|Present-day archaeological site of the Salem Village parsonage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
As I have pointed out before, the demise of religion in the U.S. has been predicted and then declared many times. Each time, a resurgence (i.e., a "religious awakening") has followed. The influence of religion has ebbed and flowed for some time, and it seems naive to suggest that this pattern will not persist.
I am sure those talking about the death of "god" in the mid-1960s would have laughed at anyone suggesting that something like the religious right would flourish like it did under Reagan and Bush I. They would have found it unbelievable that we would end up with a Christian extremist president such as Bush II, a man who once claimed that his god told him to start a war without provocation.
In school, I remember learning about the many times in U.S. history when religious idiocy drove people to do horrible things. And yet, I admit that the Salem witch trials seemed awfully abstract. That was ancient history, and people have grown up. At least, that is how I thought until I witnessed small-town Christian fundamentalists persecuting members of a peaceful cult associated with Eastern religious teachings. And even with that experience, I was unprepared for the crusade against heavy metal music in the 1980s. And once again, I was caught off guard by the "Satanic panic" concerning reports of Satanic ritual abuse that would damage countless lives as it infected the therapeutic community.
To be sure, there are valid reasons for optimism that the role of faith is in decline. Who hasn't been tempted to suggest that the Internet marks the beginning of the end for religion? And yet, I think we need to temper our optimism with a bit of realism and recognize that religion is almost certainly going to outlive us all. As long as we continue to suffer from our many human weaknesses, faith will rule the darkness. We must remain vigilant.
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