Sunday, June 16, 2019

Interview: Why do some religions grow as society secularizes? Humanistic Jewish leader Paul Golin explains.

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

This is the third part of my discussion with Paul Golin. The first and second 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
(Read more of this introduction here.)

Joseph Ford Cotto: The various movements within Orthodox Judaism, Mormonism, Evangelical Protestantism, and the Islamic traditions continually gain power even as religion declines overall. Do these groups share any reason for defying the trend?

Paul Golin: One similarity may be the certainty with which they offer answers to life’s biggest questions. Another may be how difficult it is for members who don’t believe those answers to extricate themselves from a religious community that encompasses all aspects of their lives.

As a secular humanist, I would hope science and reason could penetrate into those communities, so that individuals could at least decide for themselves. But my sense is that control of access to information is another key commonality.

Cotto: Across the world, untold billions rely on supernatural faith just to get through the day. It has been suggested that religious communities which hold outlandishly impossible beliefs are more effective at creating tightly-bound congregations than more intellectual creeds. In America, do you believe that this is presently the case?

Golin: I’m not sure how you can determine that one religion’s beliefs are more outlandishly impossible than another’s, if you really start analyzing their origin stories. I think the main distinction is that liberal religions are willing to acknowledge that “faith” means we can’t know with certainty. When we know something with certainty, that’s called “fact.”

I presume there must be great comfort in knowing with certainty that, for example, your soul continues to exist after bodily death. I’m not the kind of atheist that wants to take that away from people. Whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right. When it begins to impact my life, though, like if the approach of one religion is favored over all others by our supposedly secular government, I’m going to fight that.