Over There (in the UK)

January 16, 2001 at 12 AM

“Confessions of a Lonely Atheist,”

"Confessions of a Lonely Atheist," by Natalie Angier, reveals some of the hypocrisy behind religion in the USA before asking what role religion really might play in 21st century life. Is religion necessary for morality?

Statistics aren't usually a good way to express ideas, but some of these numbers leap out at you: 92% of Americans believe in God. 76% believe in hell. 40% say they go to church once a week.

One can only assume that of those 76%, 50% only believe in hell because they're already on their way. But the real story in these numbers is in other places. In almost every other Western state, survey respondents report much lower levels of faith. In fact, US shares its fervour for religion much more closely with places like India and Iran. What gives?

For starters, misleading survey respondents. A different survey which asked about the daily activities of Americans but did not deal with church directly, showed only 26% of Americans actually attend on a weekly basis, not 40%.

Another cold war hangover? In its heyday, the USSR was reviled for its atheistic policies. Perhaps Americans decided it was merely their, er, God-given duty to straighten out the cuffs and pull up the socks of religion to counter the Evil Empire. As Angier notes, " practically unpatriotic."

I remember reading a comment in The New Yorker some time ago in which the writer asked rhetorically whether it was easy to stand up and announce one's disbelief in God in America, the answer being a resounding No! Toss in this nugget: one of the most intriguing statistics (just one more!) published in the article above is that Americans would sooner vote for a gay president than one who is an athiest.

In the face of how Religion (with a capital R that is) has dealt with homosexuality over the years, that seems surprising. But then again, according to those statistics, there are more gay Americans than athiest Americans. Mmmhmm. Hey, maybe there are, who knows. I just think that in a country which claims to separate Church and State, that a lack of Church shouldn't be an impedient to one's political ambition.

Furthermore, I must agree with the article in its position that religion and morality are not so inseparable as people like Joseph Lieberman would have us believe. Hundreds of years of war fought by the flag of religion suggests otherwise, but so too do shootings in American (and Canadian) high schools. If these kids all believe in God, why didn't He give them some better advice?

In any case, the point is not that more people should be athiests; I myself do not claim that God or gods do not exist (yes, I'm squirreling out at the last moment...but some of my best friends are athiests!). But in a world of so many different religions, there ought to be room for an empty space. In design we call it white space. But that's a different rant.



Previously: “Vive le Québec libre!” exclamed

Subsequently: Is he or isn’t he?

January 2001
the Archives

In Earshot

I only really read it for Canucks coverage, but even still it’s nice that The Vancouver Sun finally redesigned its hideously awful website to look like it was designed this century.

On pizza box art

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The Toronto Star shows where and how the seats changed in the 2008 election

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