2014 Bad Year For Atheists?

Though a little less than 4 months remain in 2014 I suspect New Year’s Eve celebrations can’t arrive soon enough for atheists in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court, along with the lower courts, have repeatedly rejected high profile atheist lawsuits attempting to limit religious freedom and re-affirmed the government’s right to employ the word ‘God’. Meanwhile, mounting evidence continues to establish the social and health benefits of religious belief and the disadvantages of being non-religious. While atheists may be frustrated and resist this reality, religious believers can take solace as their values, traditions, and freedoms are, for the most part, being upheld, justified, and expanded.

February 2014

In February we learned more scientists are religious than atheist, shattering the atheist myth that the study of science leads to atheism. The American Association for the Advancement of Science released preliminary findings of a survey of ‘religious communities and science’ and discovered a mere 25% of scientists consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. An astounding 75% of scientists identify with a religious group. This continues an ongoing trend that has more and more religious people realizing science and faith are compatible.

A Pew Survey released the same month revealed a steep rise in religious affiliation after the fall of militant state atheism in the USSR. In 1991 only 31% of Russians considered themselves Orthodox Christian but in 2008 that number had climbed to 72%, with 81% of women identifying as Orthodox Christian. This has brought tens of millions of Russians, who were former atheists or non-religious, to belief in God. The trend in Russia, and officially atheist China for that matter, is towards belief in God and away from atheism. In fact, by 2030, China is projected to have the largest Christian population in the world with 250 million followers.

May 2014

In early May, the Supreme Court of The United States ruled opening prayers at council meetings are constitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote “The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.” The Court’s decision has legalized prayer in a government setting and recognized the crucial role religion plays in lawmaker’s lives. Atheists have unwittingly opened the door to revisiting Engel v. Vitale when the Court essentially ruled prayer in school unconstitutional. Who knows, by the time today’s young atheists have kids, their children may have a moment of silence for prayer and reflection in public schools.

But a few days later the very liberal Massachusetts Supreme Court unanimously upheld the legality of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote “For those who have been attacking the pledge we would offer this: our system protects their right to remain silent, but it doesn’t give them a right to silence others.” A not so subtle reminder that the first amendment assures people have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

In God We Trust

At the end of May, it was the 2nd circuit U.S. Court of Appeals turn. They ruled against The Freedom From Religion Foundation and declared it legal to have “In God We Trust” on American currency. The motto has been on the U.S. currency since 1955 when Congress responded to the militant state atheism in Communist Soviet Union by acknowledging God is the ultimate authority and giver of man’s rights, not flawed and corruptible man. The court’s ruling stated the motto does “not have a religious purpose or advance religion, nor does [it] place a substantial burden on appellants’ religious practices.” As a result, city councils throughout America are embracing the phrase “In God We Trust”; voting to have it displayed in city Council Chambers, on city stationary, and courthouses. Had atheists not filed this lawsuit, they likely wouldn’t have opened the Biblical floodgates of “In God We Trust” motto’s being adopted all over the nation. In perhaps one the greatest ironies of all time, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose mission it is to make the American government less entangled with God, will likely inspire thousands of local governments to become more intertwined with God than ever before. I suspect FFRF and atheists everywhere wish they could have this one back.

Also in May, a little known Facebook group that has been steadily gaining in popularity announced itself to the world. The first article profiling the Freedom From Atheism Foundation (FFAF) was published in The Christian Post*. The FFAF works to address militant and state atheism, support victims of hostile atheists, and protect and defend religious freedom. Since the article the group has grown from 120,000 followers to over 300,000 and now has their own educational website www.FFAFINTL.org, letter writing campaign, and activism activities.

June 2014

June saw a slew of studies showing religion to be more beneficial than no religion. A BBC commissioned study found people with a religious identity are more likely to give to charity. The study found 66% of non-religious people gave to charity in the last month while 80% of religious people had. The BBC declared that religion seems to create greater generosity in people while no religion creates less generosity. While this study focused on Great Britain, it only reconfirmed a 2007 study by The Barna Group. That study showed religious people in the United States give more to charity, volunteer more, are more engaged in their community, and more likely to be registered to vote than non-religious people.

Also in June, a study by Mississippi State University concluded religion is beneficial to kids. According to Melinda Weiner at LiveScience “The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services–especially when both parents did so frequently–and talked with their kids about religion were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.” Raising your child without religion resulted in the child exhibiting more unhappy and uncooperative behaviors. Rather than Richard Dawkins recklessly declaring raising your child religious is “child abuse” perhaps he will now follow the evidence where it leads and encourage a religious upbringing, but I won’t get my hopes up.

Child Praying

Not only is religion good for kids, it benefits the sick too. A study released in June in the journal Liver Transplantation showed patients who have faith live longer than patients who don’t. Patients who sought “God’s Help” and had a high degree of “religious coping” had “more prolonged post-transplant survival than patients with low religiosity”. Three years after the transplant only 7% of religious believers had died while more than 20% of the non-religious had died. Study after study demonstrates the benefits of religious belief, yet few atheists will accept this very real, very solid evidence. To an outsider, it may seem atheists are more committed to believing atheism is better than religion then they are with finding the truth.

At the end of June, the Supreme Court of The United States ruled in favor of religious rights for closely held for-profit corporations. Fines for some companies who didn’t comply would have reached upwards of $475 million a year, clearly a substantial burden on a business owner’s religious rights. Judge Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion that “If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.” The government clearly had other avenues it could use to supply women with the contraception that didn’t violate anyone’s religious rights. Rather than force religious owners to violate their deeply held beliefs, the court found a compromise that allowed women to obtain their coverage through the government and religious owners to maintain their spiritual integrity.

July 2014

In early July, in perhaps the most devastating news for the self-identified atheist community, the atheist label itself was called into question. More evidence from cognitive scientists concluded that atheists might not even exist. Nury Vittachi, writing for Science 2.0, stated, “…evidence from several disciplines indicates that what you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself. Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone.” This has led Graham Lawton, a staunch atheist, to ironically declare “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think….They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.” While most atheists are very keen on science, something tells me they won’t be embracing this scientific conclusion any time soon.

Ground Zero Cross

Most recently, at the end of July, the America Atheists lost the 9/11 Ground Zero Cross case in a unanimous decision by a 3 judge panel. The Judges stated, “With this recognition, a reasonable observer would view the primary effect of displaying the cross at ground zero, amid hundreds of other (mostly secular) artifacts, to be ensuring historical completeness, not promoting religion.” Now, every year, millions of visitors to the 9/11 Memorial will view the crossbeams that miraculously appeared to the nation’s and world’s Christians as a sign of sacred hope among utter despair.

This is but a taste of the metaphorical hell atheists have had to face this year. I haven’t even touched on the dreadful publicity Richard Dawkins has received for saying it is immoral not to abort a baby with Down Syndrome, the awful reception to AtheistTV, the offensive and canceled book fundraiser from atheist blogger Hemant Mehta, the unethical marketing campaign of Sam Harris’s new book, the hostile American Atheists being booted from CPAC, and the heartless American Humanists Association threatening to sue for a roadside memorial cross to be removed.

Far from making waves, atheism is at best a sputtering engine.

Far from going silently into the night, religion is roaring into a sun-drenched morning.

*The article referenced was also written by Mike Dobbins.

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