First some facts (with a very Americo-centric viewpoint):
http://library.advanced.org/19012/gallup.htm The following are the results of a poll conducted November 21-24, 1991 by the Gallup Organization. I don’t believe things have gotten any better since this poll:
"God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."
All Americans 47% Men 39% Women 53% College Graduates 25% No High School Diploma 65% Income >$50,000 29% Income <$20,000 59% Whites 46% Blacks 53%
“Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation.”
All Americans 40% Men 45% Women 54% College Graduates 54% No High School Diploma 23% Income >$50,000 50% Income <$20,000 28% Whites 40% Blacks 41%
“Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process.”
All Americans 9% Men 11.5% Women 6.6% College Graduates 16.5% No High School Diploma 4.6% Income >$50,000 17% Income <$20,000 6.5% Whites 9% Blacks 4%
I offer the entirety of the data here in the interest of fairness and completeness. To a religious person seeking confirmation of the thesis that the majority of Americans are moderate in their views, I suppose the figures indicating that as many as 53% of American men believe that humans came into existence more than 10,000 years ago would seem impressive. To me, the idea that as many as 47% of people would be willing to admit that they think such a thing is depressing beyond the ability of words to express.
Consider this: An avowed atheist or even agnostic could no more be elected to national office in the United States than pigs could fly. Except perhaps in New York, San Francisco or LA, such a person couldn't be elected dog catcher. Jessie Ventura is the exception that proves the rule and his honesty will almost surely ensure that the religious right will fund a campaign against him that will probably succeed. Reference to and profession of belief in the supernatural is in fact a prerequisite for any public life outside of media and the arts. On second thought, in the latter areas of public life, belief in the supernatural is just as much a prerequisite, it's just that you can't seem to be a pop star unless you've bought into the latest brand of New Age BS.
The same situation applies in private institutions. Open expression of religious sentiment is considered to be not only acceptable but a sign of trustworthiness and fitness for leadership in most private institutions in most sectors of U.S. society. Don't get me wrong: I've been a success in my career, despite not participating in any of these activities. But it's because I've been smart and kept my mouth shut.
Now, what does all this have to do with “religion bashing”? Sure, the true theocrats are under 20%. But how often does a "moderate" religious leader speak out strongly in favor of a firm separation of church and state? How many of them have ever espoused the view that exemption from taxation amounts to a state subsidy to religion? Real opposition to theocracy has to come from the tiny minority of truly secular humanists. Look what happened to George Bush, Sr. in 1992: He was bullied into expressing views with which he didn't personally agree because the moderates were silenced by fear of their "holier" brethren. Steve Forbes is choosing to do the same thing now, marking him as an enemy of reason.
Separation of church and state is a secular value. One finds little or no authority for it in the Bible. ("Render unto Caesar . . ." being only an admonition to observe civic obligations to a foreign conquering power, not an endorsement of a secular state.) Notwithstanding a few Supreme Court opinions that the vast majority of Americans do not understand, this IS a christian country and religious leaders find little institutional support for effective advocacy of the secular value of separation of church and state.
This despite the fact that some of the key figures of American history saw things otherwise:
"The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian religion."
"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature"
The Bible is not my book, and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian
The overwhelming majority of Americans are religious in the sense that they believe fairly firmly in the existence of supernatural "powers" that intervene in human affairs. Furthermore, the majority of Americans do not have a real comprehension of the scientific method or its implications for daily life or a personal understanding of nature and human life: They treat "science" as some sort of toy factory that produces medical miracles, video games, cell phones and the occasional space adventure (in which "spaceships" go WHOOSH and bank like airplanes). Beyond that, they figure that some unseen Big Guy is basically in charge of the universe and they strongly suspect that "science" is something that makes you unattractive to women and leads to the desire to build large underground "laboratories" from which to launch a campaign of world domination. This occasionally requires the violent intervention of a suave British spy and a large-breasted woman to avoid global destruction.
What does religion have to do with this? If you think that an unseen Big Guy is in charge of the universe and can change the rules any time he wants, you don't develop deep-seated tools for critical thinking. If you think that the basic plan of Life, the Universe and Everything is contained in a single book, half of which was written by nomadic shepherds and half of which was written by eleven Jewish fisherman, one Greek mystic and a Roman motivational writer, all of whom took dictation form the Big Guy, then you don't develop the habit of independent, skeptical thought.
Strong FEELINGS against religion here (as opposed to what we THINK about it) are probably due to being part of an infinitesimally small minority of humanity. The majority of people in the First World profess some religious or supernatural belief and have little or no conception of the scientific method. Outside the First World, it's much worse. Of course, even though we are an insignificant minority in numbers, science and enlightened humanism has had an influence greater than any other cultural movement in history. All the praying of all the holy men in all the history of man never killed a single germ or built a single bridge. The whispers of haints or ghosts or saints or gods never developed a notion of crop rotation or located a drop of oil. If it had been left up to the priests, we'd still believe that the sun revolved around the earth, that sin causes disease and that witches cast spells and must be burned. Being smart, men of commerce now hedge their bets, and offer a little tithe to the keepers of the toy store from which the miracles of science may be procured; but they still pour their money into the old priesthood, too, just in case the Big Guy's still in charge.