This was an open letter to a local talk show that was being guest hosted by a local state representative (whose opinions I generally agree with, but not that day) a state representative who kept wondering, on air, how anyone could get by without religion to shape their moral fibre, and what a shame it was that the importance of religion in American society was failing, since we are a christian nation after all. You can have three guesses as to what set me off in the first place and I’ll bet you don’t need two of them.
The word you are struggling to find is philosophy. Philosophy, even amongst the religious, is where morals come from. I say this as an Objectivist, Americans ignore the importance of establishing and maintaining a personal philosophy at their own peril. It is the short-cutters, the people who turn to religion and superstition to answer their metaphysical questions, those people are to blame for the degradation of the morals in our society, not a lack of faith or prayer in schools or whatever imagined slight the christian right (Christianists. -ed.) wants to whine about today.
We have not moved away from christianity in the United States. Contrary to popular opinion, the founders where not christians, they were Deists:
The Founding Fathers, also, rarely practiced Christian orthodoxy. Although they supported the free exercise of any religion, they understood the dangers of religion. Most of them believed in deism and attended Freemasonry lodges. According to John J. Robinson, “Freemasonry had been a powerful force for religious freedom.” Freemasons took seriously the principle that men should worship according to their own conscious. Masonry welcomed anyone from any religion or non-religion, as long as they believed in a Supreme Being. Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Hamilton, Lafayette, and many others accepted Freemasonry.EarlyAmerica.com
One of the most religious men in the continental congress was John Adams, and he was a Unitarian.
This is my answer to the question you posed why has America given up on the christian faith? I only wish I could have called in to set you right in your confusion. Religion is a curse that will betray America to ruin, and it will do that very soon now that conservatives have embraced evangelicalism. Philosophy needs to be taught to children as a part of their school curriculum, it is every bit as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Economics also needs to be taught, but that isn’t what this letter is about. Only with the mental tools for judging and abiding by morals of their own creation will our children be able to stop the moral decline that this country is in if it is in moral decline at all.
Like many other complainants that aired their grievances after the show today, I had to turn off the program before it was over. One more holier than thou phone caller trying to tell me how I needed to go to church would have sent me over the edge and I don’t need the extra stress in my life.
These days I just point to the study published in the Journal of Religion and Society titled Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, that shows the impact of fervent religious belief on society as a whole is negative. I don’t know what else needs to be said on the subject of how we can get by without religion other that to observe that we might well be better off without it at all.
I wish the founders had all been deists as I erroneously claim above. We’d be better off now if they had been. The blight of Christainist dogma would not have been inculcated into our social psyche if three quarters of the founders hadn’t been adherents to various flavors of christianity that have since evolved into evangelicalism and the Prosperity Gospel.
My error doesn’t mean that the US is a christian nation. The point that debunks this claim isn’t the faith of the founders (an erroneous argument that I simply repeated at the time) but rather that there is no thing called christian that all christians can agree on and want enforced as the religion that everyone should follow. You can thank the protestants for that social benefit. If they hadn’t broke from the mother church we would probably still all be Catholics and subject to papal dictates.
This was the first of a repetition of encounters with average people who seemed baffled by the fact that other people do just fine without church or religion to guide them. It’s almost as if they’ve never done any moral thinking for themselves. Perhaps they should give it a try. They might discover that their religion didn’t invent the concept of morality. I humbly suggest that the interested reader look into creating a human-centric philosophy and morality as opposed to continuing to believe in a god-centered one:
Humanism is a philosophical stance that emphasizes the individual and social potential and agency of human beings. It considers human beings as the starting point for serious moral and philosophical inquiry.Wikipedia
The show that I was being so coy about naming was the Jeff Ward Show and the guest host was representative Suzanna Hupp. I carried a lot of water for her over the years thinking that she had an inside road towards a deeper understanding of loss. This show was the first speedbump on the road that lead to my distancing myself from her.
This article as it appeared on Blogspot in 2006 when I wrote it. Featured image: The Death of Socrates.