Changing landscape in the culture wars

Posted in Society at 18:00 by RjZ

The culture wars have returned, just as they do every year around this time. Fox News is reporting that Arkansas atheists are trying to stop kids from seeing “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” A local Arkansas paper offers a local, balanced approach to the same story, explaining this isn’t about the innocuous play, but the associated, and public school supported, proselytizing.

It’s safe to say The Arkansas Society of Freethinkers (wow! in Arkansas?) probably over reached on this one. They’ve opened themselves up to a public relations debacle over a play because a child might be ostracized for not going (attendance was not mandatory). Meanwhile, the American religious right gets to force its majority role on the student body while simultaneously playing the victim in this culture war.

Until recently, many considered it laughable that Christians could play the victim at all. In the United States 86% of congress claims to be Christian), and leaders [see 35:00] can remain on the government’s science committee after admitting “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” The Pew Research Center has described atheists as harder to elect than muslims or homosexuals, but Christians slavishly repeat the story at every atheist billboard, and protest.

Thing is, they may finally be right. The War on Christmas hasn’t been lost, but they are finally on their way to losing.

Twenty years ago there were no billboards declaring “You know it’s a myth, celebrate reason this season.” Twenty years ago the Freethinker society wouldn’t consider stopping schools from proselytizing Christianity. In 1956 when “In God We Trust” was added to U.S. currency, American’s were afraid of the atheist Soviet Union and wanted to anything to ensure American values were maintained. Religion was a part of the fabric of society, regardless of which religion its citizens were.

But times have changed and people’s values change. Judging from comments on recent news of fighting in Gaza, average folks have begun to frame the conflict as a religious one, sometimes proposing both sides should just kill each other off.  Come on, you’ve imagined something like that yourself, haven’t you? Laying the blame on religion’s feet is a dramatic change of perspective. Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins have suggested that believers hate atheists much more than those from other faiths. A muslim and a Christian share an essential belief in a personal god. But an atheist mocks them both equally by refusing to accept even the notion of god. All the while, people have looked on at one religious figure’s personal scandal after another religiously motivated war after another ignorant attack on science, and have begun to wonder if just sharing essential beliefs is enough. Even the faithful distance themselves from the Westboro Baptist Church. Most Americans still believe in God, but is no longer automatically assumed to make you a better person. (I know, no one said that a proclamation of faith alone makes us a good, but when we say that we won’t vote for an atheist, we’re admitting that’s not actually how we think.)

In Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape he argues that one day ethics too may be explained by science. We have a long way to go, but no longer is the question of how do we know what is good presumed to be the sole domain of religion. But it isn’t only anonymous internet commenters who have begun to question the role of religion. Now, world recognized religious leader, Dalai Lama, has gotten people talking by his Facebook post: (as of this writing, over 149 thousand “Likes”)

The reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

The War on Christmas isn’t over. Fox News and many others will be able to milk this issue for years to come. Indeed, perhaps, now that the secularists are finally gaining some ground, we can likely expect to see more and more headlines about the conflict. During a mock debate with Bill O’Reilly, Jon Stewart described the so-called victims of the War on Christmas by saying “they confuse being able to pray everywhere with being able to pray anywhere; the loss of absolute power with persecution.”

Before the Freethinkers of Arkansas or Atheists United are jailed for war crimes, we will have to ask: when religion is removed from the public square is there real evidence of a moral failure in society? (And remember, correlation doesn’t imply causation!) Is the world really falling apart compared to the fifties? Are communities where religion and faith are the default really better off, more just, more safe? What’s changed is that more people are even asking the questions.

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