learning from the popularity of religion in the USA

In the US, the Russians were godless atheists who were hellbent on destroying the world, so we responded by being overly religious, which led to much fanaticism. (An Atheist in Iowa)

In an era of generally increasing secularlisation, it seems remarkable that so much of the population of a country like the USA is still heavily steeped in religion. And until I read this comment, I’d never seriously considered why this is the case.

So, as an Atheist in Iowa suggests, could it be due to Cold War propaganda? I suspect this is entirely true.

If you promote the two-dimensional notions that there is a body of Evil out there dedicated to taking away freedom and our established way of life, the ‘cornered animal’ fear that kicks in has a tendency to bring out the worst in any species. Humans can become radicalised, more open to violence, and more open to committing atrocities in the name of protecting our ‘way of life’ (whatever that may be).

This is exactly what happened to the population of the USA in the 1950s, and we can see a glimpse of it in the fascinating gallery over in openculture.com. One of the articles reads:

In the eyes of Communism, a child is simply something to be warped into one shape: godless, ignorant of moral responsibility, devoid of intellectual honesty … a creature of the State. In its drive for world power, Communism has found it most profitable to influence teachers and alter text books

There is concern about children being brainwashed, there is fear about world domination, there is panic about the education system being inflitrated by this “focus of the concentrated evil of our time”.

Flash forward to today and the concern we see from some groups of atheists. Let’s look at a couple of quotes from Richard Dawkins:

  • If you look at the actual impact that different religions have on the world its quite apparent at the present the most evil religion in the world has to be Islam.
  • Faith can be very very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.

Any atheists outside this circle (like me) suggesting that it’s neither kind nor productive to promote vilifying, sweeping soundbites about either individual or specific religions, can quite often face ‘fear and doom’ pronouncements like these, from my blogging buddy Tildeb:

  • I think this movement is rotting Western civilization and its founding principles from within and presents us with a difficult and divisive challenge far too few seem willing to take up.
  • This is how fundamental values shared by all are undermined incrementally to the point of creating a police state, a state of fascism

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m think this classic human pattern behaviour! We see great evil and we preach fear and doom. The end of the world is always coming, and it’s not a tune only used by the hyper-religious.

In the 1950s, the ‘doom and evil’ rhetoric only served to create the hyper-religious societies we still see in some parts of the USA. We already know that the anti-Islam ‘doom and evil’ mood in the West (condemning the religion rather than individuals for crimes) is only serving to alienate, marginalise and radicalise young Muslims in our communities. If it continues, I have to wonder what other repercussions we will face.

So let’s learn from history, and draw back from our base reaction of branding people from Other groups as evil. Particularly in this case, we can meditate on the words a wise person once said:

The best way to stop a particular religon from violence, is not to name it evil, but to damp it with secular culture. (Rautakyy)