Dear hellbound Godless atheists

That’s not what Michael Gerson started out with in his latest opinion piece, and, well, I’m not even sure if that’s what he’s going for, it’s quite a word salad. He starts out by recognizing the ranks of the non religious have swollen, takes a back-handed swipe at Dawkins, basically states the polls are skewed and a big chunk of the twenty percent reporting as “nones” are really religious — including presumably a Godly number of you lying atheists and agnostics. Then finishes up with this head scratcher:

Wapo — But the trend appears to run deeper. As Lugo points out, declining trust in religious institutions since the 1990s has been accompanied by declining trust in most institutions (with the notable exception of the military). Confidence in government and big business has simultaneously fallen — and the public standing of both is lower than that of the church. Americans may be less affiliated with religious organizations because they have grown generally more individualistic and skeptical of authority.

Whatever the explanations for the decline of institutional religion, it has major social and political implications. Since the nones are disproportionately liberal and Democratic, what does their rise mean for American politics? More broadly: Is the United States on the path of secularization that — while delayed — inevitably leads to Sweden? Or can religious institutions adjust their appeal to a nation of individualists?

I think that reference to Sweden is supposed to be a warning or an appeal of some sort. It’s confusing; there is a famous wingnut phrase/insult usually taking the form of “Swedish socialists,” I’m guessing here that that’s what’s intended. It’s just tough to understand in this day and age how it would be insulting to be compared to a proudly capitalist success story full of polylingual peaceful prosperous people who provide their less fortunate citizens all the necessities of life, heretofore categorized as luxuries in so many nations and cultures Gerson seems to be groping toward for a pander.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe — gulp — he’s doing his best to understand and explain to a wide array of readers. Then again maybe the best way to inform those readers would be to have some of the many nones mentioned write an opinion piece in the WaPo? Because he’s right about one thing: the royal we don’t all agree.

I’ll go first: it’s not that we secretly admire the faithful, privately pray to one or another deity and cackle while skewing Pew Polls on religion to confound the white man, nor do we curse any of the above. If for no other reason than we’re all pretty sure curses don’t work any better than prayer or magic beads. We simply feel the case for such creatures existing, in the same way an electron or a butterfly exists, has not been made, not by a long shot. Many of us would go further and say, while there has certainly been progress in many places — in the west we no longer have to fear having our hands and feet tied to four different galloping horse and be torn into quarters plus a twitching trunk while still conscious — we find having those beliefs forced upon us by a theistic state sanctioned majority ranges from uncomfortable to tyrannical depending on the faith and state in question. What would you say if given the same real estate Gerson enjoys?


  1. ohioobserver says

    I’d say this, or something like it:

    The existence of divine beings is a source of authority. Anyone who can be taken to speak for a divine being is invested with a special and potent form of authority. Since, however, there are no factual, objective properties of divine beings, the self-appointed spokesmen can say anything they want. There is no check or balance, other than “scripture”, which is just as made up as any other literary work. Accepting the existence of divine beings, with no evidence to support such a proposition, leads immediately and dangerously to gross abuse of unwarranted power.

  2. frankb says

    Distrust in religious institutions is not the same as distrust in government. Secularists will favor secular government and religionists will favor the churches. Combining these two opposing forces into one trend is meaningless. I agree that this piece by Gerson is word salad.

  3. Yellow Thursday says

    I think he’s got cause and effect confused. For me, at least, it’s not that I became overall distrustful of authorities and thus distrustful of religious authorities. I found out the church was lying to me, particularly in its claims of having truth and morality on its side. The distrust I developed for the church’s authority carried over to questioning of other authority figures.

  4. Randomfactor says

    The “non-atheist nones” are the kind of atheists we’re working towards…in a way.

    Like Americans in general who claim to be “conservative” yet when pressed on specific issues–good schools, safe water/food/air, etc. tend to agree with a more liberal agenda.

    I don’t care if the nones profess a belief in a cosmic spirit or a cosmic muffin or ghosts. Their daily lives say “don’t bother me with that crap, it doesn’t affect me in any meaningful way.”

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