Pastor Understands Atheist Upsurge
Here’s a shout-out to Pastor James L. Evans, who demonstrated some real understanding of why atheism is on the rise. Put simply, it is because religion is an anachronism and is fundamentally incompatible with what we know about the universe. It’s also divisive and violent. This is not news to atheists, but to hear it from a pastor–now that’s progress.
Pastor Evans begins by talking about the number of atheists in America (which he severely underestimates at 5 million), and the crop of recent god-bashing best sellers. He then recounts Sam Harris’ arguments about how Muslim and Christian fundamentalism are two sides of the same coin. Moving on to atheism’s detractors such as talk show host Dennis Prager, Evans rejects the charge that an overly “secular society” is responsible for the increase in non-belief:
Some truth may be in that statement, but that is precisely what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind. They had seen the disastrous results of state-supported religion and official orthodoxies mingled with civic duty in Europe and wanted none of it for America.
The Constitution establishes a secular society but with a guarantee of religious freedom for all.
If children go through life not knowing their faith heritage, as Prager asserts, that is not a failure of the public school system. If children do not learn their faith at home and at church, we cannot be surprised if they emerge into adulthood with low expectations about the role of faith in their lives.
We must also be willing to admit that some of this turning away from religion may be a form of running away.
The aggressive attacks on science from many quarters of the faith community have left some people feeling great resentment toward faith.
It could be that certain expressions of faith have made God too small to be embraced by those who experience the universe as vast and great.
A person who looks at the universe through the Hubble telescope is going to have trouble taking the first two chapters of Genesis literally. And when told that being faithful to God requires such belief, unbelief may feel like the only option.
Bravo. Of course the concept of “God” is too small for what we now know. Especially a god who concerns himself with things like clothing styles, dietary rules, and would advocate repression of half of humanity, which–after all–is supposed to be ‘his’ creation.
If there were more pastors like James Evans, I don’t think atheists would have as much problem coexisting with and having some measure of “respect” for religion. For all the accusations of atheist intolerance we endure, I think it’s clear what we are asking for is merely for religion to stay in its own corner. We are asking it to remain a private belief rather than an arbiter of public policy. We only want to stop highly unqualified people from trying to hijack science. We only want a society that is truly “live and let live” and one person’s choice of marriage partner is not seen as a threat to another’s. Where the rainbow flag or the U.N. flag are as accepted as the American flag–because rah-rah nationalism is recognized as an affront to a larger humanity. Where people of faith see their beliefs as strong enough to be treated as deeply personal, rather than requiring public and official obeisance.
It sounds like Pastor Evans would be content with such a world–though I have some suspicion that a more relaxed attitude toward atheism may be simply a concession to the inevitable. Religions have proven to be memetically robust, and may adapt to survive, and they still promote supernaturalism. But some believers may be growing tired of standing against the tide of rationalism, and some may be starting to take an early look at how to remain relevant in a society which is becoming increasingly and inexorably less tolerant of outlandish faith-based nonsense.
Whatever the motivation, I welcome it. Religion remains a hugely powerful force in the world. And literalism is its worst attribute. We can therefore only hope for lasting change when religious leaders put ancient scriptures in their historical place, begin to treat them as literature rather than gospel, and start embracing the wonderfully rapid and profound expansion of human knowledge.