Disbelief has rapidly been gaining ground especially since the beginning of the twentieth century and continues today at record pace. Atheists are the fastest growing minority in America. The non-religious comprise 1 billion members of the population, around 20 percent of the entire population. To realize how fast this has happened, consider this. The percentage of people that would fall into the skeptic, Agnostic, Deist, or non-religious category at the year 1900 would be around .2%. So within a hundred years that same group has gone from .2% to 20% or more and that is not including the deists!
I read this a while back in a book by the Christian apologist Os Guinness who specializes in the sociology of religion, he holds a Ph.D in Sociology from Oxford, for the percentage of present worldwide disbelief see the Cambridge Companion to Atheism. Considering all the effort put forth by religious adherents for people to believe in the religious, including things such as missionary work, literature, religious radio, Churches, Religious schools, Sunday school, religious tv etc. And considering on the other hand that on scale with the religious the skeptics ideas and exposure of them have been infinitesimal. So it is pretty remarkable if you think about it, that skepticism has grown as much as it has without having no where near an equal hearing or exposure as religious belief have had. It wasn't even much longer then one hundred years ago where even in America people where being put in jail for blasphemy charges! So if skepticism has grown this much this fast without near the exposure that religion has had, just think what would happen if culture got to the point where it did? We have this many people becoming skeptics without skeptics Sunday schools, without skeptic missionaries, without skeptic churches, without threats of going to hell if you change your mind, without all the social pressure to believe certain doctrines and the threat of being cut off socially if you don't, without skeptic praise and worship, without skeptic communities that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy giving you a sense of identity and making you feel like your part of some divine eternal plan, without skeptic TV that is on 24/7, without being indoctrinated to believe something without question from the time they where young with hell is the only alternative if they chose to believe otherwise, without skeptic wars that set up a skeptic pope, without killing religious people for disagreeing with them, burning books and libraries down who adhere to another creed and silencing the opposition not by argument but by force, without a skeptic empire that dominated western civilization for over a thousand years, without the punishment of death or imprisonment for blasphemy for talking against skeptics beliefs etc. I could go on but you get the picture, the war for truth and for the minds of men have not been fought fairly throughout history. Just think how different things may be if it was!
In any discussion on the subject of making society more conducive to secular enlightenment invariably both many skeptics and believers will indulge in the guilty by association fallacy. This fallacy tries to say something is wrong just on the basis that it is in someway associated with something wrong. For example Hitler drinks water and wears clothes and Hitler is bad, therefore drinking water and wearing clothes is bad. Even though this line of reasoning should obviously strike some one as absurd, I very often hear this line of reasoning from otherwise intelligent people when it comes to religious issues. So when people say things like.... "you should not try to change someone’s religious views because that is what religious people do" "Skeptics should not meet in buildings because religious people do that" "Skeptics should not be passionate about letting people Know why and what skeptics believe because that’s what religious people do" they are committing the guilty by association fallacy. Of course it is fine if people want to try and say why skeptics should not do such and such on other grounds, but when there soul objection is that skeptics should not do something if religious people do the same thing that is just patent nonsense. Religious people also breath, have friends, have careers, and have sex, but I do not see skeptics saying we should deny all that on the same grounds (:.
So lets do some brainstorming and try to think of the big picture. If our goal is to secularize society what are some barriers that would need to be overcome and how can we overcome them? For starters I think we need to persuade skeptics that doing things to make society more skeptical is beneficial for them and everyone else. Skeptics of course believe religion is false but many do not think it is more harmful then helpful. If religion is valuable then why do anything to mitigate it? Until this prevailing attitude is changed among the skeptical community it will be like trying to fight a war without half your countries members or resources. I actually plan on putting together a book on this very topic in the future. The book would be a compilation of the greatest thoughts from the greatest skeptics throughout history on the reasons they gave for religion being more harmful then helpful. I would also want to have all the greatest modern skeptics to write their thoughts on why they think religion is more harmful than helpful and how we would be better off without it such as Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, Loftus, and more. I would, to be fair, include some essays by both skeptics and believers who argued the counter-position. I think the skeptic community very much needs this though, because if they are not persuaded that religion is more harmful then helpful, then what incentive will they have to go out of there way to do something about it? Skeptics have enough numbers to change the worldview of billions if they really wanted to.
For example I have only been a skeptic for a couple of months and have helped deconvert my best friend, my brother, and my ex-girlfriend. Think what would happen if every skeptic just helped deconvert one person in their lifetime, the effect would be incalculable. With my best friend and ex-girlfriend I did this just by giving them skeptic books to read and persuading them to read them. With my brother I actually just talked to him and he became a skeptic. Many of the people that are close to you will read some type of skeptical material if you let them know how important it is to you. Religious people become skeptics all the time, how do you think there are near a billion skeptics in the world if they didn't? My main tactic with people is to first convert them to reason (by that I mean a rational method) and then expose them to counter-information. So how do we help expose religious people to counter-information? How do we even begin to secularize a culture where religion is privatized and a personal affair not a public one? A culture where it is politically incorrect to rationally scrutinize religion. A culture where people are constantly affirmed in there beliefs by there collective group but rarely challenged, and if so it is usually a superficial challenge. Here are some possible ideas that could get the boll rolling.
1. Create incentive among the skeptical community that religion is a harmful falsehood that is well worth fighting against for the sake of the greater good of humanity.
2. Organize the skeptic community as much as possible and help create as many skeptical institutions as possible (Yes I think the idea of skeptics meeting together is a good idea, call me crazy but it just may be beneficial for skeptics and the cause of skepticism. How much influence would religious people have without Church?
3. Seek to make religion more of a public affair then a private one. Bring it out into the light.
4. Publish more skeptical books at a popular level that are geared towards the people who need to read them the most.
5. Start a skeptic 24/7 television station (yes I am serious why not? We have the numbers and the money to do it; all we need is the will.)
6. Start a religion Channel that deals with things only related to religion and where the best arguments and top people of both sides are presented. In this way we could expose religious people to skeptics and skeptical thought they may never have been exposed to otherwise and plant seeds of doubt that may spur them to read and study farther. If the subject of history can have channel and do well, why not religion, why not a religion channel? This would be healthy for society in so many ways I am sure you can imagine.
7. Make sophisticated and entertaining documentaries that are good enough to show at the national cinematic level (Hey Michael Moore did it with 9/11, why could it not be done again dealing with religious issues? You could also make documentaries, where both top people and reasons pro and con where presented. In this way you could get more people to watch it and get more people exposed to new ideas.
8. Create a book series that critically challenges all the major religions. In the book series you could bring all the top skeptical scholars to write a comprehensive critique of the religion at hand, and make the book series geared for the believer to read. To reach as wide a demographic as possible, the book series would have beginner, intermediate, and advanced versions of each book. So for example you would have: a) The Case against Islam (Muslims comprise about 1.6 billion people of the world which is about 25% or one out of every four people on the planet! Some sociologist estimate that if Muslims keep growing at the same rate, that in 40 years from now half of all children born on the planet will be born to Muslim parents! There are also over 40 Muslim nations on the planet. b) The Case Against Christianity (Close to two billion people) c) The Case Against Eastern religions (This book would cover mainly Hinduism which comprises about 850 million people and Buddhism which comprises about 600 million or so.
9. Create a debate book series similar to the Christian counterpoint book series, except instead bring together top philosophical combatants on issues related to religion. In this way you could expose people to views they would otherwise never be exposed to or never read themselves (and if religious people think there views can withstand the force of sophisticated scrutiny then they should want this also). You could call the series the "decide for yourself" debate book series. You could also carry over this idea to a magazine, radio show, documentaries, internet website, and TV show.
I could go on, but I would like to hear more and more brainstorming form others on what could possibly be done to make society more conducive to the truth.
October 19, 2007