New Atheists

Has religion's image in the mainstream news media gotten better or worse?

Has religion's image in the mainstream news media gotten better or worse?

KEN’S QUESTION:

Is the picture of religion in the media generally better or worse (or both) than it was 25–30 years ago?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Unquestionably worse.

To begin, let’s acknowledge that the media inevitably report more about the bad than the good news. We take for granted countless acts of charity quietly performed by religious agencies and individuals while the scandals hit page one. The following comes from an American viewpoint, though affected by circumstances in world religions.

Sadly, there’s gradually increasing suspicion in the U.S. not only toward “organized religion” but the other institutions whose authority and credibility sustain society. The Gallup Poll is the go-to source because it has asked consistent questions for decades about regard for institutions and vocational groups, not precisely Ken’s topic but relevant.

A Gallup survey of U.S. adults last June found 23 percent expressed “a great deal” of confidence in “the church or organized religion” plus another 18 percent with “quite a lot,” totaling 41 percent. That was a better showing than (in descending order) the Supreme Court, medical system, public schools, U.S. presidency, organized labor, news media, big business and Congress. Religion was exceeded only by the military (72 percent) and police (57 percent).

Not bad. But that was the worst esteem for religion since Gallup first asked this question in 1973, and a notable drop from the 60 percent as recently as 2001.

The same pattern occurred last December with Gallup’s perennial question about rating “the honesty and ethical standards” of different vocational groups. With 42 percent expressing “very high” or “high” regard for the clergy, they were outranked by eight other vocations, the worst number since the first such poll in 1977 and a drop from 64 percent in 2001.

The broadest status scenario came in 2014 from political scientist Tobin Grant at Southern Illinois University.

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Most of America's religious 'nones' aren’t atheists, and aggressive 'new atheism' isn’t new

Most of America's religious 'nones' aren’t atheists, and aggressive 'new atheism' isn’t new

With a growing chunk of Americans identifying as “nones” unmoored from religious identity, The Atlantic’s Emma Green says we often hear the following: “As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinking -- not just about medicine and mechanics but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.”

That’s too simple, Green continues, “arguably inaccurate,” and “seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality.” Many “nones” believe in God and pray regularly, so it’s much more a drift from “organized religion” than from faith.

Though polls show outright atheists who reject belief in God remain a tiny minority, organized atheism is becoming more prominent and aggressive. A July federal lawsuit by American Atheists goaded Kansas City into withholding on short notice its promised $65,000 to provide shuttle transportation for 20,000 attendees at the National Baptist Convention session Sept. 5-9, causing headaches for that huge African-American group. Such city aid is a standard means to help visitors and foster convention business.

Another federal lawsuit was filed August 25 by American Atheists and three groups of Pennsylvania non-believers, alongside Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It challenges the ban on non-believers delivering opening prayers for Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives. (Old gag: How does a non-believer begin a prayer? “To whom it may concern.”)

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This just in from Oxford Press: Turning the intellectual tables on 'New Atheists'

This just in from Oxford Press: Turning the intellectual tables on 'New Atheists'

The atheist liberation movement of recent years has featured efforts to explain away the global prevalence of religion as totally the result of social forces that perhaps got imprinted into humanity’s evolutionary biology.

The tables are turned in a new book, “The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement” (Oxford University Press). Journalists: It’s heady stuff to be a hook for news treatment, but worth the effort.

The book analyzes atheistic causes in North America over the past century, including its internal schisms and contradictions. The work is based on Canadian author Stephen LeDrew’s doctoral dissertation at York University in Ontario and post-doctoral study in Sweden at Uppsala University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.

Religion newswriters are well aware that those aggressive “New Atheists” sometimes suggest faith is not just stupid but morally evil or a sort of mental illness, such that parents should be forbidden to infect their own children with it. Journalists may be surprised to learn that for LeDrew and others, this sort of anti-religion thinking is outdated and “utterly out of sync with contemporary social science.”

Social scientists long embraced the “secularization thesis,” according to which religion will inevitably decline as modern science advances. But now, says LeDrew, many acknowledge that scenario was “a product of ideology” rather than empirical fact. Thus, the New Atheism could be seen as a promotional effort to defend against “a perceived failure of secularism in practice in late modern society.”

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