UConn Freethinkers sponsor lecture on politics and religion
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 01:09
David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association, lawyer and author of “Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans,” lectured on the secular movement and the rise in the religious right yesterday.
The lecture was sponsored by the UConn Freethinkers, a student group that aims at open discourse for skeptics, humanists, agnostics, atheists, and like-minded individuals. The goal of the event was to discuss the influence religion has in American politics and secularisms role in the United States.
Niose began his lecture by asking, “Do you realize how dysfunctional America has become?”
Niose would point to the religious right, which started under Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1970s and 1980s, as having a large impact on political discussion in American politics. He also argued that this has led to a climate of anti-intellectualism and the pushing out of secular groups in American public policy debates.
“We should be critical of our situation; there is something a little bit juvenile about constantly having to reaffirm our own American exceptionalism… If a child in high school acted this way we would probably tell them to have some humility… One reason for this dysfunction is the religious right that began in the late 1970s and 1980s under such evangelicals as Jerry Falwell and since then fundamentalism has increased in American political discussion. A general climate of anti-intellectualism has followed the religious right wherever they have gone and there is no major public policy area that has not been tainted by the religious right.”
He would then discuss how American political discourse has been radically altered within the last thirty years by the religious right. Niose argued that America itself is not inherently religious and that politics has become the last realm of American debate where religion has been a major influence.
“Young earth creationism was something out of debate even 100 years ago. Political debate was less religious back then. When Woodrow Wilson was running for President he said ‘Of course I believe in evolution, at this late date, who wouldn’t.’ The fact is that we have regressed historically not progressed…There is an assumption today that America is a very religious country. That is an absolutely false assumption. Politics is the only realm where we exalt this attitude of religion, however, look at pop-culture or the most successful comedians like Bill Maher or George Carlin and even going back to Thomas Jefferson, America is not an inherently religious country.”
Niose would end his lecture by explaining how the internet and student groups have contributed to a secular movement. He pointed to the changing attitudes in American culture regarding atheism and skepticism and how younger generations are more openly embracing new ideas that encourage different viewpoints and open thinking.
“The older generations have this concept that even if you are atheist you don’t say it…There is something happening in your generation…back in my day being secular was not primary but nowadays your generation realizes that secular identity is more natural…Also, with the internet there is a real sense of connectivity . Secularism has moved from local clubs to an actual organized movement that is gaining traction. Secular discussion in Washington is beginning to gain traction. ”
Niose explained that the main message students should take away from the secular movement is their freedom of expression in religious skepticism or atheism and that political discourse can be non-religious.
“The secular movement’s message should be that ‘I’m an atheist and I’m an American too.’ When American’s stop seeing the word ‘atheist’ as a toxic connotation that is progress alone.”
Christian Ayala, president of UConn Freethinkers, said, “ The lecture was very captivating, the point about secular Americans coming out of the closet was key in being able to better understand the secular movement…The UConn Freethinkers are a safe space for agnostics, skeptics, atheists, and even religious members who want to engage in rational and intellectual discourse.”
Mauricio Gordillo, Vice President and Treasurer of UConn Freethinkers, said, “It was a good lecture in the fact that it represented a demographic that is underrepresented compared to other groups. The UConn Freethinkers serve multiple purposes to represent the secular demographic by trying to build a community and support group.”