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Why are Americans still afraid of atheism?
You'd think we'd be over this fear by now.
- 51 percent of Americans would not vote for an atheist president.
- Though America wasn't founded as a Christian nation, religion has always had a strong influence.
- It wasn't until the 1950s when religion gained its current prominence in the national imagination.
America's religiosity is not as clean-cut as advertised. While we were certainly not founded as a "Christian nation," Dionysian chaos didn't reign supreme either. It wasn't until the 1930s that an equal protection clause was invoked to guarantee religious liberty and separation of church and state — it had been proposed 140 years earlier by James Madison.
Previous literature espoused faith, however. For example, the 1781 Articles of Confederation mention a "Great Governor of the World." By the time the Constitution rolls around the writers left aside a creator for the more ambiguous "Providence." It was in the 19th century that tent revivals brought fire and brimstone back to Northeastern suburbs; the South soon followed suit.
The idea of a deity fit tobacco and cotton cultures well, as Susan Jacoby writes in Freethinkers, "The expanding white southern homogeneity and hegemony of faith in an infallible God led inevitably to a moral and a utilitarian justification for slavery."
The reality is that Americans have wavered in their faith for centuries. Some were always religious, others not so much. Sometimes religion takes the lead, at others it sits quietly in the background, our attention fixated on another shiny object. If we must point to a period that truly framed our modern pivot toward religion, we need look no further than the 1950s, when an incredible amount of it was injected into the public imagination. As Casey Cep writes in a recent New Yorker article,
Two centuries after the Founders wrote a godless constitution, the federal government got religion: between 1953 and 1957, a prayer breakfast appeared on the White House calendar, a prayer room opened in the Capitol, "In God We Trust" was added to all currency, and "under God" was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.
The modern notions of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny, though not dreamed up during this decade, certainly gained a loyal following, considering we're still towing that line. You can barely go a day without hearing some pundit or politician remind us that "America is the greatest nation in the world," which is often a dog whistle for the Religious Right; what isn't said but is implied: "because God said so."
This isn't true of everyone claiming America to be a great nation. Plenty of immigrants rightfully repeat this mantra after escaping harrowing conditions elsewhere. Yet for a majority of Americans, "greatest" and "God" go hand-in-hand. Such nationalistic sentiments do stoke the anger of a longstanding tribe of believers. However, while migrant caravans are only scary during the week leading up to an election, atheists are always frightening.
Richard Dawkins in Sydney, Australia. Photo credit: Don Arnold / Getty
As Cep writes, pinning down a definition of atheism is impossible. The "new atheists" are generally myopic in their views on divinity, focusing on scriptural fallacies. The lines are more blurred in Buddhist and Taoist traditions, where the lack of a creator god doesn't dispel all forms of mysticism. Though the modern secular Buddhist movement might not fall prey to demon gods and dozens of hells, there are entire continents of believers that do.
So we have to wonder if America's fear of atheism is truly an existential crisis or simply falls into the category of "other." Most people I know don't fear Shintoism because they have never heard of it, whereas "atheist" fits neatly into a package of disbelief. While atheists and "nones" are on the rise, most Americans won't even consider an atheist president, as Pew reports.
The new survey confirms that being an atheist continues to be one of the biggest perceived shortcomings a hypothetical presidential candidate could have, with 51 percent of adults saying they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who does not believe in God.
Let's look at the issues that matter less to voters than atheism: smoking marijuana, being gay or lesbian or Muslim, extramarital affairs and financial troubles. I agree that none of those should be a problem, though the latter two are tied into a peculiar crisis of disbelief that Evangelical Republicans are currently having with the president. Trustworthiness should be a more important quality in choosing a leader than metaphysical beliefs, but, well, here we are. As Cep concludes,
In the end, the most interesting thing about a conscience is how it answers, not whom it answers to.
The big, scary atheist is about as dangerous as Ecuadorian refugees walking a thousand miles in hopes of asylum so their children won't be killed. Both of these failures of imagination are dangerous. One is politically expedient, the other chronic. That's a shame. Actions matter more than beliefs. Until we learn that lesson, we'll keep falling for the same old tricks.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.