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I thought the radio show went pretty well. These shows always tend to generate interest and we run out of time for the callers. Craig Bauman, the president of the University of Akron Secular Student Alliance who put up some of the atheist billboards in the region, contributed via phone and I thought he made some excellent comments, both about the billboards and his own disbelief that he said started in fourth grade, helped by a supportive family. Tracy Lind, a well-known minister of a local church, also called in and made the often-heard point that some people in her congregation are scientists and see no problem with science and a belief in a god. She is a liberal Christian and so speaks of god in more abstract terms, unlike Joe who is an evangelical and more literal in his approach to the Bible.
There was the inevitable caller who, in response to the atheist billboard campaign, said that he did not see why atheists did not keep their beliefs to themselves instead of publicizing their disbelief and wondered what would happen if everyone including Satanists put up competing billboards. I pointed out that we are bombarded all over the place with Christian messages, on billboards, radio and TV stations and (I did not include this on the show) on church signs along the road that broadcast their message. And yet all it takes is for atheists to put up a few billboards and people get upset and accuse us of forcing our message on others.
I repeatedly tried to point out the parallel of attitudes towards gays, and that we are now where gays were about forty years ago, and the way that they gained greater acceptance is the way things are going now with unbelievers. I also said that it was religious institutions’ rigid, discriminatory, and intolerant attitudes towards women and gays and contraception that was driving especially young people away from those institutions, even though they may still believe in a god. This is why we have such a large rise in those who refer to themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ or are unaffiliated with any institution or are just nominally religious in that if asked will call themselves Christian or Jewish or Muslim or whatever but don’t actually practice their faith.
I quoted the results of a survey that found that among young adults under the age of 30:
- Nearly three in four (72 percent) call themselves “more spiritual than religious.”
- More than two in three say they rarely or never pray with others, attend worship services, or read the Bible or other sacred texts.
- More than one in four (28 percent) said God is “just a concept,” and four in 10 said the devil is merely a symbol.
- Only half said that “Believing in Jesus Christ is the only way to get to heaven.”
Breaking free of their links to organized religion is a good start in weakening its influence in the public sphere.