Why Getting Rid of Church/State Separation Could Be Great for Atheists May 12, 2015

Why Getting Rid of Church/State Separation Could Be Great for Atheists

Ryan T. Cragun, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampa, has written before about how atheists are better at dying than the religious. He also attempted to calculate how much money religious tax exemptions cost us (His estimate: $71,000,000,000/year).

His latest book offers a guide to how we can finally defeat faith — or the power it has, anyway.

It’s called How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps: A Toolkit for Secular Activists (Pitchstone Publishing, 2015):

In the excerpt below, Cragun explains why we must stop subsidizing religion and instead deregulate it:

I’m conflicted when it comes to religions and money. Most secular activists seem to want a complete separation between religions and government and want to remove all the tax benefits religions receive. I, too, have advocated this position and will advocate that approach in this chapter. But the reason why I’m conflicted on this issue is because there isn’t much of a precedent for this approach succeeding.

If the goal of secular activism in the United States is to turn the United States into a largely secular society like the countries of Western Europe, then secular activists could theoretically argue for the exact opposite of a separation of religion and government. In Norway and Denmark there is not a separation of church and state like there is in the United States. To the contrary, these countries have state religions that are funded with tax dollars. Clergy for the state churches are state employees. In these countries, religious attendance is very low — less than 5 percent report attending religious services on about a weekly basis — even though large percentages of the populations identify as members of the state religions (~70 percent).

What’s the connection between low levels of religious participation and state churches in these countries? While the churches have a prominent position in these countries, they also have much less autonomy than do religions in the United States (though recent legislation grants these churches more autonomy). Historically, the state had a say in who the clergy were going to be. Since these religions rely on tax dollars for funding, that also gives the state control over church policies. If the government legalizes same-sex marriage, guess which religions in these countries are going to have to perform same-sex marriages? If the government mandates gender equality, guess which religions are also going to have to advocate gender equality? Do you see where I’m going? When religion and government are closely integrated, like in Denmark and Norway, the secular state controls religion to a much greater degree. And the result, interestingly, is neutered religion. When was the last time you heard about a Church of Norway pastor trying to burn copies of the Koran? When was the last time you heard about a sexual abuse scandal involving clergy in the Church of Denmark? Close government oversight weakens religion, so long as the government has the upper hand and is secular (if religion has the upper hand, well, that’s when you get hunts for atheists, witches, Jews, blacks, women, and queers).

In addition to government being able to regulate religions in these countries, there has been some speculation among sociologists that the close integration of religion and government in these countries has resulted in “lazy monopolies.” There is some truth to this idea. Consider a Church of Norway service in contrast to a megachurch service in the United States. Even if you haven’t been to either of these, you probably get the idea. Megachurch services in the United States are basically like professional sporting events or concerts. They often have live, upbeat music, huge screens, and charismatic pastors who try really hard to manipulate people’s emotions. Do you think Church of Norway services are like that? Of course not. They are typically traditional services that are rather staid. Nothing controversial is taught from the pulpit. And the music would put a cocaine addict on speed to sleep. Why? Whether or not anyone shows up to their services, pastors in Norway and Denmark get paid. But if no one shows up to a megachurch service in the United States, how is the pastor going to pay for his private jet and $6 million home? State-church entanglement like that in Norway and Denmark would substantially reduce the entrepreneurial and economic incentive that underlies religion in the United States.

So, I’m conflicted. A very effective way to reduce interest in religion — an approach that has been shown to be quite effective, even if unintentional — is to tear down the wall between religion and state and closely integrate the two. I’m guessing more than a few readers will have just thought after reading that last line, “Blasphemy! Burn the heretic!” But my point is that this approach actually worked. Religion in Denmark and Norway has been defeated; it is basically the least offensive, most benign, and weakest religion in the world!

But…

Yep. I’m cutting the excerpt off right there.

This is just a portion of one of the steps. There are nine more where this one came from.

How to Defeat Religion in 10 Easy Steps can be found in bookstores and online beginning today.

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