Wait, There Is a War on Religion?
During the last American presidential election conservatives like Rick Perry, aided by FOX News and friends, pushed a meme that Obama had declared a “war on religion.” Reasonable people scoffed at them, because after all, even if the administration backed policies that some religious people or groups were not in favor of, it’s ludicrous to think that everything religious, or religion itself as a category, were under attack. So then what do we make of the Guardian today as they suggest that not only is there a “war against religion,” but it’s being waged by atheists? Here is what they had to say in “Are atheists winning the war on religion?“
Richard Dawkins has said that he feels more and more that religion is being left behind. In an interview with the Times (paywalled link), the famous atheist explained that while he has some sympathy for the Anglican church, he feels that we are all moving away from religion. Do you agree?
Following this blurb is an option to vote yes or no on the question: “Do you think atheists are winning the war against religion?” In order to see the results (as of 9:50AM Eastern Standard Time) I clicked no and found myself in the minority. A full 68% of Guardian readers voted yes, which might say more about who reads the Guardian than anything else. Even so what does that mean? Does it mean that these people think religion is losing influence in the world? That less people are identifying with religion(s)? That less people believe in deities (as the atheist juxtaposition might suggest)? Or literally that atheists, under the leadership of people like Richard Dawkins, are waging and winning some kind of discursive war against an army of religionists?
I have a feeling that if a third option was available the results would be drastically different. The option I would have liked to select wasn’t “no” but “Neither,” because there is no meaningful “war against religion,” and framing discussions about secularization or religious decline in those terms is exceedingly unhelpful. While there is plenty of evidence that religious institutions are slowly losing influence and adherents in the West there is little to no evidence that the New Atheists have had anything to do with it.
Instead of clarifying anything meaningful about the changing face of religion in the modern West the war metaphor simply validates the conservative religious position that there is indeed a war against religion. According to them this supposed war is of course not only waged by the New Atheists, but also by the secular state (e.g. Obama) and/or any other persons/institutions not aligned with certain religiously based value systems. Is that what the Guardian was trying to accomplish? I doubt it, but if it isn’t they should consider thinking before publishing.