My last article posed a question: Can Christians and Atheists Find a Common Ground? The article was shared in several discussion forums and based on the comments provided, the prognosis is not encouraging.
There is a line in the proverbial sand for both theists and nontheists. While both groups seem to embrace the idea of “people can believe whatever they’d like to believe as long as”…As long as appears to be the line where common ground falls apart.
For nontheists, that as long as normally applies to theist intervention into public education and attempts to impart religiously-influenced morality on public policy. From the concerted attempts by religious groups to include Intelligent Design in the science curricula of public schools to the continued exclusion of marriage equality for homosexualsare just two examples that nontheists see a Biblically-influenced intrusion into the public forum.
Conversely, theists see secularism as a growing threat to the American Experiment. Based on their understanding of the founding of the nation on Judeo-Christian principles, they see secularism as eroding the moral fabric of the country.
Former House Speaker and would-be presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaking last month at the Cornerstone Church said: “I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9, I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” Source
Interestingly, Gingrich is hardly alone in his concern. On a new blog featuring an atheist and a theist exploring different points of view on various subjects, the theist contributor expressed that she feels oppressed by secularism in America – this despite 78 per cent of Americans identifying themselves as Christian as of 2009.
Perhaps this “oppression” is attributed to the perception among conservatives that activist courts too often interpret laws based on secularist principles and do not reflect the will of the majority? As long as activist courts support the majority view and not protect the minority?
Nontheists are obviously a minority in America – but a growing minority! By percentage, nontheists outnumber African Americans, Jews, and Mormons combined. According to the most recent polls, one out of every six Americans reportedly lack faith in or affiliation with a religion.
An American Religious Identification Survey conducted in 2008 found that “the challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.” And while roughly 16 per cent of Americans consider themselves Nones (No Religion), the ARIS report highlighted that “one sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.” Source
Even as religion in America slowly wanes, we are still viewed by our European cousins as an intensely religious nation. Europeans have, by and large, rejected organized religions, yet maintain a belief in a higher spirit or power. A 2005 barometer of the countries that comprise the European Union found nearly half of Europeans do not believe in a god and that number rises with each younger generation.
Scandinavian countries appear to lead the way in the rejection of theology.
This erosion of religious beliefs has, expectedly, brought about a backlash from theists against nonbelievers as atheists are more and more seen as an internal threat to the American way of life.
The vast majority of theist Americans would not consider voting for an atheist for president. 53 percent of all Americans, according to a 2007 Gallop poll, would not vote for an atheist. A University of Minnesota survey conducted in 2006 found that nearly 40 per cent of those surveyed felt atheists did not share their vision of American society.
According to Penny Edgell, the study’s lead researcher, atheists seem to be outside the limits of American morality, which has largely been defined by religion. Many of those interviewed saw atheists as cultural elitists, amoral materialists, or given to criminal behavior or drugs. She states, “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.” Source
Given this animosity between theists and nontheists, as long as appears to be an unbridgeable chasm. Despite successful interpersonal relationships, where mutual respect for the other’s beliefs or lack thereof is applied, the collectiveoutlooks and worldviews would appear to be well anchored and only slowly movable, making common ground an almost impossible goal.
As atheists develop a louder and more outspoken voice in the public sphere, the resulting backlash will be just as loud. More and more, on billboards and buses, atheist organizations are taking out advertising to challenge the religious. While it is too early to tell if the advertisements are effective or just a publicity stunt, one thing is certain, religious and political leaders are heeding the message and responding to the threat posed by secularists.
Another presidential candidate, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, in a speech to a conservative organization last month flat out stated that “I almost wish that there would be, like, a simultaneous telecast, and all Americans would be forced — forced at gunpoint no less — to listen to every David Barton message, and I think our country would be better for it. I wish it’d happen.”
Perhaps there is hope on the horizon! This divide between theists and nontheists could quickly come to an end in less than a month. As long as the prediction of Harold Camping, the Chief Executive of Family Radio, that the Rapture will occur on 21 May is correct. As many know, the Rapture is the moment prior to the end of times when God will magically make the faithful disappear from the earth, sparing them from the horrors he will be inflicting on the unfaithful prior to Armageddon. As a friendly reminder to readers there is a countdown clock in the upper right corner of this blog. As of today there are only 25 days left to get your spiritual affairs in order.