Saturday, October 10, 2009

Less Religion Means More Government

Having grown up an atheist I have always been made aware of the problems created by organized religion and I don't profess to have all the answers. Yet I realized in my adult years that religion enabled the capacity for free thinking, which was not a common perception amongst atheists/agnostics that have broken free from their respective religious upbringings. Somewhere we have missed each other. Here is an interesting post about the relationship between religion and government.
The reported decline in religious life is an omen that virtue-driven local charity will decline, the passion to pursue the good will wane, and Americans will look to government to guide, protect, and provide. As we turn our lives over to government control, our capacity for independent thought and action are compromised. The real “opiate of the masses,” it would seem, is not religion but the lack of it.

Soviet communism adopted Karl Marx’s teaching that religion was the “opiate of the masses” and launched a campaign of bloody religious persecution. Marx was misguided about the role of religion but years later many communists became aware that turning people away from religious life increases dependence on government to address life’s problems. The history of government coercion that comes from turning from religion to government makes a new study suggesting a national decline in religious life particularly alarming to those concerned about individual freedom.

The American Religious Identification Survey, published by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., reports that we should expect one in five Americans to identify themselves as having no religious commitments by 2030. The study, titled “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population,” reports that Americans professing no religion, or Nones, have become more mainstream and similar to the general public in marital status, education, racial and ethnic makeup and income. The Nones have increased from 8.1 percent of the U.S. adult population in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008.

According to the study, 22 percent of American 18 to 29-year-olds now self-identify as Nones. For those promoting dependency on government to handle the challenges of everyday life, as well as those who wish to take advantage of a growing market for morally bankrupt products and services, the news of declining religious life is welcome.

The increase in non-religious identification among younger generations highlights a continued shift away from active participation in one of the key social institutions that shaped this country. It may also come as no surprise, then, that according to the research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, voters under 30 are more liberal than all other generations. When asked about their ideology, 27 percent of those under 30 identify themselves as liberal, compared to 19 percent of baby boomers, and 17 percent of seniors. Pragmatic utilitarianism, favorable views toward a larger role for government in helping the disadvantaged, and a lack of ethical norms characterize this young segment America’s population.

The most significant difference between the religious and non-religious populations is gender. Whereas 19 percent of American men are Nones only 12 percent of American women are. The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females.

The marketplace and society in general will both reap the consequences of high numbers of male Nones. If more and more men are abandoning the religious communities that have provided solid moral formation for thousands of years, we should not be surprised by an increase in the explosion of demand for morally reprehensible products as well as the family breakdown that follows closely behind. With consciences formed by utility, pragmatism, and sensuality, instead of virtue, we should expect to find a culture with even more women subjected to the dehumanization of strip clubs, more misogynistic rap music, more adultery and divorce, more broken sexuality, more fatherlessness, more corruption in government and business, more individualism, and more loneliness.

Alexis de Tocqueville cautioned in his 1835 reflections on Democracy in America, that the pursuit of liberty without religion hurts society because it “tends to isolate [people] from one another, to concentrate every man’s attention upon himself; and it lays open the soul to an inordinate love of material gratification.” In fact, Tocqueville says, “the main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain that excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which men acquire in times of equality.” Religion makes us other-regarding. (Organized religion tends to lose sight of the fact that people have to make the choices.)

Historically, religious communities in the United States addressed the needs of local communities in way that were clearly outside the scope of government. For example, as David G. Dalin writes in “The Jewish War on Poverty,” between the 1820s and the Civil War, Jews laid the foundation for many charitable institutions outside the synagogue including a network of orphanages, fraternal lodges, hospitals, retirement homes, settlement houses, free-loan associations, and vocational training schools. These were also normative activities for both Protestant and Catholic religious communities on even a larger scale in communities all over America before Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The reported decline in religious life is an omen that virtue-driven local charity will decline, the passion to pursue the good will wane, and Americans will look to government to guide, protect, and provide. As we turn our lives over to government control, our capacity for independent thought and action are compromised. The real “opiate of the masses,” it would seem, is not religion but the lack of it.

By Anthony B. Bradley

10 Opinion(s):

Viking said...

excellent article!

Exzanian said...

The founding fathers of the USA recognised the necessity of seperating Church from state. It bore fruit; we have witnessed the USA dominate in the last two centuries. Even though the USA is still predominantly a christian society, religion has had very little influence on government. In the Middle East, Religion is the State, witness the results of that! The fact that communism killed millions has nothing to do with atheism, rather, everything to do with power. Religion stifles reason and progress by offering a "received wisdom" that you may never question. Less religion means more individual freedom, not more government.

Viking said...

@Exzanian

when members of any religion recognise that it is just that, their religion, then secularisation can occur. Therefore, every religion is different. Religion can promote reason too, but there I go again referring to abstract concepts in anthropomorphic terms - tut!

Exzanian said...

Viking said "abstract concepts in anthropomorphic terms - tut!"
LOL, there's a "G" word for that!!!

FishEagle said...

Exzanian, the author is not making a case for the unification of religion and government. I would never have supported such an argument. Also, I don't agree that religion offers a wisdom that may never be questioned. That is a matter of your personal opinion, not so?

Exzanian said...

FE,
Sure, you are quite correct, the author is not calling for a unification, but instead for a strengthening of religion in it's own right. There is a lot about this article that is harking back to old style religion and a lot of the rhetoric is anti free thought. I think religion should be discouraged to the point of total individual freedom. "Smoke if you want to, but not in my space"

FishEagle said...

Exzanian, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments that "religion should be discouraged to the point of total individual freedom." However, that still does not mean that there is no place for religion.

Exzanian said...

FE - There is no place for it except as primates discovering a universe that we do not understand and animating "spirits" in everything we encounter in trying to grapple with reality. If it was not for religion, we would have had the internet in 1700 and would be terraforming Mars right now...

FishEagle said...

Exzanian, that is a matter of opinion and you know it. I will be making use of my oppurtunity to gain a better understanding of religion and its role in society. Since you have been preaching individual freedom you cannot deny me that :)

Viking said...

@Exzanian
now you're just winding us up!
"Religion" has given the world plenty - and more importantly, has preserved a lot more.