In a message dated 2/19/99 8:22:41 PM Central Standard Time, email@example.com writes:
<< I would suggest that proselytizers of the religious persuasion are far more likely to be "rabid" than the atheists. >>
Yes. I personally have no problem believing that many people can be religious and still live perfectly happy lives, and be perfectly well adjusted socially. On the flip side I find many Christians who simply cannot fathom the possibility that atheists can live perfectly happy lives, and who believe that atheists must simply be cold-blooded and socially retarded logic-nazis.
When George Bush was vice-president he made a comment that he did not think that atheists could be good citizens. While such sentiments are far too prevelant for me to get disturbed about them, the thing that got my attention the most about the situation was the total lack of public response to it. If he had said this about any other minority worldview, say Jews, Muslims, Bhuddhists, or even some more obscure sect of Jains, with the only possible exception of Satanists, I think public response would have be very noticible and punishing.
Fortunately our lack of culturally visible manifestations, and our ability to silently or even deceptively coexist within a more religiously dominated culture, keeps me from feeling any actual sense of oppression. And the commonality of atheist "invisibility" suggests to me, that on the whole atheists are very unrabid.
>>And that atheists in the United States tend to be far more "rabid" than in
the rest of the world where the attitude towards religion tends to be more one of "who cares". Do you think it is some aspect of the American environment that we are seeing at work, something in the air, so to speak; or more like self-defense?<<
I think that atheists in America are far more likely to be intentionally invisible, than in British/European society. Because of that, it is usually only the few more rabid individuals who will shed their invisibility. And they set the tone for the rest of us - example of Madelyn Murray O'Hare.
My theory on why America is so different about religion, is that the initial tone of our religious environment was set by religious outcasts from Britain and Europe, who on the whole were far more religious than the societies from which they were fleeing. This combined with the fact that fresh frontiers for several centuries provided many opportunities for subsequent religious factions to play out their theocratic fantasies, where British and European societies would have had much less tolerance for these flighty escapades. On the whole we all take religion far more seriously.
I think things are changing though. I predict after this millenial madness subsides and dies (I think around 2011), that we will become a lot more British in our attitudes about religion. In fact, I can even imagine atheists reaching higher percentages of the population in both Britain and America. Though I don't predict that religion will die out in the forseeable future, and will probably remain a significant force.
I think the next religious crisis will be a very large insurgence of Islam, and their currently more limited tolerance for secularism. As far as I see it, Islam is immune to Y2K maddness (they have a different schedule), is not on the same cultural track as Christianity, and is quietly making very significant inroads into both minority and immigrant populations.
Far more people convert from Christianity to Islam, than convert from Islam to Christianity - that conversion dynamic has been constant since the begining of Islam and I see no reason why it would change. I think there are some specific memetic mechanisms at work that insure the continuation of this dynamic. Their birth rates are also significantly greater than the average, rivaling those of Catholics (once again who provide potential Muslims as well). And I think that as many religious Christians grow disillusioned after Y2K madness, and disillusioned with their recent religious political attempts, Islam will provide some very welcoming and compatible attitudes for them.