that tend to be the norm when discussing the rise in non-believers and religious skeptics, especially in the United States.

Now, just because the points are oversimplified, it doesn’t mean that they’re wrong and the first given reason actually does have an effect on the more liberal and open minded faithful. Aggressive fundamentalism is one of the biggest menaces of the modern world, and angry zealots’ demands that laws reflect their unforgiving, black and white personal opinions as well as their hounding of anyone who disagrees with them as heretics doomed to burn in the fires of Hell with all the pretentious drama it entails, are definitely making more liberal religious followers question their membership in the faith.

In fact, younger generations tend to associate the most vocal Christian organizations with homophobia and are turned off by the idea that they’ll be very quickly pigeonholed into following Republican politics. Why should they have to join a movement which espouses an attitude they find bigoted and is becoming synonymous with politics they find objectionable? But that in and of itself only explains why fewer younger generations are attending church services, not why there are more and more atheists. That’s credited to atheist intellectuals like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, who are persuading the formerly faithful to join atheists, and existing atheists to stand up and be counted.

Certainly there are more outspoken atheists out there today and they can speak for the moral side of atheism as a school of thought. But what about the most important point behind doubt of religious doctrine, a scientific body of work showing that specific religious claims are either false or downright impossible? The holy books say we were created by a deity.

The evidence says that we gradually evolved and developed over millions and millions of years, that we didn’t simply appear just as we are. One can of course ignore this evidence or try to abuse it with rampant quote mining and lies as Young Earth creationists do for a living, or take what looks like the high road and cram religious beliefs into a scientific framework with pseudoscientific buzzwords, but at the end of the day, there’s still a mountain of studies that show traditional religions’ versions of history to be flawed and their knowledge of the basic laws of our universe as virtually nonexistent.

Why would someone who wants to sum up the reasons for an uptick in non-believers not even mention that we now know for a fact that many religious dogmas are just plain, objectively wrong? In that light, younger generations’ association of religious organizations with bigotry, homophobia, and political partisanship are even more important because they not only disagree with what these organizations espouse, but they know that these stances are based on erroneous beliefs, one of which is that atheists and liberals are undermining their faith out of hatred.

Christianity is the one religion left that can be hated without running afoul of political correctness, says Drew Belsky. In an era when the federal government is forcing religious institutions, contrary to their religious beliefs to give people insurance coverage for contraception, says Bishop Edward Burns at The Southeast Alaska Catholic Online, it’s pretty undeniable that religion, and religious freedom, are under siege. Most Americans still believe in God, but they have to defend their faith or the attacks will take a toll.

Just as the old joke goes, Jesus was probably a great guy, it’s his fan club that’s gotten out of hand. You see, religious institutions are used to getting their way by threatening us with fire and brimstone, so when all these threats have lost their bite thanks to a much more secular public and better scientific education, they can’t just force their beliefs on others anymore and play victim. It’s kind of like a bully who was put in his place crying to his parents that the principal won’t let him take the other kids’ lunch money anymore and gave him a detention for giving a wedgee on the playground.

To the likes of Belsky and Burns, being told to abide by the rules which are not set up to favor their religion is a sign of hatred and bigotry because they’re not used to equal treatment but to preferential treatment. Modern societies are more multicultural, politically diverse, pluralistic, and more likely to be secular, trying to empower individuals to make their own decisions rather than allowing a religious organization to dictate morality and law via an edict. Fundamentalists can’t handle that because in their minds and guts, they’re absolutely, 115% sure they have been given the divine and infallible word of God and anyone who disagrees is a damned heretic. How dare the modern world take them less and less seriously? So they lash out against the secular public, picking a fight with reality, a fight they’re very unlikely to win…

# politics // atheism / religion / religious beliefs / secularism / society


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