Weaning People off Religious Belief Is a Sales and Marketing Problem
One day, people will look back on humanity's religious past and laugh, says skeptic and science writer Michael Shermer.
Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, a regular contributor to Time.com, and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. His new book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. He is also the author of The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths; The Mind of the Market, on evolutionary economics; Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design; and The Science of Good and Evil. He has been a college professor since 1979, also teaching at Occidental College, Glendale College, and Claremont Graduate University, where he taught a transdisciplinary course for Ph.D. students on Evolution, Economics, and the Brain. As a public intellectual, he regularly contributes Opinion Editorials, book reviews, and essays to the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Science, Nature, and other publications. Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University. He appeared on such shows as The Colbert Report, 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, and Larry King Live (but, proudly, never Jerry Springer!). His two TED talks, seen by millions, were voted in the top 100 of the more than 1,000 TED talks.
Michael Shermer: I don’t think the day is coming soon when we’ll look back that people who believe in God, you know, that was a silly age, although some of us look at this that way now. But clearly the numbers are, you know — we’re not in the majority yet but the fastest growing group, the fastest growing religious group so called is the nones. The N – O – N – E – S people. Check the bock for no religious affiliation. Now they’re not necessarily atheist or agnostics or skeptics, but they are not affiliated with a religion. And so on one level, I don’t care what somebody believes as long as they leave me alone and they don’t interfere with my rights. They don’t try to kill me and bother me. I mean the JWs, the Jehovah Witnesses, they come to my door once in a while. The Mormons come to my door once in a while. It’s kind of amusing. I invite them in and give them a copy of Skeptic magazine and they’re like uh, we better call the head guy to come down here. That’s relatively harmless, but clearly we see with Islam and the problem of Islamic terrorism, religion has to be reformed. It absolutely does.
I don’t worry about the Jains or Jews or most Christians causing societal problems anymore because they’ve gone through the reformation enlightenment, age of reason, the scientific revolution. They came out the other side mostly nonviolent. And Islam hasn’t — so I think if we reform Islam and then start to wean people off belief in the supernatural altogether. You can’t do it by fiat, but we can inculcate it into people’s thinking critical thinking about everything including God. Throw God into the mix. That’s just another supernatural belief. And that’s what those of us who work in this area are trying to do. You know there are different strategies. You can be aggressive about it like Richard Dawkins and Hitch [Christopher Hitchens]. You know they’re pretty anti-theist. That works in some cases, but not other cases. Other areas people need to be reeled in slowly, gently. But that’s just a sales and marketing problem, you know. How should we sell our product best? Should we call it this or we use the red logo or the blue logo? You sort of product test those things and see what works. But we all share this overall goal. In a century or two, I think it’s possible no one will believe in God anymore or almost no one. And that will be good for society.
One day, people will look back on humanity's religious past and laugh, says skeptic and science writer Michael Shermer. That's not merely evidenced by the fact that atheists are among the most rapidly growing minority groups in American society, but also because Islam will sooner or later experience the same kind of secular reform we've seen in Christianity and Judaism.
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