Is secularism really winning in the US?
The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. “It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.
Well, it depends on what you mean by “in thrall” and “fast becoming” and the like. It also depends on what you mean by “a hotbed of religious fervour” and “the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians.” In other words it’s some of both. The US is becoming a more secular country in some ways, but it’s also becoming a less secular country in other ways. The US is in thrall to its religious leaders in the sense that religious zealots get elected to public office, including high public office, and several are running for president, with considerable success so far. The fact that agnostics and atheists are part of growing demographic doesn’t rule out the fact that religious leaders entrance many people.
The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.
Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major “religious” demographic in the country.
Good, good, but that still leaves a lot of people. The article goes on to admit that.
Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.
However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.
Well quite. We’re making progress, but it’s a mistake to exaggerate it.