Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rick Warren Calls My Atheist Number

Jon Meacham's Newsweek article on the "End of Christian America" isn't that compelling. I mean was there really a "Christian America" that could come to an end. It would be reasonable to say that the culture wars were an attempt by the religious right to assert a predominance for Protestant fundamentalism after the cultural ferment of the 1960's and 1970's. But the fundamentalism of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson might never have been dominant outside the South--certainly not after the repeal of Prohibition. The Moral Majority was never a majority in the first place.

But I thought Rick Warren might have some interesting things to say about the issue. So I read the transcript of Warren's interview with Hugh Hewitt today.

Boy, I was wrong there:

All Warren comes up with is this:
One of them is will America return to the historic roots, Christian roots, that are foundational for every one of our institutions. Or will we go the way of Europe, and go secular. The bottom line is that secularism doesn’t last, because no faith will always be filled by something else, and so that’s why Islam is making strong inroads into Europe, because faith of any kind will always beat no faith.
To which "historic roots" would America return--Puritanism, high church Anglicanism, the Catholicism of Irish and Italian immigrants, or the African-American church? Puritanism and high church Anglicanism no longer exist in any way that would be meaningful to Warren and there's no need to "return" to immigrant Catholicism because Hispanic immigrants are already there. Actually, I have a feeling that Warren isn't thinking about Hispanic immigrants in these comments. He doesn't seem to be thinking about African-American Christianity either. Or Mormons. Or Pentecostals.

Like Meacham, Warren mostly has Europe in mind and wonders if the U. S. is drifting toward a situation where 20% of the adult population attends church. That seems highly unlikely given the power of Protestant evangelism as well as the growth in Pentacostalism, Mormonism, and the largely Catholic Hispanic population. To the contrary, it looks like the United States is going to remain relatively religious compared to Western Europe and also have a great deal of religious diversity compared to either Europe or the U. S. of the 1950's.

Is that so bad? I don't know why it would look too horrible from a Hispanic, Pentacostal, or Mormon perspective. Their religions would have a shot at national cultural influence for the first time. Religious multi-culturalism has obvious advantages from an atheist/agnostic or liberal Protestant perspective as well. Within a diverse environment, a secular public sphere would be seen in its best light as defending the rights of all religious perspectives rather than just denying religion. I also think it's a good thing for atheists and agnostics to have contact with religious people and develop an interest in religious views. It's certainly been good for me.

The only question is whether evangelical conservatives will ever develop a respect for non-evangelical points of view. If so, religious multi-culturalism is a good thing for evangelicals. If not, then the best thing for everybody in the U. S. is for evangelicals to lose any hope of ever attaining precedence again.

But Rick Warren does get my number as an atheist in one way. Here's Warren stressing that the extent to which atheists reject their fathers.
Paul Vitz, who is an author with New York University, wrote a very fascinating book called Faith Of The Fathers, in which he went and studied the 72 most well-known atheists in history, the Bertrand Russells, the Voltaires, the Freuds, and the only thing he could find in common with every one of them is they all hated their dads. Every one of them. They had distant dad, demeaning dad, a dead dad, they had no relationships with their fathers.
I'm not going to make any list of "most well-known atheists," but I certainly hated my abusive father for a long time. Actually, I became an atheist after reading Freud's The Future of an Illusion, but did not explode into rage in relation to my father for about three years after that. Likewise, I began to "testify" to my atheism in public at about the same time that my father and I established something like a civil relationship 20 years later. But Warren's point still holds for me. I'm an atheist who's hated my father for most of my adult life. There isn't any way around it.
I guess I'll have to live with my lack of uniqueness in that regard.


Anonymous said...

Just another data point: I'm an atheist, raised as an atheist by atheist parents, who always loved my father.

Todd Mayo said...

Excellent point regarding marginalizing of Catholicism and Mormonism. We are not weird, we are not cults, we are as valid as any Protestant religion. We are as valid as the Muslim faith. We are as valid as hinduists,and budhists. As valid in our embrace of our faith as Atheists are in rejecting any kind of theism. As agnostics are in their skepticism regarding the existence of an higher power. None better or worse than the other. Right-wing evangelicals will likely never develop a respect for non-evangelical points of view. Their theology is based upon exclusion and hate. They will never tolerate the rest of us because their beliefs have become political in nature with am "us-versus-them" attitude that seems to get worse with each passing year. Mormons (like me), Catholics, Jews, Atheists, Muslims will always be marginalized by ultra-right evangelicals. We threaten their strangle-hold over their own followers.
Assuming that evangelicals were once predominent, we need to avoid a resurgence of that. In my opinion, a dominant religious ideology hostile to all others is a threat to the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. For one religious group to wield that kind of power is a mistake.

jinchi said...

Isn't the reason that Islam is making strong inroads into Europe basically the same as the reason that Hispanics are making strong inroads into America?

Europe just has a lot of Muslim immigrants these days.