In the beginning, there was nothing. The world was a huge mysterious place with seemingly random phenomena that scared and awed mankind. Science didn't exist yet, so mankind did what men do on a Sat night at the local bar when they're trying to pick up women - they bullshitted their way through an explanation. Thus - religion was born.
Okay, perhaps that was a bit harsh. More than likely, the best minds of the times tried to make sense of things like the movement of the sun, moon and stars, earthquakes and volcanoes, and killing storms by attaching a "rational" explanation: the Gods are angry with us. Early leaders quickly saw how this could be harnessed for power, and the civic leaders and the religious leaders quickly became closely aligned and - in some cases - identical.
Power once gained is never willingly relinquished. Thus the era of the Inquisition became a grisly chapter in our planet's social history. Galileo was famously censured for going against the church by suggesting our planet was not at the center of the universe. Our country's population was burgeoned by Christians escaping the wrath of religious intolerance. It was ironic that these same people persecuted their own during the Salem witch trials.
It still IS ironic that Christians have tried to label the United States a "Christian" nation, and blur the lines between Church and State. Having seen the bloody results of this throughout history, and the current nightmare that these policies render in the Middle East, one would hope that this never comes to fruition. A recent study points out that perhaps Americans are finally waking up: More Americans say the have no religion
A wide-ranging study on American religious life found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.
Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.
Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent. Still, the study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every state.
"No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state," the study's authors said.
One thing the study doesn't cover is why
people are losing their religion. There are any number of explanations, but it could likely be a combination of more than one:
- Science: As science gets better and reveals more explanations as to how our world works, we are less inclined to need a more superstitious explanation.
- Hypocrisy: With religious leaders like Ted Haggard falling like dominoes, perhaps people are beginning to wonder if they've been getting scammed all along.
- Islamic Terrorism: Nothing is scarier than a person on a murderous mission that cannot be reasoned with. It's enough to make anyone wonder if religion is doing more harm than good.
- Questioning Authority: For centuries, children were raised to unquestioningly respect and follow authority. It seems like the 60's (and books like "1984") and quite possibly the Bush Administration have shown people that they can (and should) question authority.
My bet would be on the first explanation. Science has always been the scourge of religion. It shows that many things through history that were thought to be miracles at the time were not. Consider all of the things that happen in the natural world today. How many of those would be considered miracles were science not there to explain them away?
It almost seems to go against reason that the populace would lose it's religion during one of the most anti-science presidential administrations in history. Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction to that reactionary thinking (see my fourth rationale, above). After all, it was during Clinton's administration that the Republicans and the "Moral Majority" found their voice, founded their "traditional family values" position, and milked it for power.
Considering that the Obama administration is one of the most pro-science/pro-thinking administrations in a long time, it makes one wonder how religious leaders (both civic and cleric) will react? If a new bill in the GA General Assembly assigning human rights to embryos at the moment of conception
(even in a petri dish) is any indication, we are in for a rough ride.