After centuries of being more religious than other Western societies, the United States in the 21st century is becoming more secular, with attendance and membership in most mainline churches plummeting. Many secularist writers have lauded this development, arguing that a less religious America will be a more open and tolerant – in short, more liberal – one. But in a fierce, tightly-argued online op-ed, Atlantic editor Peter Beinart raises the question of whether this decline in traditional religiosity might be, well, backfiring for liberal goals. Rather than paving the way for a tolerant, cosmopolitan utopia, free from religious bigotry and irrational commitments, the collapse of institutional religion may be causing Americans to fall back onto ethnic and other “tribal” affiliations – thus exacerbating our cultural polarization. Is he onto something here? [Read more…]
Are you worried about the environment? I am. So is the British comedian Russell Brand, who’s been all over the internet, television, and magazines recently, proclaiming the need for the world’s people to revolt against an entrenched economic system that’s despoiling the planet and keeping billions in poverty. I share Brand’s abject horror at the ravenous destruction of the earth’s ecosystems (and I rather envy his wardrobe). But I think he’s off base when it comes to how to change our ways. Turning our backs on our religions and traditions, as Brand urges, isn’t going to fix our looming global problems. This is because traditions, as stultifying as they might seem, are humanity’s best tools for forging links between cultures, environments, and time.
For the scientifically literate, few things are as confusing as the persistent, even rabid refusal of millions of Americans to accept the theory of evolution by natural selection. How, the science-minded want to know, can these blubbering know-nothings ignore the vast body of evidence that supports Darwinism? How is it possible for them to trust a millennia-old Hebraic tribal legend over the hardworking efforts of countless brilliant scientists? Are they simply that stupid? The viscerally satisfying answer to that last question might be “yes.” But as a researcher, I believe the reality is far more complicated.
In 2009, the world marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the bushy-bearded biologist known for being the first to articulate the theory of evolution by natural selection. His tome On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, forever changed how people think about their place in the world. But despite near-universal scientific acceptance of his theory, if Darwin were alive today he would find himself surrounded by enemies, particularly among religious believers in the United States.