This blog tends to highlight the negative aspects of religion–or, more accurately, the negative aspects of the misuse of religion. Lest readers come to see me as an indiscriminate and cranky critic of all people of faith (granted, I am cranky), I have obtained permission to share a recent column by Phil Gulley, who leads a local Society of Friends. (I’m told that Quakers don’t use the term “pastor.”)
Phil is someone whose writing (and the wisdom that writing reflects) I have long admired.
Today, you get Gulley rather than Kennedy…
The Rise of Religion and Why I Fear It
My parents took me to church when I was two weeks old and thereafter every Sunday until I turned 14, which in my family was the age of religious emancipation. I stayed away for two years, then discovered the Quakers, where I have remained ever since. When I returned to the church as a teenager, my father was pleased, pointing out that religion was good for the country. I once thought the same, but now wonder, in light of the rise of Christian nationalism, whether America continues to be well-served by religion, and more specifically the strain of evangelical Christianity so prevalent these days.
There is something inherently dangerous when a fervent subgroup in any country believes themselves ordained by God to tell the rest of us how to think and live. Thank you, but no. I’ll take my chances with freedom, democracy, reason, and the rule of law, all of which have been the targets of religion. Today, we are witnessing firsthand the tyranny of abusive religion when pregnant women, whose very lives are imperiled, are forced to travel far afield for the medical care they need. If America has never had a Taliban, it most certainly does now. If you doubt that, just ask Kate Cox of Texas if she has been well served by religion when Texas hospitals were prohibited from helping her after she experienced a reproductive medical emergency. When religious extremists are placed in charge, misogyny, ignorance, and tyranny are sure to follow.
When I was a child, my friends and I would play a game we called, “If you had to live anywhere but the United States, where would it be?” The game never lasted long, since we all said we’d rather be dead than live anywhere but here. I don’t feel that way anymore. Religious extremism, aided and abetted by the Republican Party since the days of Reagan, has dimmed my affection. Christian reactionaries had no sooner acquired power, than they used it to diminish ours. According to the CATO Institute, the United States ranks 23rd on the human freedom index. The embrace of totalitarianism is fueled in no small part by fanatical Christians determined to make the rest of us bow the head and bend the knee. Today, the five leading nations in freedom are Switzerland, New Zealand, Estonia, Denmark, and Ireland. What do those countries have in common? They are all post-religious nations, where Christianity has a diminishing role. Even Ireland, once ruled and roiled by religion, is experiencing an uptick of secularism, especially among the young. We can only conclude that as a country grows less religious, its liberties expand.
Isn’t it ironic that nations are better served when religions are on the wane? Wherever religion has gained the power to govern, progress and freedom have slowed to a halt. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Religions can just as easily champion justice, equality, and progress. Why so many don’t bears testimony to the religionist’s love of power and privilege. I remain in religion to speak the truth about its excesses, to challenge its tendency to dominate, to elevate the good and noble in it, to remove the dross from its gold. Don’t give me that old-time religion. Give me the hundred years after it, when the superstitions of regressive religion have been finally and totally defeated, and only the good remains.
To which this atheist says, AMEN.