Is Evangelical Christianity Done For?

March 20, 2009

According to a

commentary

in the Christian Science Monitor, anti-Christianity is making such headway in Western Civilization that it spells the collapse of Evangelicalism.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

Thinkers have heralded the demise of Christianity in particular and religion in general for decades, including the optimism at the beginning of the 20th Century that predicted that a more secular “civil religion” would replace all dogmatic ones, and such prophecies were wrong, at least for the United States. The secularization hypothesis, the notion that as societies advance they become less religious, never seemed to apply to the United States. But in this commentary, Michael Spencer suggests otherwise.

He gives a number of reasons why he thinks Evangelical Christianity is on the way out, and predicts that “aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear.” The questions for secularists:

1. If the religious right cultural competitors wane, what’s a secularist to do but just congratulate herself for winning the culture war and pack up and go home?

and

2. Is it therefore more important than ever not just to be

against

the prevailing cults of unreason in our society, Evangelical Christianity specifically, but also to be

for

alternatives, based upon scientific humanism?

Comments:

#1 joshualipana on Friday March 20, 2009 at 7:46am

I think Secular Humanism is going to war with Objectivism. Once we’re done kicking Christianity’s ass that is. It’ll be Rand versus Dr. Kurtz. Now that’s a war that I would love to see.

#2 joshualipana on Friday March 20, 2009 at 7:50am

But seriously. I think various secular philosophies are gonna go after each other in intelligent open debate once Religion loses its influence.

#3 Kenny V (Guest) on Friday March 20, 2009 at 8:04am

Even if religion goes down the tubes, forces of dogmatism will always be at work. I know lots of atheists who are nevertheless irrational people, superstitious (think new agey), and who form their beliefs and make decisions in illogical ways. I think that’s in a lot of people’s genes, and it’s going to be hard to get rid of. Not to mention that if we win the culture war here, we’ll still have Islam to deal with, not to mention the hordes of asians that will be taken in by christianity.

#4 Wyrd (Guest) on Friday March 20, 2009 at 8:07am

I’m sure some folks will point out that just because someone predicts the fading-out of Evangelicalism doesn’t mean it will actually happen.  Furthermore, even if it does fade out, it’s not exactly the case that mainstream religion is chock full of careful, reasoned, logical arguments. 

Still to your questions: Rather than actively trying to push everyone towards secular humanism, why not just *be* a humanist?  Why should there be a need to try to make everyone else think exactly the same way?  The only time Evangelical Christianity (or any other “out-there” group) is dangerous is when they decide that they know what’s best for Everybody and try to change the Law to reflect that view.  As long as they’re not doing that, why is it my duty to try and show them how “wrong” they are.  Isn’t that a little rude?  It’s like the secular version of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Instead of investing so much effort in that, why not just set a good example by leaving a decent, good, secular life?  Why not contribute to some charity work or something?  Why not try to “build bridges” and find some not-too-crazy religious people you can get along with?  If they’re okay with *not* trying to save your soul, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Community, not divisiveness, is the key.


Furry cows moo and decompress.

#5 Calladus (Guest) on Friday March 20, 2009 at 8:49am

Evangelicals might disappear, but religion won’t go away without better understanding what causes religious thinking.  I think religion is a cognitive “spandrel” in the Stephen Gould sense of the word - it is a byproduct of our ability to recognize patterns and make up stories about them.  Shermer has spoken of how this could happen in his books.

Daniel Dennett in “Breaking the Spell” suggested that we need to study this phenomenon, understand it.  Perhaps we can develop a rational alternative that can be fitted into this place to replace religion.

Consider the history of rational thinking - Read Susan Jacoby, read some of Col. Robert Ingersol’s speeches.  During Ingersol’s time, rational thinkers were sure that rationality was on the rise and that religious thinking would wane.

Until we can understand the mechanism behind religious thinking and put alternatives in place, I think there will always be religion.  It may wax and wane in cycles, but it won’t go away.

And if we become complacent about religion, it will come back just as odiously as it has in the past.

#6 JComino (Guest) on Friday March 20, 2009 at 9:04am

Agree several thousand percent with #4 Wyrd.  You’re a breath of fresh air.  When both theists or atheists or anyone on the sliding scale starts calling for ideological pogroms, everyone loses.  Bravo.  Hope to hear more from you.

#7 gray1 on Friday March 20, 2009 at 2:11pm

1. Any battle of ideologies is fought against a series of moving targets.  “Wack-a-mole” comes to mind.

2. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

#8 darw1nf1sh on Friday March 20, 2009 at 5:12pm

Wyrd suggests we should just live and let live. What do we tell the children of mormon, or evangelical parents? Do we continue to allow children to be brainwashed and forced to follow in their parents misinformed footsteps? I do not believe it is humanistic allow children, with no voice of their own, to be forced by their parents into a belief system. Doing away with religion does not mean everyone thinks alike. Philosophical differences are separate battles from the battle between rational thought and religion. Live and let live is not enough. Religion needs to be a footnote in the history of our species; not the defining issue.

#9 JComino (Guest) on Sunday March 22, 2009 at 3:58pm

With all due respect, darw1f1sh, free thought as it is invoked in the headline on this page, demands open minded parley—not the kind of unilateralism displayed in your opinion.  That kind of intransigence seems as fruitless as any absolutism that may be spouted by religious fundamentalists you may pillory.  A tad ironic, since you seem so tough on their bully tactics.  In our pugnacious culture dominated by the blogosphere, what is so often forgotten or trampled on is the truth that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar; important to any cause that seeks to win hearts and minds as I presume the secular movement seeks to do.

#10 Wyrd (Guest) on Sunday March 22, 2009 at 8:18pm

I agree with J Comino.

I think darw1f1sh and I do not share the same goals.  My goal is to try to live in harmony with people that believe something that’s different than what I believe.  This seems like a good idea to me because, the last time I checked, almost *everyone* believes something that is in some subtle way different that what I believe.

Of course, *I* agree with darw1f1sh that science and rationality should be the order of the day, but since it’s not possible (or moral) to try and force everyone else to believe the same thing I do by force, it makes sense to find ways for us to all live together.

Coomb-by-yah and stuff.

#11 Ophelia Benson on Monday March 23, 2009 at 10:56am

But you’re ignoring Darwinfish’s point about the children of Mormons etc - and you’re also overlooking the distinction between belief and action. This is a very important distinction in jurisprudence, for instance, especially in a country which combines the no establishment clause with the free exercise clause. It’s not really true that ‘The only time Evangelical Christianity (or any other “out-there” group) is dangerous is when they decide that they know what’s best for Everybody and try to change the Law to reflect that view’ - fundamentalists can be dangerous to their own children; fundamentalist men can be dangerous to their own wives; etcetera.

#12 Wyrd (Guest) on Monday March 23, 2009 at 11:38am

“fundamentalists can be dangerous to their own children; fundamentalist men can be dangerous to their own wives; etcetera.”

And in those situations, they would be breaking one or more currently established laws.

So far, at least, no group has gotten much traction with trying to change the law to allow for the abuse of a spouse or children.

I do not dispute that religion(s) in general are hotbeds of irrational thinking.  But do you honestly believe that if there were no religion that all of that irrationality would go away?  I don’t.  I believe that the source of the irrationality lies within us humans ourselves.  If you irradicate religion (not that I have any idea how you’d do that) the irrationality would still be there and it would merely express itself in some other way.  And whatever that way was, it would probably turn into a new religion in about six months.

I’m not saying you should go on your merry way and allow injustices to occur around you.  *Of course* you should stand up and help people in need.  But wagging your finger at them and telling them how dumb they are for believing in god isn’t actually helpful.  It is, in fact, the self-same holier-than-thou attitude that you can’t stand from the bible-thumping evangelicals.

And that’s because, whenever you’re not careful, the conversation degenerates into a simplistic “my beliefs are better than yours because I said so” tirade.

I’m gonna go ahead and repeat myself here to make absolutely sure my point gets through:
If all you can do is stand around and make fun of or point fingers at people believing differently about something than you do, then you’re part of the problem rather than it’s solution.

——————-
Of course, I’m not trying to say that you can’t try to convince them to change their ways.  Sure, go ahead and try to convince them to give up on the religion thing.  But *don’t* do it meanly, bluntly, or frequently.  And you certainly should *not* have that as your major focus or else you’ll very quickly become that bitter atheist stereotype.  Anyway, even if you succeed in convincing someone there’s no god, it’s something of an empty victory. (because religion is not the true source of human irrationality, it’s merely the path-of-least-resistance conduit) I guess it means they’ll have more free time on Sundays.  But see, for all you know, they’ll use that free time to take up Better Chakra Management and a little bit of Cryptozoology.


Furry cows moo and decompress.

#13 Ophelia Benson on Monday March 23, 2009 at 11:44am

“And in those situations, they would be breaking one or more currently established laws.”

Not necessarily. Wisconsin v Yoder gave the Amish the legal right to keep their children out of school after 8th grade. Not all harms to children or women are illegal, unfortunately.

#14 Ophelia Benson on Monday March 23, 2009 at 11:46am

“But do you honestly believe that if there were no religion that all of that irrationality would go away?”

Of course not, but that has nothing to do with my comment.

#15 darw1nf1sh on Monday March 23, 2009 at 1:58pm

The ways in which children, and women, and homosexuals, and minorities are victimized LEGALLY by religion are too numerous to mention here. It needs to stop. I do not believe that opening someones eyes to the beauty of the real world and science is an empty victory. When every single republican candidate for president will stand up, on camera in a debate and deny evolution entirely because of their religious beliefs I see a problem. I do not want to make everyone follow my philosophy. Please dont think that I do. Religion is not a philosophy. It is blind allegiance to fairies, and spaghetti monsters. Our new president, if he does nothing else, will have improved the american nation by the simple act of reversing 8 years of idiocy and blindness. Lets not give condoms to people with aids. Lets not teach our children how to have sex responsibly. Lets shut the door on promising, and exciting breakthroughs in medicine. I do not believe that people have to be irrational. We have evolved to the point that we have a choice. As evidenced by the vast majority of people in the CFI. My biggest concern is children living in poverty of the mind. Children forcibly taught lies, and bigotry in the name of religious freedom. As Dawkins says, there are no christian, muslim, or jewish children. There are only children of relgious parents. But that doesnt have to always be true.

#16 Wyrd (Guest) on Monday March 23, 2009 at 7:04pm

(the following quotes are from darw1nf1sh—I’m putting them here out of order, but I’m not trying to misrepresent, I’m just trying to make it easier follow my responses.)
“The ways in which children, and women, and homosexuals, and minorities are victimized LEGALLY by religion are too numerous to mention here. It needs to stop.”
I agree.

“When every single republican candidate for president will stand up, on camera in a debate and deny evolution entirely because of their religious beliefs I see a problem.”
I agree.

“I do not believe that opening someones eyes to the beauty of the real world and science is an empty victory. “
I agree.  But a *believer* probably wouldn’t.  And anyway, you and I could both be wrong here.  What if, because of how they were raised or because of how their particular brain works, that person actually does *need* an imaginary friend.  Why on Earth are you *so* sure you know what’s best for them?  Hubris much?

“Religion is not a philosophy. It is blind allegiance to fairies, and spaghetti monsters.”
I feel you are committing a strawman-style mistake here.  Yes religion includes all that ridiculous nonsense like fairies, deities and other supernatural mumbo jumbo, but it isn’t *just* that.  It’s also about (very) long established customs, traditions, and social organizations.  You’ve got, IMHO, virtually zero chance of unseating all of that. Many others have tried and not succeeded. 

“Lets not give condoms to people with aids. Lets not teach our children how to have sex responsibly. Lets shut the door on promising, and exciting breakthroughs in medicine.”
Why are you insisting that belief-in-religion == abstinence-only && no-medical-breakthroughs?  Oh, I think I know why.  It’s because there is a large tide of irrationality in our country right now that happens to be religious that believes those things.  Right?  But it’s not really fair to say that *religion* is the *cause* of that irrational movement anymore than it would be fair to say that *secularism* was the driving force behind Robespierre’s Rein of Terror, Stalinism, or /insert-nasty-secular-crazy-entity/ here.  If that doesn’t seem like a fair comparison to you, then I’m afraid you are too stuck inside your own way of looking at things to be able to see another point of view.  That’s a very dangerous way to live because it makes finding common ground nearly impossible.  The only reason there are so many more religious crazies than there are secular crazies is that religion is a lot more popular.  It’s more popular because it’s easier. 

“I do not believe that people have to be irrational. We have evolved to the point that we have a choice. “
And here is where we differ in our beliefs.  *I* believe irrational beliefs are as yet an inescapable part of the human condition. 

My proof is first and foremost that humans are fundamentally emotional beings.  Emotion being inherrently irrational, this means that there’s at least a little irrationality in every decision.  Think of it like adding a little seasoning, except it’s mandatory.  (See?  That flippant silliness probably caught you off guard.  It may have even caused a positive or negative emotional response.)  If you think you’re making decisions without reference to any emotion at all, you’re either a vulcan or you’re fooling yourself. 

Secondly, no logical system can ever be complete within itself.  There is always some set of basic axioms at the root of it from which the rest of the statements derive.  Therefore *every* system of knowing requires the follower of that system to take *something* on “faith”.  Yes, it’s true that not all “faith’s” are the same.  (I grant that belief in the laws of science is not the same as a belief that a big, squishy man-shapped god is going to fix all your problems if you send some guy your money.  But then again, not every believer in god believes that god’s going to fix their problems.)  Still, you really ought to acknowledge that your system of knowing is, however unlikely, vulnerable insofar as it cannot be ultimately proven.  If you are unwilling to acknowledge that, then, IMHO, you’re being a little too proud and lacking in humility.  And that’s a dangerous trait. 

I was trying to find an exact quote here to put at the end, but I’ve already been working on this post for 45 min to an hour.  It goes something like:  Those committed to the pursuit of Truth are far less dangerous than those that are convinced they already know it.

Please remember that.

Furry cows moo and decompress.

#17 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday March 24, 2009 at 10:12am

“But it’s not really fair to say that *religion* is the *cause* of that irrational movement anymore than it would be fair to say that *secularism* was the driving force behind Robespierre’s Rein of Terror, Stalinism, or /insert-nasty-secular-crazy-entity/ here.”

But that’s just an assertion. To be persuasive, it would at least have to include some argument that religion operates on cognition in the same way that secularism does, and vice versa.

I, for one, would claim the opposite: that religion, insofar as it relies on and assumes the merit of *faith*, in fact operates on cognition differently from the way secularism does. That’s because secularism does not put faith at the center of its epistemology, while religion generally does. Faith and irrationalism are intimately linked; I trust that is obvious enough not to need further explanation.

#18 Wyrd (Guest) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 at 1:15pm

Ophelia Benson wrote
“I, for one, would claim the opposite: that religion, insofar as it relies on and assumes the merit of *faith*, in fact operates on cognition differently from the way secularism does. That’s because secularism does not put faith at the center of its epistemology, while religion generally does. Faith and irrationalism are intimately linked; I trust that is obvious enough not to need further explanation.”

Think hard about whatever it is that makes you choose to get up and live every day as opposed to the opposite.  There you will find the core of your epistemology.  So yours is apparently not a belief in god.  That’s cool.  Maybe you believe in the potential of all human life or maybe you just believe that living is better than not living.  Regardless, there is *always* some unprovable belief at the center.  It’s the classic Descartes brain-in-a-jar problem.  How can you prove you exist?

How can you prove the laws of science are true?  Sure they seem true, they’ve been validated again and again, but that is still not the same as absolute proof.

Yes, I acknowledge that these sorts of underlying unproven beliefs are not the same thing as some religious epistemology which seems to cherish blind faith in the extreme.

I feel that you should acknowledge that there is at least a little bit unprovable in every belief system including yours.  To not do so is, IMHO dishonest, and it leaves you vulnerable to overconfidence.  Overconfidence for a scientist-type person is a *bad* thing.

While you’re pointing out the terrible things religious crazies do, you should also point out the many good things people do in spite of religion.  Then, you can include all the crazy things people do where religion is clearly not a factor one way or the other.


Furry cows moo and decompress.


, but I have two points about that:
1. if you’re unwilling to admit that, say for example, one or more of the basic laws of science *might* turn out to be largely or completely incorrect, you are committing the same sort of mistake you accuse the believers of—that of having complete faith in something that cannot be proven.
2.

#19 Wyrd (Guest) on Tuesday March 24, 2009 at 1:17pm

darnit!  I don’t get to edit my previous post, now I look all foolish.  Ah well, that’s just the way the cookie gets completely stomped on and obliterated. (Douglas Adams)

So what you see there after the “furry cows” part is a previous chunk of my editing process.  This is why I usually don’t debate like this.  The posts take a long time to write.


Furry cows moo and decompress.

#20 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday March 24, 2009 at 2:57pm

But I haven’t said anything that suggests I refuse to acknowledge ‘that there is at least a little bit unprovable in every belief system.’ I don’t expect to prove anything (not being a mathematician) anyway; but I do of course acknowledge that there are plenty of things that I believe in in a provisional way based on the knowledge of other people, etc. But that’s not the same thing as making a virtue of faith, much less of making a virtue of faith and then using that faith to believe things for which there is no evidence, things that contradict everything we know about nature, etc.

I don’t agree, incidentally, that getting out of bed in the morning depends on belief; I think it depends much more on instinct, mood, duties and tasks, a full bladder, hunger, etc.

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