Sunday, June 2, 2019

Interview: David Niose says "a successful secular movement will put religion in its proper place", explains what that is

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in March 2017.

This is the final part of my discussion with David Niose. The firstsecond, and third articles are available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto 
"The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center," the organization reported in May 2015, when its most recent report about faith -- or lack thereof -- in our country was published.
Pew continued: "Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages."
Specifically, the Center noted that "(b)etween 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4% to 70.6%, driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. The unaffiliated experienced the most growth, and the share of Americans who belong to non-Christian faiths also increased."
One can imagine how much farther this number has fallen since 2014. Like it or not, America is in the midst of serious cultural change.
David Niose has much to say about this.
He is, as his profile at Psychology Today explains, "an attorney who has served as president of two Washington-based humanist advocacy groups, the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America. He is author of Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans and Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason. He currently serves as legal director of the AHA."
Niose is the man behind Our Humanity, Naturally, a PT blog which the publication says "presents issues of life, society, and philosophy from the naturalistic standpoint of Humanism. A progressive philosophy of positive values without dogma and superstition, Humanism is becoming more prevalent among those concerned about anti-intellectual and dysfunctional trends in modern society."
Niose recently spoke with me about many issues pertaining to the shifting sands of American religious life. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: Beyond any other factor, what has the rise of secularism given mainstream American society?

David Niose: Reason for hope, both in terms of scientific advancement and sane public policy. The potential of science and technology to solve many of our problems needs no elaboration, so I’ll just expand on the public policy point. If we are ever to have a functioning participatory democracy—with a government that responds to real human interests, not the interests of institutions that have no concern for human well-being—we’ll need a critically thinking electorate. As I’ve argued in my books and elsewhere, anti-intellectualism is killing America.

The emergence of the secular demographic, with religious appeals in politics being met with great skepticism and nonreligious political candidates being seen as viable, would naturally push anti-intellectualism away from the mainstream. That doesn’t mean that all nonreligious individuals are intellectuals, but it does suggest that the toxic anti-intellectualism of the religious right would be on the defensive if society began accepting nonreligious people as equal players in government and politics. Nor does it mean that religion must be wiped out of society—it just means that a successful secular movement will put religion in its proper place, away from government and policymaking.

In the twenty-first century, we should be asking whether it’s prudent to have fundamentalists who reject evolution and look forward to the Second Coming controlling the levers of power.

Cotto: What is the most noticeable way in which our nation's secularization relates to the family unit?

Niose: The weakening of the power of religion and religious institutions is something we tend to overlook, but it affects everyone, even those who claim to be religious. The ubiquitousness of birth control, for example, is a result of secular values winning out over traditional religious demands. Even Catholics, who are strictly forbidden from using birth control by their church, almost universally ignore that command.

So, one could say that today’s lower birth rates in the developed world are a shining example of secularization reshaping the family unit. Working women with careers is another—made possible of course by birth control. If you’re an educated woman with a career who has used birth control to help plan and structure your life, you don’t thank the Vatican for those opportunities, you thank science and secular values.