With New Hampshire being named one of the least religious states in the country — a year after topping that list — reporter Max Sullivan recently wrote an article for Foster’s Daily Democrat about how the demographic shift impacted local churches.
[Father Gary] Belliveau said Catholicism was more prevalent in Portsmouth in the 1980s, but church attendance began to decrease in the late 1990s, leading to the three churches joining under one parish in 2006. Shifts in the city’s demographics played a part in this, he said, but secularism was a factor.
“What I think we’re facing today with secularism is basically, there’s been the shift from a reliance upon God and a deeper appreciation for the things beyond what we can see and figure out, to the reliance on self,” Belliveau said.
It’s that particular line that caught the attention of State Rep. Brandon Phinney, who responded with a letter to the editor essentially asking, Why is that a big deal?
You have to read this — and keep in mind that it’s a politician, not some random atheist, saying these things.
I fail to see the problem with this cultural shift. In an age of information, scientific progress and exploration and the understanding of the workings of our world, it is difficult and to be frank, rather foolish, to hold onto archaic beliefs that deny reality. In these modern times of religious extremism, I do not see the value of belief systems that consistently devalue others by telling them they’re bad people for not believing the same things or having some sort of moral superiority. Also the amount of hatred from these groups that manifest into violence turns people away. People are rejecting religion because it just does not coalesce with our modern times.
The reliance of self is something to be celebrated. By being able to rely on ourselves instead of unseen forces that cannot be proven to exist, we encourage personal responsibility, personal freedom and autonomy with others. Love, morality, justice, etc. are not strictly religious doctrines, but originate in our human nature to do good for ourselves and for others.
The last thing I would like to point out is the crucial and often times ignored aspect of our society, which is the separation of church and state. Religion has no place in governance and should be kept separate as we are not a theocracy. Our federal and state Constitutions protect religious freedom but we should respect the freedom from religion as well. We are no more a Christian nation than we are a Muslim country or a Jewish country or an atheist country. There is plenty of proof in history, such as the Treaty of Tripoli, that highlights the fact the United States of America was not founded on the Christian religion.
I reached out to Rep. Phinney tonight to ask him about his unusually blunt letter — and to find out if he was indeed openly atheist. As of this writing, there’s not a single openly atheist Republican politician that I know of at the state or federal level. Was Phinney the only one?
His response was as refreshing as his letter.
… Yes, there are many Reps in the House here in New Hampshire, that I am friends with, who know where I stand religiously and politically. I have had many a discussion and debate with dozens of people on atheism and politics. Although fearful I am of this kind of thing affecting my political office, I will always stand firm in my beliefs (or unbelief).
I have been critical of the use of religious invocations in the House because I find it inappropriate given our status as legislators. I am respectful of course, but I don’t participate…
I hope in the future our country and our state will continue to shift away from religion influence.
Just to be clear, I asked him what label he used to describe himself. Was he really an atheist in the GOP?
“I am an atheist,” he told me, adding, “I am not worried about party lines. I look at the facts.”
That’s… incredible. That makes Phinney the highest-ranking openly atheist politician in the GOP. (In New Hampshire, at least, he’s not alone. Democratic State Rep. Tim Smith is also an atheist.)
So while we may have a lot of disagreements on other political issues, when it comes to church/state separation and religion in general, we’re on the same page.
He deserves a lot of respect for being so open about his non-theistic views.