I went to elementary and high school in the rural South in the late fifties and sixties. There was no Internet, and information sharing was much filtered. One knew that there were such things as atheists and the really strange -- vegetarians, but there was no real sharing of the reasons for their "evil or odd" beliefs.
The entire authority structure in the home, school, and government was all of one religious opinion. To seek to resist that power and expose ones self to rejection would have taken a great deal of psychological independence. It would have been like putting a target on at a firing range. For the same reason in Martin Luther's day to resist the Pope took an incredible courage but to resist religion itself would be unthinkable. Fish might swim in different directions in the water but to jump out on the land????
The very solid scientific theory of evolution in my schools was not taught in in any serious way as if it were true and this was more than a hundred years after Darwin who in England is buried in Westminister Cathedrial as a national treasure. In other words, how might one come to the conclusions of atheism so long as there was no strong voice with its best arguments that was even allowed to speak.
Even as the Civil Rights movement had its battles in our Southern towns and highways, it was all played out in God language. If someone raised even a doubt of Christianity, the doubt itself was the enemy, not any opposing thought system. Reason was fine within faith but never as a challenge to faith. It was said faith goes beyond reason but not against reason in the more progressive circles and in the less progressive that too much "book learnin" might cause one to lose their religion. Reason in this view was an actual enemy of the faithful. In the latter view at least they understood that reason and faith were opposites. One sought evidence and logical argument and the other sought the opinion of authority without consideration of the facts. To close ones eyes in prayer might be an apt symbolism. To call bread and wine something else than what ones eyes see them to be confounds reason altogether right at the point of the law of identity which says A=A. To make A equal not A is to enter the world of the insane.
Even as the Civil Rights movement had its battles in our Southern towns and highways, it was all played out in God language. M.L. King, Jr. was, after all, a Baptist preacher. It was a "God's laws are higher than man's laws" kinda thing that would even get an ear as having any weight in calling the South to change its ways. On the segregationists side all sorts of convoluted theological arguments to support separate but equal were raised, but either way God talk was involved on both sides.
Today no matter the issue there is a much broader information sharing in the public arena. Television is more than the three major networks. Its content brings perspectives from many different cultures with their own reasoning included to support their case.
The arguments that lead to the Enlightenment are finally filtering down to the common people not just as history but with passionate appeal. Evolution is taught in the classrooms with a stronger sense that it is the best science even if it does get scoffed at from the pulpits on Sunday. There are two voices in the debate now.
In my opinion America will become much more like Western Europe in this generation. It was the Philosophies in France like Voltaire who gave the reasons that lead to change there. The priest as well as king were drawn as the enemies of the man in the street.
That crowd of atheistic teachers was muffled by the authorities of my youth. Their books were not banned but just not revealed probably because they were mostly unknown.
Today many voices are heard in places where they were silenced before. The cow is out of the barn and it is impossible for the authorities to control the flow of information. How different from the middle ages in Europe when the pulpit was the source of news of the world outside like a town with one radio station.
This new flood of information is a bit like the situation of child abusing fundamentalist LDS that were on the news cycle being removed from their little ranch. On that ranch everything was a world in a bubble. Suddenly a larger world rushed in and it was traumatic for everyone there exposure of America to that little world was also a shocker. Likewise the larger world is rushing into American now as well and the pace of the flood of information is increasing by the moment. This will threaten those in protected bubbles of one kind or another and it is really a threat to Islamic fundamentalists in around the world that have a bubble of their own. Anger and resentment like the South during the Civil Rights era will result as different worldviews collide.
In many ways America's history, say some political scholars, is now a good DNA to see what is going on in the world as our culture of free market capitalism and democracy has been exported. Our population today is much more reflective of the world mix than it was in our earlier days as a colony of Europe. So too our philosophical and religious reflection is different today as well. I wonder how well we will do off the "ranch"?
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)