Probably no one who observes long-term trends with any reasonable historical sense would dispute that religion holds less sway in this country than in previous times. It would seem to be hard to dispute that in the law and the culture, there is a default way of thinking that avoids any mention or consideration of God.
Despite that fact, however, many people (including some followers of this site) believe that atheists and those who describe themselves as agnostics are unfairly made to feel marginalized in this society. They feel put-upon by Christians who they feel are overbearing about their beliefs. They just want to be left alone on the question of a putative God.
Many who think this way feel that society for some reason owes them freedom from points of view that they don’t want to be bothered with. They want “freedom from religion” (as with the organization by that name). They may feel that the process of eradicating religious references or points of view should continue apace, until there is no mention of it publicly anywhere; that rigorous privatization of religious practice is necessary and good.
The flaw in that way of thinking is that it presupposes neutrality. As if the atheist outlook were not itself a point of view about ultimate reality. Whenever a secularist insists on pushing religious matters outside of public discourse, or any connection to government (even as government expands inexorably), or any polite conversation, even–what he’s doing is not pushing neutrality, but pushing atheism. It sometimes happens subtly, and sometimes more overtly, but it’s everywhere. The naturalism prejudice inheres in most entertainment, news, and information media.
Mind & Matter
Here’s just one example, remarkable only for its lack off subtlety. It’s found in the May 1, 2016 Wall Street Journal, “Mind & Matter” column by Robert Sapolsky, titled Moralizing Gods Who Help Humans to Cooperate (link to on-line version). The author starts out by commenting on people’s cooperative behaviors. Humans have uniquely high levels of pro-social cooperation, as compared to other animals, we’re told.
All well and good, so far. But now we’re going to be told why. About that pro-social cooperation, “[r]ecent research suggests that one of its driving forces is religion.” And further, that the kind of religion which best produces this pro-social cooperation is the kind with “moralizing gods”—deities who monitor and judge morality, meting out punishments and rewards.
Now from what we have so far, you might suppose that the article would have something to say about the positive correlation of religion to moral behavior. An interesting question suggested by this positive correlation would include, for example, whether the good moral behavior suggests at least some truth in the religion. But no. The question is: “When do religions tend to invent such moralizing gods?”
“Invent?” “When?” As if it’s only a matter of time, for any religion, to start inventing gods; and not only that, to invent the gods for which the religion supposedly already exists. The question is incoherent even taking it assumptions as true.
And the falsehoods built into those assumptions are whoppers. They include these: all religions are false; man created God, not the other way around; that religious invention of God or gods is a natural stage in the evolution of religions; and that religious adherents develop doctrine based on what kind of behavior they’re trying to produce, rather than simply what they believe to be true.
The argument for the latter point is made by a psychologist, Ara Norenzayan, who proposes that as a society grows larger, people have greater opportunity to act anonymously, “and that’s when moralizing gods become useful to maintaining the social order.” That is the point of all religions, you see: to maintain the social order. Some religions do it better; some worse. But none because there is any truth to the religion. It’s all just psychology.
Here’s the take-away from this preposterous article. Religion is a sociological phenomenon, and that’s all. Not only is no religion true, but there is no genuine religious impulse underlying those that aren’t. Religion is just a social construct to maintain social order. Never mind who is doing the ordering, and to what end.
Implication for the Future
If in times past, social order was maintained by religion, then what is to maintain social order now? Great social “policies” made law, so that government can forcibly compel and constrain? And if so, on what basis are these laws to be made? Majority rule? Politically-correct consensus? And on what moral code are they to be based? If there is no true religion, then materialism is the driving ideology. It holds that there is no basis for morality at all, other than that which rests upon self-interest. We’re left with what are believed to be the imperatives of survival: power; dominance; rule-by-force.