Should we compare American Atheism and American Christianity?: An Impromptu Twitter Discussion

The following conversation emerged on Twitter between myself and Per D. Smith, a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University. Check out Per’s great stuff over at irritually. Per specializes in studying irreligion and so I sent him a link to a CNN article and, well, click on the storify link and you can see what ensued.

[View the story "Atheism, Humanism, Prosperity Gospel, and the Mainline" on Storify]

The question I’m left with is this: Is there a force within American society/culture that is shaping atheists and Christians in similar ways such that evangelicals look like New Atheists and old school humanists look like the mainline? What could it be? How could we find it? Is it the market? Politics? What?

What do yall think?

Is there a difference between ideology and religion?

The U.S. Intellectual History blog has an interesting guest post from Corey Washington on “After Ideology.” Here’s a bit:

There is good scientific evidence that political reasoning is based on innate, non-rational principles. Nevertheless, the fact that people reason so badly about politics is striking given that people are intelligent and believe strongly that it is important for their political beliefs to be true. Religion may also be innate and non-rational, but if people are rational enough to give up God-oriented religion because there is not sufficient evidence, why do they not give up ideologies as well?

When I ask this question, the responses are quite similar to what you hear when you discuss atheism with a religious person. Atheists/agnostics cannot imagine how you could act ethically, or more broadly make sense of the world, without an ideology. That is, ideology seems to give many atheists/agnostics a value system just as religion does for believers. I believe ideologies also provide people with a community of like-minded friends, as do religious beliefs, and people are loath to alienate themselves from their friends. But if your goal is to have an accurate political view of the world, what use are such ideologies and communities if they are based on beliefs one has very little reason to think are true?

Those two sentences I bolded struck me. Of course ideology functions like religion! Washington is right on the money with this. But so was Emile Durkheim. Religion and ideology, as sketched by Washington here, both form what Durkheim called “moral communities” in his Elemental forms of Religious Life. What Washington doesn’t outline in his post, thought I suspect it is to be worked through in his book, is the relationship between ideology and religion. Too often religion becomes subsumed under ideology. Thus, socially constructed notions of the sacred are reduced down economics or psychology or what have you. Instead, religion and ideology should be placed alongside one another as products of cultural and social imagination and construction. For example, nationalism (and here I’m following my recent reading of Benedict Anderson) as an ideology has the incredible power to motivate men to die. Anderson begins his discussion of nationalism with a comparison to religion. They both share this same power–a power that will motivate humans to lay down their lives. To go back to Durkheim, we can call this socio-culturally produced power ‘the sacred.’ Questions then follow. How is the sacred produced in cultures and societies? What is sacred in an ideology or religion? How dies it function?How do humans move between or occupy overlapping sacralities (i.e. a communist nationalist Christian)?

However one approaches the question of ideology and religion and whether one wants to use the term ‘sacred’ or not, the goal should be to  avoid reducing the phenomenon down to a single ’cause’ and instead to uncover their messy cultural production and practice.

Things Sacred & Profane: Sacred Constitution, Jerry Brown, Mormon politics, and an atheist Bible reader

The recitation of the Constitution in the House renews the debate over Founders’ intentions.

Peter Berger on “Conservative Christians and the Sexual Revolution”

Romney and Reid: Does Mormonism matter in politics?

An atheist who is spending a year reading through the King James Bible.

California’s new (but not completely new) governor, Jerry Brown, trained with Jesuits, studied with Zen Masters, and hung out on the streets with Mother Theresa. He also inspired this great Dead Kennedy’s song.

Things Sacred & Profane: AA Spirituality, GWB Drunk with Rev. Graham, and Einstein on God

Einstein- Alcoholics Anonymous as a spiritual experience.

- So apparently former President Bush was sloshed the first time he met Billy Graham. He had had “about four beers and five wines.” Well done, sir.

- It’s always remarkable to me how much interest surrounds Albert Einstein’s thoughts about God. It’s the modern equivalent to the search for the historical Jesus. Was he an atheist? Was he a deist? A theist? I like to think that, first and foremost, he was a lover of form and beauty and a man humbly grasping at cosmic straws.

- Is the fetal Christ ad about incarnation of abortion? Or both?

‘Atheizing’ the Dead, Religious Doughnuts, & Tax-Free Witching: The Week in Religion, Poetically

Inspired by Mormon baptism practices, Atheize the Dead offers to convert your deceased loved one to atheism.

The Hartford, Connecticut city council found itself in hot water when it proposed a Muslim invocation for one of its pre-meeting prayers. After its website was inundated with protests against the planned invocations, the council decided to cancel prayers of any sort at the meetings and will open with an “interfaith moment of silence.”

Donald Trump offered to buy out one of the major investors in the Park51 project. The investors said thanks but no thanks.

A North Carolina teenager whose family is part of the Church of Body Modification has run into trouble with her school’s dress code. The 14-year-old is looking at a ten day suspension if she returns to school wearing her prohibited nose ring. In Roswell, New Mexico, a group of students have been suspended for giving their teachers boxes of doughnuts with religious messages attached to them.

Romania has decided not to tax its witches and fortunetellers. One reason being that the witches and fortunetellers aren’t good at keeping receipts.

Continue reading at Religion Dispatches >>>