Will 2021 Be Better Than 2020? That Depends on Us


New Year's Eve was about as uneventful as it can be. My neighbors didn't go as crazy with the fireworks as usual, and the predicted storms did not materialize. Perhaps the Christian "god" decided to spare us after what it did on Easter. In any case, I was happy to have a boring night.

I'm not sure what 2021 will bring, but I am not one of those people who thinks it has to be good just because 2020 was bad. That strikes me as magical thinking. I do hope 2021 is better than 2020 because I think we all need some improvement, but I do not feel terribly confident that it will be. There are still many health care workers where I live who do not have access to the COVID-19 vaccines, and that suggests it is going to be a while before it is widely available to the general public. I'm just guessing here, but it would surprise me if I have access to it before the summer. Aside from COVID-19, there is likely to be a new president in the White House. I have little difficulty understanding why many on the left are looking to this as a source of optimism. I hope they are right. My guess is that we are about to learn that the deep divisions that plague the U.S. pre-dated Trump and will continue long after his term.

It seems to me that we have many challenges ahead, both domestically and globally. Some nations have handled the pandemic far better than others. Some nations (like the U.S.) seem to have learned little from their examples and stubbornly refuse to implement international best practices. Although there are similarities when it comes to climate change, there are important differences too. Even if the U.S. were in a position to provide international leadership here, I suspect it may be too late to do much more than slow the inevitable even if we were all willing to make major sacrifices (which we clearly aren't).

As for secularism, I find myself feeling cautiously optimistic. Increasing numbers of young people are saying that they do not find organized religion relevant to their day-to-day lives. Assuming that persists, they will be less likely to impose religious beliefs on their own children. Despite some progress in the erosion of religious belief, it is clear that it will be with us for some time. I think that's okay, as long as what we are left with is a neutered version. That is, I don't particularly care what others believe until they decide to legislate it. A disempowered sort of religious belief might not be so bad. Our challenge is how to hasten this disempowerment.

What concerns me is that it is that people who feel their power and influence beginning to slip away often become more dangerous rather than less. It may be a short-term thing, but that does not mean they cannot cause real harm. I expect that any decline in religiosity will be accompanied by a resurgence of desperate Christian extremism aimed at maintaining power and more thoroughly Christianizing the U.S. In fact, I think we are already seeing this. I suspect this was a big part of why evangelical Christians were so quick to embrace Trump. We are going to need to remain vigilant and learn how to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

Like every year, 2021 will present us with some challenges we can already anticipate and some we would never have imagined. My hope is that we can learn from our errors, stop making the same ones over and over again, and make additional progress toward overcoming the hold of religion and other forms of irrational belief have exerted on our minds.