First, the latest Carnival of the Godless is up. I’m of course mortally offended by being only fourth to be linked to, after being first last time. Isn’t it obvious that everyone who fails to link to me at the top of the page hates Jews, immigrants, young people, mathematicians, and people whose name starts with an A?
More on-point, No More Mr. Nice Guy writes about uppity atheists. He says,
The massive immigration and “Great Awakening” of the 19th Century changed the character of the country for the worse in many ways. Ever since, politicians have tended to be less educated and much more religious and/or inclined to pander to the fanatical religiosity of their constituents. Though atheists had always been looked on with suspicion, now it was open season on them. Since then, atheists have had to ride at the back of the bus and “pass” as believers if they wanted to be left in peace.
Today, religious-right fundamentalism has a near-monopoly on political, judicial and media power in the US, and often uses that power in incredibly backward and destructive ways. But a small number of atheists have had enough and are calling bullshit. Some high-profile nonbelievers like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have actually managed to pierce the protective force-field with which the media surrounds organized religion, and have been able to get their points across that religion should be open to criticism like any other human invention, and that it is in fact harmful and dangerous.
Not quite. The USA was deeply religious even before the American Revolution. Massachusetts was founded as a theocracy, and the First Great Awakening only strengthened religious fervor in the soon-to-be country. The leadership of the American Revolution happened to be very secular due to general liberal influence, but that was by pure chance. Even in that supposed golden age, atheism was considered a character flaw, just like drinking or being poor.
The infusion of religion into American politics began with the rise of Jacksonian populism, which predated the Second Great Awakening. Religion was later used in the debate over slavery, and then in the populist movement of the Gilded Age, but had firm roots in the rise of populist politics.
The “atheists are fighting against a nearly-invincible religious machine” meme sounds nice, but isn’t really true. Institutions that are dominated by popular decisions, like Congress, are predominantly religious. Institutions that are based on merit or talent, like the media and the academia and the Courts, are only to the extent that the political system affects them.
If you don’t believe me, look up the ten most popular shows on American TV and count how many leading characters are born-again Christians. Despite the qualifier “popular,” it’s important to note that mass media productions only reflect the owners’ beliefs of what will sell; hence the rise of Christian, black, or feminist alternatives, which cater to niche markets.
A few months ago, I sincerely said that there was no real radical atheism. Today, I won’t even think of saying that. There are too many atheist activists, led by Dawkins and Harris, who go beyond agitating for separation of church and state and good science education, and construct fictionalized histories in which religion is responsible to all that’s wrong with the world. Anarchists have their noble savages; radical atheists have their noble 18th century US.