An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king.


Author:Forsetti’s Justice / AlterNet

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: at the end of the day, belief in a White Christian God is the problem…)

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete bullshit. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to throw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t east coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

I grew up in rural, Christian, white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area in the country that has a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on, on their rural farms. I dated their calico skirted daughters. I camped, hunted, and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have also watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure turn into a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes, and a broken down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves, the reasons for their anger/frustrations, and don’t seem to care to know why.

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

At some point during the discussion, “That’s your education talking,” will be said, derogatorily, as a general dismissal of everything I said. They truly believe this is a legitimate response because to them education is not to be trusted. Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are anti-quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to the certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. I watched a lot of my fellow students who were smart, stop their education the day they graduated high school. For most of the young ladies, getting married and having kids was more important than continuing their learning. For many of the young men, getting a college education was seen as unnecessary and a waste of time. For the few who did go to college, what they learned was still filtered through their fundamentalist belief system. If something they were taught didn’t support a preconception, it would be ignored and forgotten the second it was no longer needed to pass an exam.

Knowing this about their belief system and their view of outside information that doesn’t support it, telling me that the problem is coastal elites not understanding them completely misses the point.

Another problem with rural, Christian, white Americans is they are racists. I’m not talking about white hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching racists (though some are). I’m talking about people who deep down in their heart of hearts truly believe they are superior because they are white. Their white God made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed and cursed.

The religion in which I was raised taught this. Even though they’ve backtracked on some of their more racist declarations, many still believe the original claims. Non-whites are the color they are because of their sins, or at least the sins of their ancestors. Blacks don’t have dark skin because of where they lived and evolution; they have dark skin because they are cursed. God cursed them for a reason. If God cursed them, treating them as equals would be going against God’s will. It is really easy to justify treating people differently if they are cursed by God and will never be as good as you no matter what they do because of some predetermined status.

Once you have this view, it is easy to lower the outside group’s standing and acceptable level of treatment. Again, there are varying levels of racism at play in rural, Christian, white America. I know people who are ardent racists. I know a lot more whose racism is much more subtle but nonetheless racist. It wouldn’t take sodium pentothal to get most of these people to admit they believe they are fundamentally better and superior to minorities. They are white supremacists who dress up in white dress shirts, ties, and gingham dresses. They carry a Bible and tell you, “everyone’s a child of God” but forget to mention that some of God’s children are more favored than others and skin tone is the criterion by which we know who is and who isn’t at the top of God’s list of most favored children.

For us “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics, science…nothing we say to those in fly-over country is going to be listened to because not only are we fighting against an anti-education belief system, we are arguing against God. You aren’t winning a battle of beliefs with these people if you are on one side of the argument and God is on the other. No degree of understanding this is going to suddenly make them less racist, more open to reason and facts. Telling “urban elites” they need to understand rural Americans isn’t going to lead to a damn thing because it misses the causes of the problem.

Because rural, Christian, white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like the evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it doesn’t get out and because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole. A closed-off belief system is like your spinal fluid—it is great as long as nothing infectious gets into it. If bacteria gets into your spinal fluid, it causes unbelievable damage because there are no white blood cells in it whose job is to fend off invaders and protect the system. This is why things like meningitis are so horrible. Without the protective services of white blood cells in the spinal column, meningitis spreads like wildfire once it’s in and does significant damage in a very short period of time. Once inside the closed-off spinal system, bacteria are free to destroy whatever they want.

The very same is true with closed-off belief systems. Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, etc., bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in short period of time. What has happened to too many fundamentalist belief systems is damaging information has been allowed in from people who have been granted “expert status.” If someone is allowed into a closed-off system and their information is deemed acceptable, anything they say will readily be accepted and become gospel.

Rural, Christian, white Americans have let in anti-intellectual, anti-science, bigoted, racists into their system as experts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, any of the blonde Stepford Wives on Fox, every evangelical preacher on television because they tell them what they want to hear and because they sell themselves as being “one of them.” The truth is none of these people give a rat’s ass about rural, Christian, white Americans except how can they exploit them for attention and money. None of them have anything in common with the people who have let them into their belief systems with the exception they are white and they “speak the same language” of white superiority, God’s will must be obeyed, and how, even though they are the Chosen Ones, they are the ones being screwed by all the people and groups they believe they are superior to.

Gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms are somehow viewed a threat. The black president is a threat. Two billion Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to be autonomous are a threat. The college educated are a threat. Godless scientists are a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat and they’ve bought it hook, line, and grifting sinker. Since there are no self-regulating mechanisms in their belief systems, these threats only grow over time. Since facts and reality don’t matter, nothing you say to them will alter their beliefs. “President Obama was born in Kenya, is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates white Americans and is going to take away their guns.” I feel ridiculous even writing this, it is so absurd, but it is gospel across large swaths of rural America. Are rural, Christian, white Americans scared? You’re damn right they are. Are their fears rational and justified? Hell no. The problem isn’t understanding their fears. The problem is how to assuage fears based on lies in closed-off fundamentalist belief systems that don’t have the necessary tools for properly evaluating the fears.

I don’t have a good answer to this question. When a child has an irrational fear, you can deal with it because they trust you and are open to possibilities. When someone doesn’t trust you and isn’t open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, there really isn’t much, if anything you can do. This is why I think the whole, “Democrats have to understand and find common ground with rural America,” is misguided and a complete waste of time. When a 3,000-year-old book that was written by uneducated, pre-scientific people, subject to translation innumerable times, edited with political and economic pressures from popes and kings, is given higher intellectual authority than facts arrived at from a rigorous, self-critical, constantly re-evaluating system that can and does correct mistakes, no amount of understanding, no amount of respect, no amount of evidence is going to change their minds, assuage their fears.

Do you know what does change the beliefs of fundamentalists, sometimes? When something becomes personal. Many a fundamentalist has changed his mind about the LGBT community once his loved ones started coming out of the closet. Many have not. But those who did, did so because their personal experience came in direct conflict with what they believe. My own father is a good example of this. For years I had long, sometimes heated discussions with him about gay rights. Being the good religious fundamentalist he is, he could not even entertain the possibility he was wrong. The Church said it was wrong, so therefore it was wrong. No questions asked. No analysis needed. This changed when one of his adored stepchildren came out of the closet. He didn’t do a complete 180. He has a view that tries to accept gay rights while at the same time viewing being gay as a mortal sin because his need to have his belief system be right outweighs everything else.

This isn’t uncommon. Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal. This belief system alteration works both ways. I know die-hard, open-minded progressives who became ardent fundamentalists due to a traumatic event in their lives.

A really good example of this is the comedian Dennis Miller. I’ve seen Miller in concert four different times during the 1990s. His humor was complex, riddled with references, and leaned pretty left on almost all issues. Then 9/11 happened. For whatever reasons, the trauma of 9/11 caused a seismic shift in Miller’s belief system. Now he is a mainstay on conservative talk radio. His humor was replaced with anger and frustration. 9/11 changed his belief system because it was a catastrophic event that was personal to him.

The catastrophe of the Great Depression along with the progressive remedies by FDR helped create a generation of Democrats from previously die-hard Republicans. People who had, up until that point, deeply believed the government couldn’t help the economy only the free market could change their minds when the brutal reality of the Great Depression affected them directly, personally.

I thought the financial crisis in 2008 would have a similar, though lesser, impact on many Republicans. It didn’t. The systems that were put in place after the Great Recession to deal with economic crises, the quick, smart response by Congress and the administration helped make what could have been a catastrophic event into merely a really bad one. People suffered, but they didn’t suffer enough to where they were open to questioning their deeply held beliefs. Because this questioning didn’t take place, the Great Recession didn’t lead to any meaningful political shift away from poorly regulated markets, supply side economics, or how to respond to a financial crisis. This is why, even though rural Christian white Americans were hit hard by the Great Recession, they not only didn’t blame the political party they’ve aligned themselves with for years, they rewarded them two years later by voting them into a record number of state legislatures and taking over the U.S. House.

Of course, it didn’t help matters there were scapegoats available they could direct their fears, anger, and white supremacy towards. A significant number of rural Americans believe President Obama was in charge when the financial crisis started. An even higher number believe the mortgage crisis was the result of the government forcing banks to give loans to unqualified minorities. It doesn’t matter how untrue both of these are, they are gospel in rural America. Why reevaluate your beliefs and voting patterns when scapegoats are available?

How do you make climate change personal to someone who believes only God can alter the weather? How do you make racial equality personal to someone who believes whites are naturally superior to non-whites? How do you make gender equality personal to someone who believes women are supposed to be subservient to men by God’s command? How do you get someone to view minorities as not threatening personal to people who don’t live around and never interact with them? How do you make personal the fact massive tax cuts and cutting back government hurts their economic situation when they’ve voted for these for decades? I don’t think you can without some catastrophic events. And maybe not even then. The Civil War was pretty damn catastrophic yet a large swath of the South believed and still believes they were right, had the moral high ground. They were/are also mostly Christian fundamentalists who believe they are superior because of the color of their skin and the religion they profess to follow. There is a pattern here for anyone willing to connect the dots.

“Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is not one of the dots. “Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is a dodge, meant to avoid the real problems because talking about the real problems is viewed as “too upsetting,” “too mean,” “too arrogant,” “too elite,” “too snobbish.” Pointing out Aunt Bee’s views of Mexicans, blacks, gays…is bigoted isn’t the thing one does in polite society. Too bad more people don’t think the same about the views Aunt Bee has. It’s the classic, “You’re a racist for calling me a racist,” ploy. Or, as it is more commonly known, “I know you are but what am I?”

I do think rational arguments are needed, even if they go mostly ignored and ridiculed. I believe in treating people with the respect they’ve earned but the key point here is “earned.” I’ll gladly sit down with Aunt Bee and have a nice, polite conversation about her beliefs about “the gays,” “the blacks,” “illegals,”…and do so without calling her a bigot or a racist. But, this doesn’t mean she isn’t a bigot and a racist and if I’m asked to describe her beliefs these are the only words that honestly fit. No one with cancer wants to be told they have cancer, but just because no one uses the word, “cancer,” it doesn’t mean they don’t have it. Just because the media, pundits on all sides, some Democratic leaders don’t want to call the actions of many rural, Christian, white Americans, “racist/bigoted” doesn’t make them not so.

Avoiding the obvious only prolongs getting the necessary treatment. America has always had a race problem. It was built on racism and bigotry. This didn’t miraculously go away in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It didn’t go away with the election of Barack Obama. If anything, these events pulled back the curtain exposing the dark, racist underbelly of America that white America likes to pretend doesn’t exist because we are the reason it exists. From the white nationalists to the white, suburban soccer moms who voted for Donald Trump, to the far left progressives who didn’t vote at all, racism exists and has once again been legitimized and normalized by white America.

The honest truths that rural, Christian, white Americans don’t want to accept and until they do nothing is going to change, are:

-Their economic situation is largely the result of voting for supply-side economic policies that have been the largest redistribution of wealth from the bottom/middle to the top in U.S. history.

Immigrants haven’t taken their jobs. If all immigrants, legal or otherwise, were removed from the U.S., our economy would come to a screeching halt and prices on food would soar.

Immigrants are not responsible for companies moving their plants overseas. Almost exclusively white business owners are the ones responsible because they care more about their share holders who are also mostly white than they do American workers.

No one is coming for their guns. All that has been proposed during the entire Obama administration is having better background checks.

Gay people getting married is not a threat to their freedom to believe in whatever white God you want to. No one is going to make their church marry gays, make gays your pastor, accept gays for membership.

Women having access to birth control doesn’t affect their life either, especially women who they complain about being teenage, single mothers.

-Blacks are not “lazy moochers living off their hard earned tax dollars” anymore than many of your fellow rural neighbors. People in need are people in need. People who can’t find jobs because of their circumstances, a changing economy, outsourcing overseas, etc. belong to all races.

They get a tremendous amount of help from the government they complain does nothing for them. From the roads and utility grids they use to the farm subsidies, crop insurance, commodities protections…they benefit greatly from government assistance. The Farm Bill is one of the largest financial expenditures by the U.S. government. Without government assistance, their lives would be considerably worse.

-They get the largest share of Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

-They complain about globalization but line up like everyone else to get the latest Apple product. They have no problem buying foreign-made guns, scopes, and hunting equipment. They don’t think twice about driving trucks whose engine was made in Canada, tires made in Japan, radio made in Korea, computer parts made in Malaysia.

-They use illicit drugs as much as any other group. But, when other people do it is a “moral failing” and they should be severely punished, legally. When they do it, it is a “health crisis” that needs sympathy and attention.

-When jobs dry up for whatever reasons, they refuse to relocate but lecture the poor in places like Flint for staying in towns that are failing.

-They are quick to judge minorities for being “welfare moochers” but don’t think twice about cashing their welfare check every month.

-They complain about coastal liberals, but the taxes from California and New York are what covers their farm subsidies, helps maintain their highways, and keeps their hospitals in their sparsely populated areas open for business.

-They complain about “the little man being run out of business” then turn around and shop at big box stores.

-They make sure outsiders are not welcome, deny businesses permits to build, then complain about businesses, plants opening up in less rural areas.

Government has not done enough to help them in many cases but their local and state governments are almost completely Republican and so too are their representatives and senators. Instead of holding them accountable, they vote them in over and over and over again.

All the economic policies and ideas that could help rural America belong to the Democratic Party: raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, infrastructure spending, reusable energy growth, slowing down the damage done by climate change, healthcare reform…all of these and more would really help a lot of rural Americans.

What I understand is that rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies. I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to. They are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more. Their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians. They are the problem with progress and always will be, because their belief systems are constructed against it.

The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by coastal elites. The problem is a lack of understanding of why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.


American secular

The founding moment of the United States brought a society newly freed from religion. What went wrong?

Source: Aeon

Author: Sam Haselby

Emphasis Mine

In the beginning was the thing, and the thing was against God. So might begin the gospel of American secularism. The sudden flourish of secularism at the time of the United States’ foundation is incongruous, a rogue wave of rationality in a centuries-long sea of Protestant evangelising, sectarianism and God-talk. But it is undeniable. In 1788, with the adoption of its Constitution, the United States became the first modern republic founded on a legal separation of church and state. In a country that holds sacred the intentions of its revolutionary-era founders, those founders’ secular ambitions are clear. Thomas Jefferson wrote a book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, to try to prove that Jesus was not Christ, that the man was not the son of God. Around the world, his pithy expression ‘a wall of separation between church and state’ continues to represent a particular secular ideal of separating religious and political power.

James Madison, the primary author of the US Constitution, was an even more rigorous and consistent, if less poetic, secularist. On grounds of what he called ‘pure religious freedom’, Madison opposed military and congressional chaplains, believing that they amounted to government sponsorship of religion. Every step short of this ‘pure religious freedom’, he wrote, would ‘leave crevices at least thro’ which bigotry may introduce persecution; a monster… feeding & thriving on its own venom’.

So, in brief, what went wrong? How did the country founded by visionary secularists, and that made historic advances in both religious freedom and the separation of religious and political powers, nonetheless become the world’s most religious political democracy? Understanding secularism better helps to answer the question. Secularism is not one simple thing; it has distinct theological, philosophical and political lives. Its theological and philosophical versions are formed from simple, if explosive, ideas. In its political guise, ideas are less important than institutions, and it is on the shoals of institution-building that American secularism wrecked.

In theological terms, secularism is an Anglo-Protestant heresy that arose on the periphery of the 18th-century British Empire. In the past two centuries, it has developed offshoots in Catholicism and Islam, and genealogies in these and other faiths have been produced, but the influence of secularism is due in good part to the rise of US power in the modern world.

Prior to 18th-century Anglo-America – specifically revolutionary-era Virginia – no other modern society had sought to separate law, politics, social life and civic institutions from the divine. Such separation is antithetical to Catholicism, in which the truth and the path to salvation are found within the Church and its Magisterium. The Magisterium – literally the ‘offices’ ­– holds all the teachings and doctrine and history of the Church. English translators often render the Arabic din as ‘religion’, but it really means a way of life, including law, politics, institutions and more. The same is true of the Sanskrit dharma or ‘way’. It was, simply, only Protestants who systematised the idea of religion as a matter separable from the rest of life, a ‘private’ matter, in the well-known secularist formulation.

Because of secularism’s Protestant origins, its history must include the thought of Martin Luther. He argued that man needed no institution, no hierarchy of learned clerics, to broach God. Luther insisted that man could, with the Bible alone, arrive at salvation – could, as Baptists in the American South say, ‘get right with God’. From this insistence, radical implications unfolded. As the Catholic Church immediately recognised, Luther’s ideas did not just defy established religious teachings. They made religious institutions profane, rendering the experience of the sacred a private matter. They elevated private judgment as equal to or above that of the high and learned, and threw religion and religious experience beyond the reach of the state and society. It marked the creation of the modern sovereign individual.

Of course, Luther himself was anything but a secularist. For a start, his motive was to protect religion from politics, not politics from religion. As far as Luther was concerned, faith was the prime realm, to be made safe from the pollutant of worldly power. Second, Luther’s championing of the individual conscience had nothing to do with any kind of equality. The 19th-century Methodist saying ‘Methodism hates democracy as much as it hates sin’ spoke from a spirit closer to that of Protestantism’s founder, who never questioned that social status would be inherited, and that it was the lot of most to serve and suffer. Ideas of political equality born in the Age of Revolution were inconceivable to the founder of Protestantism. He would have found the relatively modest revolutionary-era American ideas about equality not just absurd but criminal, heretical.

Nonetheless, in the Age of Revolution, when America’s Virginia planters embraced the sovereignty of the individual in the name of religious freedom, they were clearly following in the footsteps of Luther. Catholicism, Islam or Judaism presented no similar path to the sovereign individual. Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786) legislated that people could hold their own religious views, whatever they might be, in the name of freedom. Following its passage, the usually cautious Madison wrote exultantly to Jefferson that they had ‘in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind’.

‘It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg’

Jefferson concurred that the achievement was historic. His reply also made clear who had been history’s great enemies of freedom: ‘Kings, priests, & nobles’ had for centuries conspired to keep man in ignorant subordination. It was, he wrote, Virginia’s great honour ‘to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare that the reason of man may be trusted with the formation of his opinions’. Jefferson felt the honour was also his, as he chose to have his authorship of the statute inscribed on his tombstone.

In the context of early modern political philosophy, to state that the reason of man could be trusted with the formation of his opinions was another way of stating the radical content of ‘all men are created equal’. The famous phrase did not mean that men possessed equal physical or intellectual capacities. It meant that all men could reason and were capable of acting as responsible and accountable moral agents. There is a clear intellectual link with Luther’s valuation of individual judgment.

For Luther, however, the implications of the sovereign individual were narrowly and entirely theological, rather than social or political. Princes would always be princes; peasants were to perpetually remain peasants. Luther’s sovereign individual simply had no social or political implications. By contrast, American religious freedom, as it took shape in Virginia during the Age of Revolution, contained little differences that made big differences. The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom granted broad, principled protections for freedom of thought. It granted them to everyone, including those without theological qualification or learning.

Luther was an erudite Augustinian monk. He could envision theological debate only among the tiny number of similarly learned. Jefferson captured the extent of the Virginia Statute when he said: ‘It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’ Broad principled protection of religious belief was, in fact, far more consequential than Jefferson’s quote wants one to conclude. Beliefs tend to lead to actions; and it is actions, not beliefs, that cause injury. Historic as it was, Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom grants no protections to actions taken on the basis of religious beliefs, only to the quiescent holding of private beliefs. The idea that belief and action, faith and life, can be so easily separated is central to the secular heresy.

The Virginians’ goals were in a real sense the opposite of Luther’s. They thought they were protecting the nation by separating politics from religion, protecting political society from the poison of religious passions. From a theological perspective, their secularism was a heresy. It diminished the role of the established churches. It separated religion from the world and made it private, and this privatising imperative of secularism is one of its great victories, albeit an incomplete one. The devout tend to conceive of God or Jesus or Allah or the Quran or the Bible as incomparable, unique authorities. They interpret the secular obligation to render religion a private matter as the impious or heretical telling them that some of their sacred duties are inherently illegitimate.

While it is a matter of history that secularism was in origin an Anglo-Protestant heresy, it is also true that America’s 18th-century secularists were not themselves moved by theological concerns. Rather, philosophy drove them, and their goals were thoroughly political. The simplest way to grasp the underlying philosophical idea of the secular is to understand that its original antonym is not religious, but divine. That is, secular refers to all things that are not the prerogative of the divine, of God, but are in the world and ‘in time’. God is not in time, or worldly, because God and the City of God are eternal. It is the worldly, the City of Man, that changes.

The shadow of this philosophical meaning of secular as worldly is evident in the Catholic notion of secular law – or the law of the world, of trusts and land and inheritances, with which the Church must be involved. Secular law stands in contrast to, and beneath, the laws of God, that is to say, beneath theology, which is concerned with the divine and the eternal.

Natural history has replaced the supernatural creation story. Geology – not theology – explains the features of the Earth

The one time Jefferson used the term ‘secular’, in July 1788, it was in this philosophical sense. Writing in excitement to a friend about the work of Pierre-Simon de Laplace, Jefferson wrote that the French mathematician and astronomer had ‘discovered that the secular acceleration and retardation of the Moon’s motion is occasioned by the action of the Sun’. Laplace had demonstrated that the eccentricities of planetary orbits were further proof of (not a deviation from) Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity. These eccentricities had led Newton to speculate that occasional divine intervention kept the solar system in orbital equilibrium. Laplace’s findings removed the notion of an active God from celestial mechanics. The Moon’s changing speeds were a result not of the hand of God, but of gravitational forces, expressible in mathematics and discoverable by men.

Economists and statisticians still use the term ‘secular’ in the same sense as Jefferson’s ‘secular acceleration and retardation’. It means, essentially, change over time. For 18th-century intellectuals the question was simple: was God active in the world? To Jefferson, Laplace’s discovery amounted to the heavens themselves attesting that God did not even intervene in the cosmos. This caused Jefferson much excitement both because of the great authority of science for Enlightenment thinkers, and for its political implications. Jefferson brought this core philosophical idea of the secular from the cosmos down to Earth in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). Describing the origin of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley, he gave a geological explanation meant as a direct challenge to the Christian account of creation.

Anyone looking at the Blue Ridge Mountains, wrote Jefferson, could see that ‘this Earth has been created in time, that the mountains were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards, that in this place particularly they have been dammed up by the Blue ridge of the mountains’. Simple examination of the topography, he continued, revealed how an ocean had once filled the valley then torn down the mountain. Likewise, simple examination of the rocks attested to their ‘avulsion from their beds by the most powerful agents of nature’. The phrases ‘this Earth has been created in time’ and ‘the most powerful agents of nature’ were not subtle code phrases. Natural history has replaced the supernatural creation story. Laplace’s physics explains the working of the cosmos, and geology – not theology – explains the features of the Earth.

For Enlightenment thinkers, the authority of science was such that these findings in physics and geology carried direct political consequences. If physics made the cosmos, and geology the Earth, that left men to make political society. The opening of The Declaration of Independence (1776) – ‘When in the course of human events…’ – captures this elevation of human history and authority over theology and divine authority. The events are human events. Since God had not authorised political obligations, people could choose to dissolve and remake them. That is why the same line of the Declaration goes on to say that sometimes in history ‘it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another’. By contrast, one cannot dissolve divine obligations, they are made by God and are eternal.

It is not so difficult to understand the trajectory that led from the original Protestant championing of the sovereign individual to the heresy of 18th-century secularism extending that right of individual conscience to the masses. Nor is it so difficult to see that philosophical secularism provides strong grounds to separate the political and the religious into different spheres. But when it comes to secularisation itself – that is, the building of institutions to cultivate secular ideals deeply into the society – that’s when things get difficult.

Political life is where American secularism ran into a wall: the simple problem was its unpopularity. This unpopularity is one reason why American secularism remains clouded in some obscurity. Typically, big political ideas come into the world with names and words: they have champions and proponents, usually in writing. The Declaration of Independence announced US national independence, and a new theory of sovereignty, to the world. It soon entered world political literature. The Federalist Papers detail elaborate justifications for US constitutionalism. When big political ideas are born, just as in the birth announcement of a royal heir, the theatrical public statement, as weighty as possible, aims to impart legitimacy. Sometimes, the names arrive shortly thereafter, but come screaming: Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto(1848), for example. But there was no statement detailing secularism, no birth announcement, no manifesto.

In history, these are somewhat strange circumstances. A revolution leads to a historic achievement, but the beginnings and parameters of that achievement, even its moderately specific origins, remain murky, actually unstated. No one stepped up to offer a theory of the concept, or a formal statement of its principles. No one used the word. The thing itself was not even, on principled grounds, popular. But private communications between Madison, Jefferson and their allies in the effort to push secularising measures through the Virginia legislature in the mid-1780s reveal a plan that never came to be, a plan fully cognizant of the fact that a secular society would depend on secularising institutions.

The separation of church and state was not just an idea. It was a political act, in fact a very difficult political act. In revolutionary-era Virginia, the Anglican Church’s support for Britain in the War of Independence had left it weakened. Where it had supported 91 clergy before the war, following the Peace of Paris in 1783 only 28 Anglican clergy remained, in a population of approximately 690,000 in Virginia. Still, most people expected that the Anglican Church would remain Virginia’s state church, and that Virginia would continue to recognise Christianity. Just before becoming governor, Patrick Henry had prepared a bill calling upon the state of Virginia to legally recognise Christianity as the one ‘true religion’ by, among other means, a mandatory tithe to be paid to the government by each citizen. The bill also called for the state of Virginia officially to recognise that heaven and hell exist, that the Old and New Testaments were of divine origin, and that the Christian God be publicly worshipped. John Marshall, George Washington and other major figures in Virginia politics supported Henry’s bill.

However, a procedural oversight on Henry’s part delayed voting on the bill, and Madison moved to action. Both Jefferson and Madison were deeply opposed to a state church, or to any state recognition of religion. They also knew that their views against religion were unpopular and had no chance of prevailing on principle. Instead, Madison set out to terrify Virginia’s Presbyterians, Baptists and other rival sects into fearing that the state church would be an oppressive Anglican one. To this end, he wrote a broadside: theMemorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785). The Memorial succeeded, since most Virginia Christians wanted their own church to be the state church, and if not theirs then nobody else’s.

‘The mutual hatred of these sects has been much inflamed,’ Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1785, and ‘I am far from being sorry for it.’ Virginia’s disestablishment, or separation of church and state, came to be the model for national separation. But it was made possible only by a combination of parliamentary legerdemain and elite manipulation of sectarian hatred.

This first separation of church and state was, then, a purely negative measure. It was the governing equivalent of clearing a forest to build. It destroyed what secularists saw as unnatural public privilege for a corrupt institution holding vested interests in superstition and tyranny. To create a secular society, however, destruction was not enough. Positive measures must follow and the churches must be replaced, particularly in their social functions.

No one described this necessity better than Jean-Paul Rabaut, the architect of the French state education system. ‘The secret was well known to the priests,’ he said in 1791. ‘They took hold of man at birth, grasped him again in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, when he married and had children, in his moments of grief and remorse, in the sanctum of his conscience.. in sickness and in death.’ Public schools ought to ‘do in the name of truth and freedom’ what the church so ‘often did in the name of error and slavery’.

Quite simply, a secular society required the founding of public schools and libraries, served by qualified teachers. Scientific and philosophical education was necessary to replace the moral influence, social programmes and historical teachings of the churches. In the 1785–86 session of the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson proposed three bills intended to establish institutions to secularise Virginia society. The bills proposed to create a non-religious school system, organised by county, and providing free education through the elementary grades; to sever the College of William and Mary’s church ties, and make it a republican college; and to establish a public library system built around science, philosophy and civics. An ally of Jefferson’s described the ambition of the measures. They ‘propose a simple and beautiful scheme, whereby science… would have been “carried to every man’s door”.’

There was a reason that the Bible was the only book slave-owners allowed to circulate freely on plantations: America’s leading 18th-century secularists understood that religion brought a world of ideas – and sometimes a whole social life – as well as political opportunity to Virginians, rich and poor. Very few people would turn their backs on all of this simply out of political principle. The secularists would have to offer real alternatives: schools, libraries, ideas, stories, forms of community, an active and ongoing presence in the lives of Virginians. Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia described a plan by which a system of public schools would replace sacred history with profane history. The schools were to be free, for everyone, for three years. Examinations would find the best students among the poor, and these students could receive more schooling, paid for by the state, through the College of William and Mary. ‘By this means,’ Jefferson wrote, ‘the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish.’

The object was to provide an education suitable for people who must function as citizens. ‘Instead of putting the Bible and Testament into the hands of the children, at an age when their judgments are not sufficiently matured,’ he noted, children should instead receive educations in ‘Grecian, Roman, European, and American history’, Latin, Greek, mathematics, and the sciences. No law, he wrote, was ‘more important, none more legitimate’ than one to provide secular arts and sciences education for the people at large. It would, he wrote, make them effective ‘guardians of their own liberty’.

Churches would have been the big losers of this ‘systematical plan’, but their opposition was not the only reason, nor even the main reason, it failed to materialise. The nature of Southern plantation society did not permit potential alternatives, such as state-run school systems and libraries, to planter authority. The great 19th-century American intellectual, and former slave, Frederick Douglass called literacy ‘the pathway from slavery to freedom’. In his autobiography, he recalled his master admonishing his mistress for teaching him the alphabet: ‘If you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.’

Planter authority could not be compromised for the sake of the visions of a few eccentric deists, however prominent. At the same time, there was a reason that the Bible was the only book slave-owners allowed to circulate freely on plantations. ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters in fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ,’ states Ephesians, one of many places where the scriptures authorise slavery, and counsel submissive obedience. Slavery was simply more important to US nation-building than secularism.

In hindsight, American secularism has experienced both clear victories and stark defeats. The Anglo-Protestant heresy of making all members of the political community into Luther’s sovereign individuals has become something of an American orthodoxy. Who is more consistently certain that the sanctity of their conscience has vouchsafed God-given rights, whatever they decide those rights might be, than Americans? However, American secularists have generally failed at building institutions that rival the special breadth and depth of religion’s involvement in people’s lives.

For their part, acutely religious Americans have understood that public education is the enemy: that it is – and must be – secularising. For the sciences and humanities offer worlds, and explanations, that the scriptures do not, and an education in the latter in particular seems to be a fairly reliable inoculation against authoritarian tendencies of religion. Indeed, historically, the purpose of public education in modern nation-states is to make people citizens, not to make them better Christians or Jews or Muslims. Finally, it is important to emphasise that the varieties of the secular are not all equal. Yes, secularism emerged out of Protestant theology, and philosophy transformed it from a heresy into a tenet of modern politics. But to its 18th-century proponents, it was at root a political project. A secular society, they were certain, would be a more enlightened, peaceful and just society. American secularism has not fulfilled those aspects of its promise. It never even secularised American political life. Whether it was a mistake in principle, or the problem is that secularists did not go far enough, is open to debate, but it is worth remembering that American secularism was always meant to be a means, not an end.


“One Nation, Under Sputnik” – what If Sputnik occurred today …


October 1957

The Soviet Union announced Oct 4 that they – as part of the International Geophysical Year – had successfully launched an artificial satellite into earth orbit.  This creates a difficult situation for the USA, as:

1) If true, this means the Soviets have rockets which have the capability to deliver nuclear bombs to any location in North America.

2) The USSR gains substantial international prestige from the achievement.

 Sputnik ( meaning satellite) transmits a radio signal which has been monitored on earth.

The event has created great concern and anxiety in this country, and there has even been discussion of expanding our own satellite program.  Some members of Congress are reluctant to spend money on it, however, and some even question that Sputnik actually exists.  “This is just more Russian propaganda.  How could the Godless Communists have made such a technological achievement?”, asks a member of the House.  Another source critics of an expanded US space effort believe is an amateur astronomer who states the radio signals are not man made but emanate from a distant star.  “Why spend our tax dollars on something that isn’t even real?”

Spokespersons from the clergy question that God would have allowed such a thing to occur, and object to any new program.  To embark on such a mission would give more credibility to science and less to religion, they observe, and might even lead to the teaching of evolution in public schools.  What we need is more prayer, not more science and engineering they plead.  We must pray that the satellite is not real, and if it is, then for the safety of our country.

Post Scriptum: It has been observed that the launch of Sputnik came just a few years after the words “Under God” were inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, and “In God We Trust” adopted  as the national motto.


God Wants You to Have an Assault Rifle

From: RSN

By: Zack Beauchamp, ThinkProgress

“Legislation aimed at reducing gun violence is “a limitation on a God-given right of man that has existed throughout the history of civil society,” according to an article published in the leading conservative opinion journal National Review.

The author, David French, interprets the Christian Bible as granting everyone a right to self-defense. He suggests that this, if true, means that God’s will is that people have access to guns, as they are the means for self defense:

In fact, Jesus’s disciples carried swords, and Jesus even said in some contexts the unarmed should arm themselves… What does all this mean? Essentially that gun control represents not merely a limitation on a constitutional right but a limitation on a God-given right of man that has existed throughout the history of civil society. All rights – of course – are subject to some limits (the right of free speech is not unlimited, for example), and there is much room for debate on the extent of those limits, but state action against the right of self-defense is by default a violation of the natural rights of man, and the state’s political judgment about the limitations of that right should be viewed with extreme skepticism and must overcome a heavy burden of justification.

Even if French is right about the Christian view of self-defense (though Jesus did have choice words about “turning the other cheek“), it’s a logical fallacy to say this implies anything about restrictions on access to guns. Saying that people have a right to defend themselves if attacked isn’t the same thing as saying they should have a right to possess any conceivable means of defending themselves – presumably, French is fine with banning grenade launchers. The burden, instead, is on French to prove that universal background checks or limitations on assault weapon ownership somehow prevent people from defending themselves; to prove, in other words, that gun regulation is actually a restriction on the right of self-defense proper rather than a crime-prevention statute.

Moreover, French is wrong about the role of “self-defense” in a democracy. He cites John Locke, enlightenment philosopher and inspiration for the American Revolution, to suggest that gun rights are “fundamental rights of nature.” But as Ari Kohen, a professor of political theory at the University of Nebraska, points out, French radically misinterprets Locke:

But for people to establish a political community, Locke asserts that people must give up to the government their natural right to punish criminal behavior and agree to have the government settle grievances. This is why we have standing laws that are meant to be applied equally by independent officers of the law and by the courts.

Locke, as Kohen says, held that our right to use force was necessarily limited by the creation of legitimate government – that’s why we have police. This means that the government can limit access to certain weapons as means of discharging its responsibility to keep the peace. While the government may not be able to legitimately ban you from say, killing a home invader who’s brandishing a gun, it also can take reasonable steps to prevent criminals from being able to threaten you with arms in the first place without having to overcome a “heavy burden of justification.”

This isn’t the first questionable gun piece published in National Review. After the Newtown shooting, its editors suggested that mass school shootings were the price we pay for the Second Amendment. One of its writers, Charlotte Allen, infamously wrote that the Newtown massacre happened because there were too many female teachers.

Emphasis Mine


As America Mourned a Shooting Tragedy, Cynical Christian Right Leaders Tried to Cash in by Blaming Atheism

What kind of Christianity is that?

From: AlterNet

By: Frank Schaeffer

All that was needed to make the national tragedy of the killing of 20 children and 6 adults into an anti-God kick in Jesus’ teeth fest was for the usual suspects who hate Jesus to step up to defame His Name again. Of course I’m talking about the “Christian” leaders who can be counted on to drag the name of Christ through the mud at every profitable fundraising importunity. Christian leaders say that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was the result of our national falling away from fundamentalist Protestant gullibility.

The idiots — religious village idiots that is — are at it again. I thought Dobson was dead but I guess not. He’s just retired. He’s still alive enough to act like the zombie-for-Jesus’-younger-dumber-brother he is.(I went on his show 3 times back in the day when I too was part of the religious idiots club.) Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association hate host talk-show host, and Franklin-sell-my-soul-to-the-Mormons-because -I-hate-Obama-so-much-Graham (of course), the president and CEO of the tax-exempt Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was not to be outdone.

Dobson commented [3] while speaking to listeners of his Dr. James Dobson‘s Family Talk program: “I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist… And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed [this Newtown massacre] judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.”

Bryan Fischer of the American family Association said the victims at Sandy Hook had lost God’s protection because prayer has been prohibited from schools. “The question is going to come up, where was God?,” Fischer said [4]. “I thought God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted… Now we have spent since 1962 — we’re 50 years into this now–we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost, telling God we do not want you in our schools, we don’t want to pray to you in our schools, we do not want to pray to your before football games, we don’t want to pray to you at graduations, we don’t want anybody talking about you in a graduation speech… In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked God’s word out of ours schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of our schools. We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen.”

(N.B.:Is prayer in fact banned in public schools?

The First Amendment to the Constitution begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”. The first clause is known as the Establishment Clause, and the second the Free Exercise Clause. Employees who are paid by tax payer funds are banned from leading prayers or bible study groups, for example, as courts have ruled that using tax payer dollars for such activity violates the Establisment Clause. What is not banned is allowing an individual student to pray, as that would be a violation of the Free Exercise Clause. (Since disruptive activity is detrimental to the learning process, a school might ban a student from praying out loud, as they might also ban inappropriate clothing or conversation.))

Franklin Graham wrote a “response” to the Newtown Massacre and did not mention the word gun.

Graham said [5] more or less blamed the mdia and president Obama in a round about way: “’The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.’ He continued: “In fact, the Bible gives clear testimony to just how evil the human race became. ‘The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord ‘was grieved in His heart’ (Gen. 6:5-6).”Where do we go from here? We might start by looking at what we watch and listen to.” Graham — who has called President Obama a Muslim and not Christian at times — then took a cheap shot saying: “For example, South Korean rapper sensation Psy, who has gained worldwide acclaim by singing that Americans should be killed ‘slowly and painfully,’ including, ‘daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers’ was featured last weekend at ‘Christmas in Washington,’ a charity concert attended by President Obama. Parents and children are feeding on entertainment that portrays violence whether through lewd television programs, violent movies, offensive music, vulgar video games and anything- goes Internet gaming sites.”

Then Old Paths Baptist Church Pastor Sam Morris [6] (of Tennessee) said: “Why do you still send your kids to the governmental schools?” the pastor asked the congregation. “What’s behind this shooting that we saw on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Connecticut and the other one’s like it? What’s going on. Well, number one, deception… I got news for you, when you kicked God out of schools, you’re going to be judged for that. He added: “They think homeschoolers are a bunch of crazies, man. But I’m going to tell you something, I’ve never seen a police officer or a medal detector at a home school. Never. Amen. Now, there’s plenty of guns at my home school. Amen. I guarantee you we’re not going to have a mass shooting at any of the schools that are represented in this building today. I guarantee you, if there is a shooting, it won’t last very long. Amen. I guarantee you there’s at least six or seven guns in this place right now. Amen.“So, here you are, you’re an animal and you’re a god! So, what are we going to teach you about in school? Well, we can teach you about sex, we can teach you how to rebel to you parents, we can teach you how to be a homo!”

Who hates Jesus? It isn’t the so-called new atheists like Richard Dawkins. It’s the Christian leaders bent on taking Christianity down with them into their private hell of stupidity. With friends like these Jesus needs no enemies. The re-crucifixion of Jesus by his “followers” continues.

Emphasis Mine


Atheism Rising, But God Is Not Dead Yet: 10 Ways Religion Is Changing Around the World

Religion is alive and well in the 21st century — but it also looks very different now.

From: AlterNet

By: Sara Robinson

“For most of the 20th century, smart people assumed — with smug certainty and probably more wishful thinking than they’d be willing to admit — that humanity’s long obsession with religion is finally winding down. God is dead –– done in at last by the forces of enlightenment and reason. Humanity is now free to chart a new course, without worrying about the Big Bad He-God In the Sky.

But, as the last 30 years have ratherbrutally demonstrated to Americanprogressives (religious and otherwise), those reports of the death of religion turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Here we are, with a firm foothold in the 21st century, and it’s pretty clear that God is very much alive and well and living almost everywhere on the globe (except Europe and Canada, as we shall shortly see).

God or no God, the religious landscape of the planet isn’t what it was in the last century. In fact, it’s changing in some essential ways. And whether you’re a person of faith or no faith, those changes have deep implications for the way other important factors — culture, technology, economics, the environment, and politics — play out as this new century unwinds.

What follows is a quick summary of some of the key drivers that are changing the landscape of faith around the world. It’s hardly comprehensive, but I did try to hit the high spots. (Agree? Disagree? Got another one to add, or a point to amplify? Drop a comment below, and let’s talk about it.)

1. God Is Not Dead

In 2007, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life went around the world asking people a straight-up question: “Religion is very important to me.” Yes, or no?

The numbers in Europe were low to middling. In Great Britain, 33 percent of those polled said religion was “very important” in their lives. The number was 27 percent in Italy, 21 percent in Germany and 11 percent in France. Poland came in at 36 percent, with Russia at 14 percent and the Czech Republic at 11 percent.

Closer to home, the numbers in Canada looked pretty much like those in England. And in the US, you will not be surprised to learn, the numbers were about twice as high as they were in Europe. Here, about six out of 10 respondents said that religion was very important in their lives.

But when Pew went to Latin America, Asia and Africa, the numbers were radically different. In Guatemala, 80 percent of those polled said religion was “very important” to them. That number was 77 percent in Brazil and 72 percent in Honduras — but only 39 percent in Argentina.

In Asia, the “yes” total was 95 percent in Indonesia, 92 percent in India, 91 percent in the Philippines, but only 12 percent in Japan. And in Africa, Senegal checked in at 97 percent, Nigeria at 92 percent and Angola at 80 percent.

So the world is still a very religious place, indeed, though it’s still not well understood why Europe should be such a secular anomaly. (My own guess is that its long and bitter history of religious wars simply exhausted Europeans, and they’ve given up religion as too divisive to tolerate.) These numbers show pretty clearly that modernism didn’t kill religion, and postmodernism isn’t likely to, either. Faith may be on the wane in a few spots, but it’s still kicking hard everywhere else.

2. The Center of Gravity for the Christian World Is Moving South

A few years back, a spate of books like Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendomand Globalizing The Sacred: Religion Across The Americas by Manuel Vasquez and Marie Marquart argued that Latin America is going evangelical at such a furious rate that Protestants could outnumber Catholics as early as 2025.

Further examination of this trend suggests that it’s not happening quite that fast. While people in these countries often do succumb to the charms of Christian missionaries, a lot of those conversions don’t stick for very long. Even so: Protestantism is growing in the global south, and the conversion cycle is rapidly introducing Protestant ideals and values into these cultures, which could over time create some deep shifts in Latino culture.

In Africa, Christian and Muslim missionaries are squaring off in turf battles that transcend national borders, and researchers from the Pew study cited above are frankly worried that conflict and competition between the two conversion-oriented faiths could eventually lead to political disruptions and military confrontations. Increasingly, an African’s most defining affiliation isn’t his or her tribe or nation, but his or her faith.

Meanwhile, here at home, American Catholics have noticed that a growing number of the priests serving their churches are coming up from the global south — and are often far more traditional than their comparatively liberal congregations. As these priests move up through the church hierarchy in the years ahead, this southern traditionalism may make the church even more conservative as the century rolls on. Over the long term, this trend could easily alienate North Americans and Europeans to the point where the Catholic Church becomes largely a phenomenon of the southern hemisphere in another generation or two.

3. The Kids are Different

The religious trends of the country over the past 40 years have been dominated by the religious preferences of the Baby Boomers and Generation X — two generations that have been highly individualistic and inner-directed, generally preferred individual “spirituality” over group-oriented “religion,” and distrusted all forms of institutional authority — especially religious authority. By and large — and especially as they’ve aged — the religious focus of these two generations has been on personal salvation, rather than changing the world.

The Millennials, on the other hand, distrust religion for somewhat different reasons.

According to research conducted by Barna, this is an ethnically diverse generation that was born connected, and does almost everything in tribes and teams – a tendency that is already making them more communal and outer-directed in their spirituality than any group we’ve seen since the GI generation. For them, faith is meaningless unless it leads to action. The thousands of community service hours they logged as teenagers instilled in them a strong sense of social justice, huge confidence in their own ability to make a difference, a growing trust in their ability to create effective and inclusive institutions, and an conviction that religion should be about serving the world instead of perfecting yourself.

This shift has implications for every religious institution in the country, but it’s particularly rocking the foundations of Christian fundamentalism. Barna Research study last year found that large numbers of young adults from evangelical homes are leaving the faith because they dislike their churches’ limiting attitudes toward science, the arts and sexuality. They don’t like the right-wing culture war. They grew up with it, they’re tired of it, and they want their elders to knock it off.

Because of this, the ones who were raised in megachurches are abandoning those churches in droves. They’re not particularly interested in policing theological boundaries; if they affiliate with a faith at all, it will be because they’re looking to join a community where people are coming together to work on the stuff that really matters: social justice, poverty and the environment.

4. Atheism Ascendant — and Not Just in the Cities

We’re also seeing a resurgence of atheism. Much to the surprise of both the very religious and the entirely irreligious, non-theism consistently shows up as the second or third most popular philosophical worldview across most of the US. According to a 2008 survey by the City University of New Yorkatheism is cited as the number one orientation (by proportion of adherents) in Washington and Idaho, and it’s number two or three in almost all the other states.

Nationwide, atheists rank #3 overall, just behind the Catholics and the Baptists — and the numbers are even higher among Americans under 30.

But what’s really weird about this is that it’s not just a phenomenon of the liberal coasts. Non-religious people make up a higher percentage of the populations of Idaho, Montana and Nevada than of California, Massachusetts or New York. It turns out that rural does not equate to religious after all — a trend that has some interesting political implications in the decades ahead.

5. Environmental Ethics Go Mainstream

The global inter-religious dialogue on the theology of environmentalism has been going on for about 20 years now, which is long enough that it’s soaked through an entire generation of young clergy, and is now being absorbed into their congregations.

The idea that the living earth and its vast matrix of interlocking systems are inherently sacred was a heretical idea just 25 years ago. But when Pat Robertson goes on TV and tells his flock that climate change is serious and real and Jesus wants them to fix it (though he’s very recently recanted), you know there’s some real change afoot in the way even some conservative Christians are assessing their relationship to the planet. As we look ahead to solving some of our big problems, it’s good to note that (with a handful of very noisy exceptions on the right-wing Christian Nationalist side) most of the world’s most prominent religions have taken up the task of teaching people what’s required, and priming them to act.

6. The Marketplace of Spiritual Ideas IGoing Global

It’s a small world, and it keeps getting smaller. We’ve got twice as many people as we did 50 years ago. But we’ve also got far more access to all those people, through trade and the Internet and social networks, than we could have even imagined a decade ago. And that interconnectivity stands to change our religions along with everything else.

The Internet has opened up a virtual global souk of religious ideas. Last year, I went online and downloaded the PDF of an 80-year-old book that was the only account in English of life among the traditional Yezidi tribes of Kurdistan. They’re almost extinct now, since their remote homeland has been a war zone for the past 30 years. But if you’re interested in their unique folkways — or in Apache girls’ coming-of-age rites, or what goes on in Mormon temples, or reading comparable translations of the Kama Sutra — well, there’s a vast feast of amazing material just a quick Google search away.

This is already resulting in massive religious cross-pollination — a trend that could move us toward a sort of syncretic, celebratory sharing of traditions that could be very healthy for everyone. But, on the downside, it’s getting easier for fundamentalists to find each other, too. Some scholars of Islam report that apocalyptic stories of the Hidden Imam, long suppressed by ayatollahs and mullahs, are taking on new themes that were clearly borrowed from Christian fundamentalist end-times tales. (Startling, yes — and also proof that not all change is for the better.)

And for some faith groups, especially those that thrive on secrecy and restricting information or criticism, it’s making life just plain hard. One wonders if the full scale of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal would ever have been known if the victims hadn’t been able to find each other on the Internet. Mormonism isn’t faring at all well in this new environment, either: members and would-be converts can easily find accurate historical information about the church’s early history that church leaders had been suppressing for decades, out of (apparently justified) fear that it would undermine the testimony of the faithful.

7. Religion as a Way of Reclaiming Cultural Identity

All this syncretic sharing and blending may yield some weird and wonderful things, but there’s a counter-trend here, too. In the developing world, some groups are very consciously re-connecting to their traditional religious roots as part of their struggle to resurrect national and cultural identities that have been lost through generations of colonial oppression.

The best example of this is the re-emergence of the hijab among Muslim women the world over. While women have no choice about this in many Islamic countries, a woman wearing a hijab on a Western street is likely making a voluntary statement of pride in her Islamic identity, and affirming her own culture. Likewise, in Russia, the Orthodox Church is re-emerging as Russians reconnect with their lost culture and history in the aftermath of the Soviet era.

While it’s great to embrace the global spiritual marketplace where we’re welcomed in, it’s also important to recognize and respect when people are leaning harder than they might otherwise on religious traditions because they offer a fragile lifeline back to a lost cultural identity.

8. New Empires, New Religions

It’s a historical truth that religions tend to spread and grow right alongside rising economic and political powers. In this century, the world’s two up-and-comers are India and China. As they become bigger players on the world stage, we can expect that those countries’ dominant religions — Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism in particular — will become far more visible and influential on the global religious scene.

9. The Hardest Truth: Fundamentalism Isn’t Going Away

The best we’re ever going to do is contain it. Authoritarian religion, like authoritarian politics, takes root wherever people feel like they’re losing control over their traditional ways of life. This is why fundamentalists are taught in their churches to look for potential converts who are going through important life transitions, or have just sustained some kind of heavy emotional loss. They know those people are vulnerable, and may be receptive to the idea of having someone else make their decisions for them.

Unfortunately, there are going to be a lot more of these vulnerable souls in the world as we go through wrenching process of moving off of carbon fuels, rebuilding our economy and our infrastructure, and coping with the dislocations caused by climate change. A lot of people’s well-ordered lives are likely to be devastated by events, and in the aftermath, they may be willing to follow anyone who promises to restore structure and meaning to their lives.

It seems likely that these movements could become far more prevalent in the transitional years ahead of us. They could even become big and powerful enough to slow the transition process down, or stop it altogether. This is yet another reason we need to plan a responsible and intelligent transition to a new economic and energy paradigm. As long as people see themselves moving toward a better future, we’ll probably be able to keep the religious and political authoritarians at bay. But the risk is real, and we need to be thinking about it now.

10. Technology Changes Everything — Including Faith

Technology is already challenging our ideas of what it means to be human, to be alive, to be a spiritual being. Genetic engineering, cloning, nanotechnology, bionics, and computers that can outsmart us have been the stuff of science fiction for 60 years, but that future is now here, and it’s going to be interesting to watch our current crop of religions wrestle with the new ethical and theological questions these technologies raise.

Probably unsurprisingly, the biggest breakthroughs on these fronts are being made in the very same countries that Pew found (back in item #1) to be the least religious. And yet the world’s religions are going to have to find ways to deal with these changes. in fact, this rethinking of the whole human enterprise as we’ve understood it for the past couple of millennia may be the biggest challenge faced by all the world’s faiths in the coming century.

If they do the job well,  I think we may end up with a far more expansive and inclusive sense of the sacred than we can possibly imagine right now. In fact, this century may be giving us the best chance humans have ever had to create a global spirituality built on enduring human values: compassion, justice, community, and the common drive to share and celebrate the wonder of our lives.

But if they do it poorly, religion may continue to be the biggest obstacle to taking the decisive steps we need to deal with our growing number of human-created crises.

Religion changes, and will continue to change. But if the last century didn’t knock the religious impulse out of us, it may be time to accept that it’s here to stay.

Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet’s Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet’s Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

Emphasis Mine.