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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Atheism, Religion, and America

At Politico, Nick Spencer asks why there are not more atheists in the United States.  Consistent with Tocqueville, he says:
At the same time, the nation’s new constitution did not refer to God (beyond the reference to the Year of our Lord in Article VII), precluded any religious test from becoming a requirement for office, and, most famously, in its First Amendment, legislated against Congress making any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This did not, of course, prevent individual states from legislating about religion and many retained established churches well into the 19th century, but it did mean that there could be no formal national endorsement of Christianity.
This could be construed as de facto godlessness—indeed it was and is—but in reality it ended up being the nation’s strongest bulwark against atheism, denying the church the temporal power that had done it so much harm in Europe and effectively draining the wells of moral indignation on which atheists drew. Other factors helped: The new nation’s powerful sense of Providentialism, whilst not necessarily Christian, was certainly harder to sustain on an atheistic worldview; some form of watered-down deism thus ran through patriotic veins. But the overriding factor for atheism’s anaemic American history lies less in its culture than in its politics.