Sunday, 1 June 2008
Among the Believers
picture - Carmen Winant
Bringing together Waco, the Great Disappointment, sacrificial Red Heifer's, the Third Temple on the Mount and a spurious sprinkling of Susan Sontag, Ian McEwan writes about End Times and the Apocalypse in last weekend's Guardian.
He quotes (and questions ) various opinion polls. "Ninety per cent of Americans say they have never doubted the existence of God and are certain they will be called to answer for their sins. Fifty-three per cent are creationists who believe that the cosmos is 6,000 years old, 44 per cent are sure that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead within the next 50 years. Only 12 per cent believe that life on earth has evolved through natural selection without the intervention of supernatural agency."
McEwan concludes that "We have no reason to believe that there are dates inscribed in heaven or hell. We may yet destroy ourselves; we might scrape through... The believers should know in their hearts by now that, even if they are right and there actually is a benign and watchful personal God, he is, as all the daily tragedies, all the dead children attest, a reluctant intervener. The rest of us, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, know that it is highly improbable that there is anyone up there at all. Either way, in this case it hardly matters who is wrong - there will be no one to save us but ourselves."
Which brings us to Carmen Winant. She has fine work up on her website here, and an interesting blog, especially this post on her beliefs. Carmen isn't one of the ninety per cent mentioned above, but one of the 4% of non-believing Americans. Here she talks about the isolation she felt at college regarding her lack of religion.
"...what isolated me most profoundly from my teammates was not my religion. The chasm I felt most sharply was my godlessness.
My teammates -- who were among my dearest friends, with whom I survived grueling workouts, logged up to 80 miles a week, and traveled to races in cities like Terre Haute and Boise almost every weekend – more or less despised what they termed “a person without faith.” I suddenly felt more was more non-Christian, and more Godless, then I had ever been.
And this was how I went in the closet.
I could confront my teammates – including the men’s team -- on their attitudes about homosexuality. I argued with them about abortion rights. I went to the mat defending Title IX protections of equal access for women’s sports. But asking them to comprehend, let alone, respect my atheism seemed too daunting.
Godlessness is the great taboo. According to a 2006 study of attitudes toward marginalized groups conducted by the University of Minnesota, atheists win the popularity booby prize in America. Asked which group “least shares their vision of society,” a shocking 40% of Americans picked atheists. We beat out Muslims (26.3%) and homosexuals (20%) by a landslide. We are also deemed the worst marriage prospects: Almost half (47.6%) of respondents also checked “atheists” in response to the statement: “I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group.” ( Muslims again followed suit, and as for gays, well that's barely legal in the first place.) A March 2007 Newsweek survey found that 62% of people would refuse to vote for any candidate admitting to being an atheist (and this is after seven years of seeing what havoc a born-again Christian president -- who claims his policies come to him from God -- has wreaked on the earth).
Last year, the Pew Forum on Public and Religious Life conducted another survey. They report that there has actually been a modest increase in those who state they are atheists, from 3.2% to 4.0%. This gives me hope that one day I will feel safer with my old teammates, and that this country will grow past our discrimination. That public universities will come to uphold the separation of church and state. That the burden of proof will not always fall upon those who do not believe in the supernatural.
I know it will take a long, long time. But I’ve got faith."