“If thee does not turn to the Inner Light, then where will thee go?”

The Bulwark by Theodore Dreiser is the story of a good man’s lifelong struggles against insincerity and materialism. Dreiser himself wasn’t such a man, for he was bitter, manipulative, physically threatening, and a user of women around whom it was said that no female was safe. Yet, his writings portray a deep and sympathetic understanding of people, women no less than men, and the realism with which he wrote represented a new direction in American literature. As with many writers of depth, I was curious about Dreiser’s religious beliefs, and I found that they were similar to my own:

“Dreiser said he was nearly destroyed by reading Spencer, who, as he emphasized, ‘took every shred of belief away from me; showed me that I was a chemical atom in a swirl of unknown forces…’ Although Dreiser used Spencer’s idea to justify his late and often cruel and selfish actions, Spencer, as well as Huxley, embittered him. It was as if he resented forevermore having to give up comforting beliefs, to face the reality of a world that offered no excuse for viciousness.”*

I believe that science offers a better explanation for viciousness than religion, and that the fundamentalist religion in which I grew up was itself vicious in its eagerness to see everyone but its own members rot in hell, but then the fanatical Catholicism of Dreiser’s childhood was no better. Even so, there lay in it the assurance that there existed a deity who gave to life an ordained meaning and the promise of a better life after death. Along with our shared disillusionment with religion, I also share with Dreiser a high regard for the Quaker faith, a Quaker being the main character of The Bulwark. I haven’t found any indication that Dreiser ever attended a Quaker meeting (as their churches are called), but I did, and his book made me nostalgic.

I first went in 1990 with my friend Walt who was the kind of atheist who likes to tell of realizing that religion was bullshit by the time he was seven, and of losing respect for his parents and other elders for being so stupid as to fall for it. He never wavered in his unbelief or in his contempt for religion, and he ridiculed me when I did. He first attended the Eugene meeting with a girlfriend and, unlike her, became a Quaker. Joining most churches is easy. You can sometimes do it on the spot as in my first church, the Church of Christ, which makes haste to baptize people because it believes they will go to hell if they die unbaptized. It’s even easier and faster to become a Unitarian because all you have to do is to sign your name. At the other end are Catholics and Episcopalians with their requirement that an applicant attend classes for months. Quakers are even more restrictive in that they require a candidate to attend meeting for an indeterminate period, and then ask to be considered for membership.

Walt, to my knowledge, was only the second atheist to join the Quaker meeting. Helen Park, one of the members, wrote the following about the lack of importance that she placed upon whether one believed in God: “There is indeed One that speaks to my condition, but that One may not announce a name or even speak a word; it may reveal itself as Light, or inner peace, or compassion for humanity.” So it was that the Quakers—the local ones anyway—admitted people according to their values rather than their vocabulary. Many atheists would refuse to join a values-centered organization in which anyone used the word God, and only the Unitarian Church universally welcomes atheists, so I thought well of Walt for joining the Quakers and well of them for letting him.

I attended for about a year, although I never considered joining, there being too much that I didn’t like. Sitting in silence in pews that were arranged in an inward facing square bored me; I found decision-making by consensus excruciating because trivial decisions sometimes went unresolved for months; and too many Quakers struck me as stubborn and distant. Some of them seemed to weigh every word they spoke, and it made them appear stilted if not secretive. I also found that not every Quaker was as tolerant as Helen Park. One said to me six months into our friendship, “You’re too sensitive and intelligent to be a real atheist.” She meant it as a compliment, as when a racist tells a black person, “You’re too smart not to have some white blood in you,” and I never forgave her.

What I did like about the meeting was being there with Walt and attending an occasional class. I ended up on the “religious education committee” that sponsored these classes, and we decided to hold a nine-month Bible study. The decision wasn’t easy because few people had an interest in the Bible, and the feminists on the committee strongly opposed studying a book that had inspired so much oppression. By way of compromise, we decided that, rather than study the Bible itself, we would study a book about it. We chose A Guide to Understanding the Bible by religious liberal Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), the first minister at Manhattan’s infamous—to most Christians—Riverside Church. The book being out of print, we had to await the publisher’s permission to Xerox copies. There being few people involved and no money exchanged, I would guess that most churches would have Xeroxed the book without asking, but Quakers are unerring—some might say rigid—in doing what they think is right.

I quit attending the Quaker meeting partly because Walt and I had a falling-out (one of several over our 27-year friendship), but mostly because I was bored by the main service. For those who don’t know, in a traditional Quaker meeting, everyone sits silently until someone feels “led” to speak. There are no songs, no prayers, no sermons, nothing but a silence that is rarely interrupted, and in which one’s own meditations are interrupted when someone does speak. Sometimes, those who talked made interesting points, but I don’t remember them. What I do remember are the queries by which the meeting and its members were to periodically examine themselves in regard to particular values. I give but a small example:

On simplicity
Do I keep my life uncluttered with things and activities, avoiding commitments beyond my strength and light?
Do I recognize when I have enough?

On social responsibility
Am I mindful of how my lifestyle and my investments can contribute to the improvement of the human condition, or to the exploitation of others?
How do I respond and support one who acts out of one clear leading when I am under the weight of another?

On peace
Do I treat conflict as an opportunity for growth, and address it with careful attention?
Do I look for ways to reaffirm in action and attitude my love for the one with whom I am in conflict?

On stewardship of the environment
Do I act as a faithful steward of the environment in the use and disposal of hazardous substances?
Do I choose with care the use of technology and devices that truly simplify and add quality to my life without adding an undue burden to essential resources?

On integrity and simplicity
Do I manage my commitments so that over commitment, worry, and stress do not diminish my integrity?
Am I careful to speak truth as I know it and am I open to truth spoken to me?

Such queries absolutely wrecked me, because I interpreted the absence of anything remotely similar in other churches to say volumes about how little those churches cared about being good people as opposed to being people who could parrot what they believed to be good dogma. I understood that all they really cared about was my salvation, my relationship with Christ, seeing my loved ones in heaven, having my God help me find a job or even a parking place. Here, for the first time, I had discovered a group of people who took ethical behavior seriously enough to examine its implications; people who had the courage to stand against the dominant social mores as well as against a government that could take their property and throw them into prison; people who believed that religion should mean something more than a cheap ticket to heaven and a place to socialize.

I attended during the U.S. backed war in Nicaragua, and found that the Quakers were supportive of the illegal harboring of refugees, which I think some of the local ones probably did. Others were tax resisters who were unwilling to finance militarism by paying their federal income tax. While most churches are busy upholding the status quo (whatever that means in a given area, e.g. slavery in some, emancipation in others), Quakers have served on the front lines of every movement that opposes war or supports human rights and welfare, yet there are only 87,000 of them in America compared to 40-million Catholics and 16-million Baptists. Even the tiny Episcopal Church is enormous by comparison with its two-million members, and just one mega church in Houston holds half as many people as there are  Quakers in America. I would be astounded if the members of any of these other churches are ever encouraged to ponder the morality of paying taxes, using insecticides, or buying a new car versus a used one.

As I wrote three posts ago, I don’t care if people believe in God. For one thing, the term is so imprecise as to be meaningless of itself, but my main reason is that it’s not what people say but what they do that matters. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely seen organized churches do good. The American Friends Service Committee is the only church-related organization to have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Many secular groups have won, and many religious individuals have won, so one would assume that a mega church with a budget of $80-million could easily win, but if not, then surely a denomination with 40-million members in America alone, so why haven’t they?

The Bulwark is exceptional among Dreiser’s books, the moreso because he was a cynic, a determinist, a practical atheist (sometimes he sounded atheistic, other times deistic), and a Communist. Why, then, in his last months, did he end the life of his last great character, Solon Barnes, with the words, “If thee does not turn to the Inner Light, then where will thee go?” I’m sure I don’t know, but I suspect. Having read nothing in three biographies that made me think he was softening toward traditional theism or even liberal theism, I can only guess that he had reference to some other Inner Light, love, perhaps, because what is love but light, and of what does light consist but of a love that brightens a person’s face during the hours that he or she is possessed by it? If I had ever known anyone who was able to hold to love consistently, I would have remembered that person, but its rarity notwithstanding, love remains chief among virtues, and where it is found, many of the rest follow.

At least this is how I see things, but as to whether love was what Dreiser meant, I can only speculate based upon what I know of him and upon what I know of how the Quakers of my acquaintance defined Inner Light, e.g. “...that One may...reveal itself as Light, or inner peace, or compassion for humanity.” As for what I know about Dreiser, I’ll limit myself to my best evidence. The Bulwark took twenty years to finish, and the changes it underwent during those years seemed to reflect the growth of its often autobiographical author, a man famous for the compassion he expressed in his writing. Just as Solon Barnes was rigid, so was Dreiser in real life, but age can soften a person, so it is my guess that as the old and dying author wrote about his old and dying character, he was writing about himself. At least, I like to think so.

* from Theodore Dreiser by James Lundquist. 

Part 2: liberal religion

I usually criticize conservative religion because it represents the greatest threat, and not because, as some believe, I’m ignorant of liberal religion. As one who would like to have some form of religion in my life, but who long ago rejected the conservative faith of his childhood, I have been a Unitarian; read quite a few books by religious liberals; and was the target of my liberal sister’s proselytization efforts for decades. My most recent book by a liberal was A Religion of One’s Own by Thomas Moore (pictured), which came out this year. The first thing I did upon finding it at the library was to turn to the index and count the references to God. I was surprised to find that God only appeared on pages 14-16 of the 272-page work, but this was the part of the book that I spent the most time pondering because it represents the views of millions of religious liberals, served as a source for this post, and because I considered his other thoughts obvious.

The virtue of conservative religion is that its meaning is clear even when its illogical or has no basis in fact; its downside is that it leads to oppression. The virtue of liberal religion is that its potential for oppression is low, but on its downside, its theology is devoid of meaningful content. For example,

“Jesus walked on water,” says something, whereas,

“The best way…keeps the reality of God, but emptied of our ideas of who or what God is…” is so devoid of value that I suspect Moore of writing it without reflecting upon its implications. For to believe in a God about whom one can have no conception means to believe—without the least evidence—in a God that might be good, but then again, might be evil; a God that might be compassionate, but could just as easily be bloodthirsty; a God that might be sentient, but could be an unconscious force, and so on down the line through every conceivable characteristic, including existence, because to affirm that God exists is to hold at least one idea about “who or what God is.”

“God is in the space between sentences. God is the unspoken and the unwritten…God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere…You look until you see nothing tangible, and that is God.” (Moore)

What is the difference between a God about whom nothing can be said—and therefore might not exist—versus atheism, and why pray to such a God (“I’ll speak to God out of extreme need”), prayer being an act that surely implies belief in a deity that is conscious, loving, powerful, omnipresent, compassionate, and fluent in human language? Just as Descartes claimed to throw out all knowledge except for a belief in his own existence, and from that one belief to completely rebuild his identity as a white European Catholic male of a certain age, height, weight, number of teeth, and so forth; I doubt Moore’s honesty when he prays to that about which he insists nothing can be known. Such contradictions are common among liberals.

Various liberal churches teach a course entitled “Living the Mystery,” in seeming unawareness that its synonym would be “Living the Ignorance,” mystery being but a euphemism for not knowing. Those who use the capitalized word believe they have a greater spiritual awareness than the rest of us, but of what does their awareness consist? I don’t know despite having tried awfully hard to find out, and my considered opinion is that it’s simply a case of the emperor having no clothes. Liberals themselves would see it as akin to Gnosticism—not that they use the word—in that, if you’re on the inside of the movement, you get it, but if you’re on the outside, it just looks like silliness.

Not every liberally religious person would agree with Moore on every point (he doesn’t identify himself as a Christian for one thing), but all share his vagueness. My sister often said to me, Your problem is that you’re stuck in the teachings of your fundamentalist childhood, and this causes you to think that either a great many things can be said about God, or else God doesn’t exist. My response was that if some universally benevolent being or force that is deserving of the title God really does exist, then surely its existence would be so obvious that none could doubt it. To simply say, as she did, that I define God as the universal impetus toward good, and my goal is to align myself with that good, strikes me as no different from secular humanism except in its unfathomable insistence on retaining the word God.

Like conservative Christianity, liberal Christianity holds to the parts of scripture it likes and disregards the rest. For example, it’s big on the story of the Good Samaritan but silent on “Put every man, woman, child, and animal, to the sword, but keep the young virgins for yourselves.” How do liberals justify this? About some things, they deny that God (however defined) really said them; others, they identify as metaphors. Fine, but how do they know what God really said, or what God’s numerous genocides, wanton murders, and other atrocities, are metaphors of. Metaphors are only useful inasmuch as they relate to things that exist in reality, but liberal Christians mostly use them to clarify other metaphors, and this makes them substitutes for reality rather than definers of reality:

“What is God?”
“God is the ground of being.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that God is the soil, and we are the seed.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“God is the substance in which we live and move and have our being.”

I see no reason to think that vagueness, ignorance (aka Divine Mystery), and endless metaphors, constitute heightened spiritual awareness, and in every field but religion, even religious people regard them as muddled thinking and therefore as impediments to truth. I think of liberal religion as what’s left when everything has been taken from religion except the need to believe. By claiming that vagueness, ignorance, and metaphor, represent spirituality, liberals leave themselves less open to attack simply because there’s so little to attack. Talking with them is like biting the air in that you’re free to do it all day, but why would you? Maybe they can’t help it. Maybe there really is a gene that tends toward religious belief and is weak or absent in those who lack such beliefs. If so, it’s not to the blame of the one or the credit of the other, but is merely a fact, although I would consider it a regrettable fact in the case of believers and among those who, like myself, can neither believe nor escape the impulse to believe if only to cope with a life of endless pain.

I find that the only direction one like myself can go is toward liberal religion, yet I am no more welcome there than I am among conservatives because most liberals regard my unwillingness to use their terminology to prove that I’m unworthy. As Moore put it:

“Atheism tends to be nothing more than yet another too-earnest religion with the added problem of being excessively rationalistic.”

This by the same man who believes in a God about which nothing can be said. In my wide experience, most liberals regard atheists as excessively rationalistic based solely upon the fact that they are atheists (agnosticism being an acceptable alternative), it never occurring to them that the terminology might simply be different. I say this because when I get beyond the God-talk, I find little in liberal writings with which I disagree. For example, Moore’s admonitions to appreciate beauty, cherish the moment, help other people, and find depth in the commonplace, are characteristics of sensitivity and maturity rather than theism, yet he relates them to theism and believes that atheists are less than because they don’t use the word God, a word about which he himself has such reservations that, “I sometimes just use the letter G.” Why, having abandoned two of the three letters is he hell-bent on keeping the third? I know it matters to him because if it didn’t, he wouldn’t insult those who have abandoned the third, not that he thinks any more highly of people who believe in a God whose attributes are knowable:

“We need to grow out of that kind of religion….I don’t want to make little of God by pretending God is a ‘he’ pulling strings in the sky. I’d rather not use the word if it’s going to be so small and inadequate.”

Terminology is to liberals what dogma is to conservatives in that conservatives imbue words with meaning and require that the meaning be accepted, while liberals take meaning from words, and require that the words alone be embraced. Frankly, I don’t much care if liberals believe in a God whom they define as the impetus toward good, or the spirit of love, or that about which nothing can be known. So that I won’t portray myself as more tolerant than I am, I should add that I can’t begin to fathom the adoration that many of them feel toward Christ, and I find their devotion to the word God so lifeless that it troubles me in the same way that I would find it troubling if someone freeze-dried their dead cat, set it on a pillow, and insisted that everyone go along with them in pretending that it was alive. Yet, we all have our little oddities, and I wouldn’t reject them because of theirs, but they do reject me because of mine (it’s easier to be rejecting when you’re not in a tiny minority). I prefer liberal theism to conservative theism only because liberals are unlikely to openly oppress me, but their contempt for atheists is no less complete. It’s just less understandable.

I answer my detractors: Part I

A judge permitted this Catholic statue to remain on federal
land in Montana because it "does not reflect a religious purpose."

Every atheist who criticizes religion is criticized for those criticisms on two counts. (1) If you don’t believe in God, religion is none of your business. (2) You don't criticize every form of religion equally, so you're obviously ignorant of the diversity within the religious community. I will use my next two posts to address these criticisms.

To argue that the only people affected by religion are those who are religious is to display an astonishing degree of ignorance when not a day passes on which people who aren’t religious or who belong to the wrong religion are assaulted, beaten, beheaded, blown to pieces, censured, cursed, disowned, fined, fired, imprisoned, molested, ostracized, raped, ridiculed, run out of town, shot, stoned, taxed, threatened, or otherwise persecuted in the name of one God of Love or another. Granted, Moslems commit the worst of the atrocities, but religious oppression exists everywhere that religion exists. Even so, I’ll limit the rest of this post to the harm done by the dominant political face of modern American Christianity, primarily as it relates to federal and state government.

(1) In 1954 (the same year that “under God” was put in the Pledge of Allegiance, and two years before “In God We Trust” was put on money), Congress enacted 26 U.S. Code § 107. This law has been a boon to “ministers of the Gospel” because it exempts them from paying income taxes on their housing expenses. It has likewise been a boon to churches because they can get by with paying less to clergy. The rest of us currently pay an additional $700-million in taxes to make up the deficit. Why were members of the clergy given such a break? Because it was the era of the nuclear arms race and the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the government wanted to curry God’s favor while standing strong against “Godless Communism.”

(2) Churches avoid taxes by calling themselves charities. I say calling themselves charities because they enjoy significant perks over other charities, perks that cast doubt upon whether they really are charities. For example, unlike other charities, churches don’t have to pay an application fee to apply for their income tax exemption, and they don’t have to submit a yearly Form 990 to prove that they’re actually using their money to help anyone. Even in cases of obvious abuse, there is little the IRS can do because Congress enacted “heightened procedures” that make auditing a church so complicated that it rarely occurs.

(3) October 5, will mark the sixth annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a day on which approximately 1,500 pastors openly violate Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) which prohibits charitable organizations from engaging in political campaigning. These clergy invariably support conservative candidates and conservative causes, and many of them send videos of their sermons to the IRS, confident that the IRS will do what the government usually does in regard to the crimes of the church, which is to ignore them.

(4) To comply with IRS Code 501(c)(3), Congressional lobbying on the part of churches must be “insubstantial,” but churches are free to hold this rule in contempt because “insubstantial” isn’t defined, so the IRS finds it difficult to hold them accountable even if it had the will and a Congressional mandate to do so.

(5) Churches and church-run organizations get preferential treatment in regard to how they treat their employees. A church can fire you for holding the wrong religious beliefs, political alliances, or moral values. It can also deny you insurance benefits for birth control and abortion and, conceivably, for blood transfusions in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses and psychiatric counseling in the case of Scientologists, etc. Now, Christians who own businesses that are in no way connected to a church are claiming the same privileges in the name of religious freedom.

(6) Church leaders have long been given preferential treatment in criminal investigations, which is partly why child molestation by clergy is hard to prove. Another grave problem is that Catholic leaders commonly use the 700-year-old doctrine of “mental reservation” to justify lying to investigators.

(7) Christian lying in matters pertaining to state-church separation is so common as to be expected. For example, in 1964, a 51-foot cross was erected atop Skinner Butte Park, a public park adjacent to downtown Eugene, Oregon, where I live. In 1969, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the cross violated both the state and federal constitutions in that it represented government endorsement of the Christian religion. In 1970, the city held an election in which the cross was designated “a memorial to the veterans of all wars in which the United States has participated,” despite the fact that the cross hadn’t been intended as a war memorial, or that non-Christian veterans would no more want to be represented by a cross than Christian veterans would want to be represented by the Star of David. The cross was finally removed in 1997, 28 years after the Supreme Court ruling. Such cases happen again and again and again, year after year after year. The fact that so many Christians find it so easy to lie so blatantly about matters that don't even pass the straight-face-test, serve as a major reason for my distrust of Christian morality.

(8) Many state governments favor the church. For example, Mississippi recently passed Senate Bill 2633 which requires schools to provide for prayer in classes and at school events. It also passed Senate Bill 2681, which requires that “In God We Trust” be put on the 216-year-old state seal, and that legalizes discrimination against homosexuals—or anyone else—in the name of religion. Mississippi doesn’t appear to care that the U.S. Supreme Court threw out school prayer in 1962 and that various federal laws prohibit either government or private enterprise from favoring some groups over other groups. For example, you can’t legally give discounts to those who bring their church bulletins to your restaurant on Sunday, nor can you refuse to rent an apartment to atheists or gay people. Unfortunately, such laws are commonly and openly ignored, particularly in the Bible Belt, and if you complain, you can expect your job, your property, your friendships, your person, and even your pets, to be at risk.

(9) Mississippi’s Senate Bill 2681 was named The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because religious people commonly regard any and all limits on their ability to force their religion on others as being a violation of their own freedom. When I was a boy in Mississippi, Scripture was used to deny accommodations for black people with the result that it could be difficult for a black person to find a place to eat, sleep, or use the toilet. The bigotry continues, only the faces of the oppressed have changed. I could give similar examples of laws from other Southern states, laws that are clearly meant to reward those whom the state considers desirable (Christians) while punishing those it considers undesirable (the rest of us). I think it likely that most politicians would agree with the first president Bush: “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots.”

(10) The church as a whole has consistently opposed the expansion of human rights. This was true when Native Americans were being forced onto reservations, and it was true during the time of slavery, integration, workers’ rights, women’s suffrage, Japanese internment, and the social reforms of the New Deal. It was and still is true in regard to the modern feminist movement, health care reform, abortion rights, homosexual rights, marijuana reform, and assisted suicide. Although some believers have been at the forefront of the struggle for human rights, religion as a whole has ever and always been dragged in the direction of freedom and knowledge while screaming Bible verses to support its ignorance and oppression. After all, the Bible abounds with verses that support genocide, slavery, racism, and sexism; and although it is silent on abortion, workers’ rights, euthanasia, assisted suicide, health care reform, the rights of children, and other advancements that didn’t exist when it was written; in America, at least, the church as a whole has never hesitated to claim that God opposed these advancements. 

(11) Where religion goes, so goes poverty, disease, crime, and ignorance. This can be seen by comparing the quality of life standards among religious versus non-religious countries as well as among religious versus non-religious states. I will grant that the presence of religion in an area that is crime-ridden and impoverished—aka the Bible Belt in this country—does not in itself prove that religion is the cause of these problems, but surely states in which the majority of the populace considers Christianity to be of major importance in their lives and who believe that they are under the personal guidance of God’s Holy Spirit should be able to get something right from time to time, that is if religion really is a salutary influence. Unfortunately, their contributions to world betterment are primarily limited to: sanitizing history textbooks; restricting labor unions; erecting religious monuments on government property; passing laws that force abortion clinics out of business; making sure that every public school student gets a free Bible; praying to Jesus at any and all public events; forcing biology teachers to teach “Intelligent Design”; gerrymandering voting districts in favor of Republicans; passing voting laws in favor of Republicans; trampling the rights of homosexuals and non-Christians; reducing or eliminating government benefits to the poor and disabled; and passing laws against passing laws that limit how much fat and sugar burger joints can put in their products. Those who favor such measures invariably consider Jesus and themselves to be on the same page about these and every other public issue. 

For every example of religious bullying I have given in this post, I could have given scores of others, but how many does one need to be convinced that the dominant political face of American Christianity isn’t dedicated to loving ones neighbors but to controlling them? As with Moslems who favor Sharia law, it is a form of Christianity that aims to curry God’s favor through purification, and the purification of the masses can only be conducted through intimidation, coercion, and violence. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me,” and millions of his American followers have taken such divisive verses to heart at the expense of his more salutary sentiments. Oddly enough, American Christianity seems unaware that its own values have changed radically over the last several decades. When I was a boy—in the ‘50s and ‘60s—many if not most Christians believed that divorced people were unfit to teach or preach; that God opposed racial mixing (much less interracial marriage); that a Catholic president would do whatever the pope ordered; that it was appropriate to refer to people born out of wedlock as bastards their whole lives through; and that the Bible forbade gambling, tattoos, and anything that was sexually explicit. They used Scripture to prove that blacks were inferior to whites, that homosexual sex should be a felony, and that women shouldn’t wear a man’s pants or take a man’s job. It might be claimed that America’s God is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” but his values and demands have changed radically over the decades, especially as they affect behaviors that younger Christians regard as acceptable.

The current political and social climate is a mixed bag for atheists. On the one hand, religion is becoming increasingly allied with government, but on the other, the population as a whole is becoming increasingly secular. As I see it, the reason that American Christianity has become more militant since the attack on 9/11 and the election of a black president with an un-American and un-Christian name, is precisely because of its decreasing popular support. I wish I could say that we’re seeing its death throes, but the religious climate can change rapidly and dramatically. If global warming should continue to cause crop failures, massive forest fires, and frequent large storms of one kind or another; or if terrorists come up with more devastating ways to attack us; or if tension with Russia or China becomes a serious threat; maybe we’ll go back to the hyper-religious McCarthy era. I’ve seen enough changes occur at such a fast and unexpected rate that I don’t trust anything to last or to be predictable, whether its for good or ill.