In the relatively brief span of time that there has been a United States, this country has been one of the more religious nations in the world. While religiosity has ebbed and flowed over the years, it has done so within a fairly small range. Americans have never experienced a period where a majority of their neighbors doubted the existence of gods, angels, and demons. This is a frequent cause of disappointment in the short-term, but when considered in a global context, it might also be a source of long-term optimism.
The odds that any of us living in 2010 will live to see a United States relatively free from the clutches of religion are miniscule. Christianity is not going away any time soon, and while it sometimes appears that we are in the midst of a decline of religious influence, much of this progress will be obscured by the next period of religious "awakening" to sweep our nation. I know that sounds pessimistic, but it is based on the fluctuations of religious influence we have seen throughout our history.
For a more optimistic outlook, one must look long-term. The nations of Europe where religion has receded into the background are so much older than the United States. Imagine that each ebb of religious influence takes something small away that will not be restored in the next "awakening." Over time, this does indeed result in an erosion of religious influence; it just takes a long time. These European nations did not lose their religion overnight.
For even greater optimism, we have a key advantage that should hasten the departure of religious influence that no country has had until quite recently: the Internet. Just look at the growth of the atheist blogosphere over the past 5 years, and it is hard not to feel at least somewhat encouraged. So while I do not expect the U.S. to embrace atheism in my lifetime, I do expect it to happen and maybe even a bit faster than it has in other nations.
And we have yet another reason to be optimistic, for the battles we fight in the present to preserve separation of church and state, keep dangerously deluded Christian extremists out of political office, to promote atheist civil rights, and the like really do matter. In fact, what we do now will inform the continued work of future generations of atheists.
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