Whenever I give a talk, as I did recently, on the fight over the teaching of evolution in schools, I am almost always asked why these take place mostly in the US. That is not exactly true but in many other countries, there is no equivalent of the Establishment Clause that people can appeal to to keep religion out of the affairs of the state and so there is little recourse to the courts. In other countries, religion is either so deeply entrenched that the dominance of religious views are taken for granted or religion is so weak (in most of the developed world) that it is not a serious issue or gets resolved in the political arena.
In an article that was sent to me by a reader of this blog, Shanny Luft says that the best way to end religion in the US is to make if the established religion of the country.
The history of American religion suggests that when government involves itself in religion, religion withers on the vine; whereas when governments neither helps nor hinders, religious life flourishes. Therefore: atheists who would like to see a decline in religious influence over government should fight to establish state religions across the nation. If they succeeded, they would make religion anathema. Americans detest few things more than government, and the closer the affiliation between religion and government, the worse the outcome for religion.
This article is largely tongue-in-cheek (it has the phrase ‘a modest proposal’‘ in its subtitle after all) but it is based on an idea that is plausible, that it is the very non-establishment of religion in the US that has enabled it to flourish here.
But you can be sure that if religion gains a political foothold, it will initially unleash a wave of institutionalized bigotry and intolerance that will take a long time to overcome. What else can you expect from true believers who think that their own religion is right and all others wrong? The only reason that they keep that view silent is because they do not have a preferential place in society.
In those states that are currently dominated by religious ideologies, whether they be Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or Hinduism, we see clearly the evil that religion allied with political power creates. At some point people in those states are going to be disgusted at the corruption and intolerance that religion breeds and turn away from it, just as those formerly Christian nations that are now largely secular in Europe once suffered all manner of horrors in the name of religion.
But that is a heavy price to pay for achieving the goal of eliminating religion. It is far better to realize that religion is incompatible with modernity and let the advancing of the latter undermine the former. The enlightenment values of science and reason are the best antidote to the obscurantism of religion and it is those that we should seek to promote.