The July 4th issue of the British News magazine the Economist features an article in its US section entitled Change is gonna come.
It highlights the recent actions of the Supreme Court on Obamacare and gay marriage. Although the focus of the article is on the Court, its judges and the impact of recent decisions, almost as an aside it offers some tidbits of information that demonstrate the real change in America over the last 50 years and the very recent acceleration of such change.
Sometimes the view from across the pond is insightful, so I peruse the Economist regularly and often get perspective on America that we are often too close to see:
“A 50 year-old American was born into a world where some states had laws banning her from marrying a black man. Now she finds herself inhabiting one where she is allowed to marry a woman”
It is easy to forget that up until 1967 you could get jail time in some states for marrying “outside of your kind”. From the Wiki:.
“Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), is a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.”
Like the recent gay marriage decision, another religious idea ensconced in American thought, a purely religious idea was similarly struck down 50 years ago as unconstitutional. The only compulsion to stay within your own race (or “kind”, a Biblical term still used by Creationists referring to types or “races” of animals) for marriage and procreation came solely from Xian thought derived from Bible verses much the same as with their vehement opposition to gay marriage today. Although we have seen the ascendancy of the Religious Right in the meantime, Biblical ideas have not done well in becoming law of the land. No matter how hard the Conservatives try to corral the country into their interpretation of “values” deemed proper for behavior, they continue to lose ground. Now more than ever and it started over a generation ago. We need to remind ourselves of these facts over the din of religious Conservatives.
It often seems, especially in the midst of the current Republican Presidential primary free-for-all of wannabe candidates tripping over themselves to court the Conservative Xian vote that the US is stuck in an unending malestrom of Conservative Xian control from which we will never escape when the exact opposite is true: for the past 50 years or so, and especially today we are overturning their repressive, unfounded thinking bit by bit and jettisoning it for good. They just get all the press, so it seems like we can never win. Yet we are winning. Secular, non-religious thought has been winning and the pace of change despite Republican posturing to the contrary is picking up with every decade.
The recent PEW survey results reporting the “Nones” rise to 23% of the US population has been well covered in the press in recent months. That figure alone is impressive but in tandem with the striking fact that 36% of those aged 18-24, the “Millenials” identifying as having “no religious affiliation” should really open our eyes to another bit of data documenting the continued killing of religious ideas in even uber-religious America.
As the Economist article points out, school desegregation passed in the 1950’s (again the old Biblical-based restrictions on mixing of “kinds”), the 1973 Roe v Wade decision striking down state bans on abortion and more recent changes have been the norm despite pushback, bluff and bluster by religious groups and vocal conservative politicians:
“Views on gay marriage have shifted unusually quickly, but it is not an isolated case. In 2002 only 45% of Americans thought that having a baby outside of marriage was morally acceptable, according to polling by Gallup, now 61% do. Stem cell research, one of the most controversial ethical questions during George W. Bush’s presidency, now has the backing of 64% of Americans.”
In addition the article goes on to cite recent PEW research that reports “64% of adults support stricter limits on carbon emissions.” Again in opposition to what we constantly hear from Fox News and other Conservative sources, modern US thinking continues to move away from religious based thought.
Information Kills Religion. Maybe not right away, but eventually and the trend when looked at over all these issues cited in this post is more than a little encouraging. Yes, there is no guarantee to progress and enlightenment. It takes hard work, we must proceed. But we can take heart that a quick review of the last 50 years and especially the last decade, the New Enlightenment is making phenomenal progress.
Another un-noticed and largely uncommented on phenomenon is also reported by PEW research. I bumped into these recent figures of theirs by accident. In Congress, the percentage of religious Representatives largely follows that of the population. The predominantly Catholic Northeast also has the largest percentage of Catholics members of Congress and the South accordingly has the largest percentage of Christians overall as does their constituency. A few glaring exceptions stand out.The Jews and the Mormons are well over-represented in Congress as a percentage of the general population. Both groups have done an excellent job making sure they are counted in the political process. Conversely, us “Nones” have a lot of catching up to do. From the PEW report:
“The only member of Congress who publicly identifies as religiously unaffiliated (Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.) is also from the West, home to the highest percentage of religious “nones” of any region (25%). But throughout the country, the unaffiliated are the group with the biggest discrepancy between the general public and Congress. “Nones” make up more than 15% of each region’s population, but three of the four regions do not have a single religiously unaffiliated member in Congress.
Although identifying as religiously unaffiliated does not necessarily mean one is atheist, politicians may be wary about such an association. About half of Americans (53%) say they would be less likely to support an atheist for president.”
Wanna bet we can change that too? And a lot quicker than we might first assume? From the changes we have seen in the past 50 years away from religious thinking in spite of the very prodigious and constant efforts of the Religious Right and Republicans (and now Fox News) to keep us all in line with Xian ideals the US has steadily, unflinchingly become more secular. And now with the sudden and still progressing acceptance of gay marriage, and legalization of marijuana, with 23% of the population gone non-religious and growing and 36% of the Millenials (and growing) already coming out as “Nones” how fast might we get openly secular members of Congress, the Senate and even the Presidency in the decade(s) to come?
“WE’ secularists, the non-religious or the Unbelieving Scum as I affectionately term us have become a truly recognized group separate from the “other” category when defining religious affiliation only quite recently. “Nones” wasn’t even a word but a few years ago. The New Enlightenment starting with the publication of Sam Harris’ End of Faith in 2004 is just 10 yrs old. The constant debate and criticism of religion spawned by Harris and the publications of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet and others has become a mainstream daily phenomenon only in the past few years! Imagine what the secular movement can do in another 5, 10 years or a generation or two?
Now is the time we can make real change…
Information does Kill Religion. It works. It has worked. It is working, better and faster than we give tend to realize.