19 July 2022

Immoral times

A claim I often see from some of the more out-there religious wingnuts is that since abandoning Christianity as its cultural center, "kicking God out of the schools", etc, the US has been sinking ever deeper into immorality, and that indeed today our society is less moral than it has ever been.  What they're referring to, of course, is the prevalence of taboo violations such as abortion and same-sex marriage; occasionally they also mention a perceived high level of violent crime, exemplified by mass shootings and urban rioting.

This suggests a very warped concept of morality, or perhaps a deep historical blindness, or both.

By far the worst immoralities in American history were slavery and the Indian genocide.  Nothing that is happening in the country today even remotely compares to these evils.  To suggest that letting two men get married represents a deeper level of depravity than the generations of forced labor, mass rape, family separation, and all the other atrocities of slavery is not just wrong -- it's ludicrous, utterly insane.  It is also silly, by the way, to claim that historians will judge Trump to be the worst president in US history.  Bad as he was, nothing he did stands on the same plane of evil as Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830, which launched the ethnic cleansing of the Indian peoples of the southeast, under conditions which made huge numbers of deaths in transit inevitable -- strikingly similar to the Ottomans' Armenian genocide of almost a century later.  Nothing in America's present matches the horrors of its past.

More recent periods have manifested intermediate evils.  The age of segregation and lynchings and Jim Crow, and the conscription which forced hundreds of thousands of men to go fight a war in Vietnam even after the government knew it was unwinnable, leading to the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands (and of far more Vietnamese), were less evil than slavery, but still far more evil than anything happening here today.

As for the mass shootings and riots, the US through its history has followed the same pattern as other developed countries, with crime rates generally falling over time, except for parts of the twentieth century (surges in crime during the 1900s-1930s and the 1960s-1990s, declining otherwise).  Even with the recent spike in violent crime due to the stresses of the pandemic, lockdowns, and economic upheaval, today's overall murder rate, despite mass shootings, is lower than most earlier periods of US history.  Urban riots, too, were worse in the 1960s than today.  Mass shootings and riots are a serious problem and we as a country need to take action to suppress them, but it is simply false to claim that they represent a historically-unusual high level of violence.  The truth is the opposite.

It is certainly true that the US was more religious in earlier times.  The slave-owners and Indian-killers were out-and-proud Christians, who often used the Bible to justify their actions -- and with good reason.  The Bible accepts slavery as normative, and is full of stories of God himself ordering acts of what we today would call genocide or ethnic cleansing.  The Trail of Tears and the slave economy of the old South are exactly what you would expect to see in any society which took the Bible as the basis of its morality.

One can see the same pattern by comparing contemporary societies.  The most religious parts of the US, such as the deep South, have much higher rates of violent crime and other social pathologies than the least-religious parts, such as New England and the Pacific Northwest.  The most secular part of the old Christian world, western Europe, has far less violence and inequality than the US, while the most religious part, Latin America, has far more.

Modern America has problems, but our turning away from religion is not part of the disease.  It's part of the cure.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

The puritanical, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou moment we are living is kind of an attempt to go 'back' by the religulous. A power grab if there's ever been one. The killing of Native Americans, the justification of enslaving other human beings, all justified in the name of greed and 'god'. Same way they are justifying taking personal liberties away from people in order to make everybody conform to their view of the world. That's what they want to go back to. Terrifying but not surprising.


19 July, 2022 01:18  
Anonymous NickM said...

You are right. I'd like to point out one thing, though... In the Bible humanity starts in a state of grace (or whatever) - looks like a couple pottering around a garden to me - and then comes The Fall and things get worse. If you believe that meta-narrative or have it sort of baked into you (you don't actually have to actively believe something for it to shape how you view the world) then the idea of regression is natural.

Also, I suspect a lot of US fundies know the idea of getting everyone back to church is a bust flush and I suspect they like it because it gives them a scapegoat (another Biblical idea) for the fact they can never build a perfect, Godly society.

19 July, 2022 03:31  
Blogger Mary said...

One of your best posts! The bigger view, but getting rid of religion is imperative, if we are to survive in the long run…a near impossible task, I might add.

19 July, 2022 06:39  
Anonymous NickM said...

I dunno Mary... The UK is like kinda *whatever* about religion. If it happened here it can happen anywhere. Also... levels of religious observance - i.e. actually doing anything about it like going to church are on the wane pretty much across the developed world. In the UK we actually have missionaries from Africa to save our poor pale-assed soles. David Livingstone must be rolling in his grave. But even in Africa as it gets richer (and large chunks are) and better educated and all that goes with genuine real material development the massively growing middle-classes are just dropping religion. The thing is all of this takes time.

A key point of inflection here in the UK was gay marriage. This passed into law without much hassle. There were a few ranters about this being "End of Days" and cats living with dogs and all those "signs" but what actually happened was the likes of caterers, florists and related trades got a new market to sell to and obviously for gay and lesbian couples this was a big positive but it really didn't directly affect anyone else and it was meant to, badly, according to the pulpit-ranters. That is the message. Nothing happened. No plagues or fire from the skies. You prognosticate doom long enough and it doesn't happen then people will stop taking you seriously.

19 July, 2022 09:22  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I wouldn't be a Christian if you paid me..I love being a pagan..no book to live my life by(pick and choose what you want)and no heaven or hell.
the Goddess expects me to do the right thing..if not? my problem not hers..

19 July, 2022 10:45  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

oh...and don't be an asshole.

19 July, 2022 10:45  
Blogger Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Religion certainly needs to go but so does the more persistent problem of religious thinking. A quick look at trans-ideology, antivaxxers, etc. demonstrates that the old religion playbook of revealed truth, articles of faith, and punishment for apostasy plays out over a larger area than any gods can reliably cover.

19 July, 2022 12:25  
Blogger Mike said...

I'd like to see someone take on the project of removing Christmas as a national holiday. A real "war" on Christmas.

19 July, 2022 12:58  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: Ironically, while they complain about "immorality", the more power they get the more we will slide back into the real crimes of the past.

Mary: Thanks! Historically, "getting rid of" religion seems to require a totalitarian ideology, such as another religion (Christianity eradicated Roman paganism, Islam eradicated Christianity from much of the Mediterranean, etc), but as NickM points out, it can disappear just by withering away and being exposed for what it is. For example, until the 1990s, Ireland was even more religious than the US, but now it's pretty much as secular as the rest of western Europe. So there is hope. Irish Christianity was discredited by the child-abuse scandals, but US Christianity is being somewhat discredited by its ever-tightening association with far-right politics.

NickM: I think the narrative of the Fall is quite important. It does predispose Christianized cultures to think in terms of a decline from an earlier ideal state, and thus blind themselves to the reality of progress. As the saying goes, "we are not fallen angels, we are risen apes". But it's hard for people to fully assimilate that until they de-Christianize their thinking.

Ultimately modernization and the decline of religion go hand in hand, in Africa, the Middle East, and everywhere else. A scientifically-advanced modern society just isn't compatible with stoning people to death for apostasy -- or forcing women to have their rapists' babies.

Granny: The replacement of paganism by Christianity was a huge step backward, that's for sure. The Romans were no liberals, but they were at least pluralistic and had numerous religions and cultures coexisting. Abrahamic religions can't tolerate any deviation, even slightly different sects within themselves.

Pliny: That's certainly true. Once religious thinking gets entrenched, it starts spreading into other areas of life, such as those you mention. I would also consider communism a kind of religion.

Mike: I can't see it being officially dis-established in the foreseeable future, but whatever religious significance Christians once attributed to Christmas has already been pretty much destroyed. It's all about consumption and pressure -- pressure to buy things, pressure to go through the same old tired rituals year after year, pressure to go through various interactions with relatives you'd really rather not be with, etc.

19 July, 2022 13:37  
Blogger Pliny-the-in-Between said...

Several years ago we started substituting 'Tempus Dare' in place of Xmas as a joke (our version of Festivas). Time of giving fit better for us. And while we still have a tree, it can only be decorated with given ornaments that remind us of friends, family, and those remembered. Gifts are mostly the gift of time or shared experiences instead of things. We like it better.

19 July, 2022 14:19  
Blogger Ami said...

Regarding the whole 'we are in this predicament 'cause GOD'... I heard many, many times while growing up in churches that *I* was to blame. Not me personally, of course, but generic me. Not giving god enough attention. To much 'in the world'.

"But!" I was told, "If we turn from our sinful ways and let him back in, then he will fix everything!"

And the prayers would be for forgiveness and for everyone to see how bad we all were and turn away from our badness. "Dear Father in heaven, we repent of all we have done to displease you! I will (fast, pray, give more in my tithe) if only you will help us!

In retrospect, it really is just like a family. Doing all you can to please Daddy so he won't be mad anymore.

Dysfunctional even on Sundays and with an even larger family, I guess.

19 July, 2022 21:37  
Anonymous NickM said...

I am not sure which comes first. I suspect progress comes before dumping religion. People see progress via technology being more tangible than progress via genuflecting to the invisible. Why the Hell would anyone in their right mmind go with a bunch of bronze-age prophets wandering around Sinai for forty years when George Stephenson is built a train to go from Liverpool to Manchester in an hour?

Now this is somewhat OT but...


20 July, 2022 02:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just be careful. I have seen the media fall in love with (Deng, Mugabe, Putin, MBS) as "modernizing" influences. Wrong every time, of course. But that's their religion: The belief that mass murderers have some greater social function.

20 July, 2022 07:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should mention things don't end so quickly. You could buy an Indian child in the 50s. Slavery continued on in the form of sharecropping, chain gangs and even modern prison labor and human trafficking. The US government was doing syphilis experiments and involuntary sterilizations in the 70s.

It gets better, but it does so kicking and screaming.

For violent crime, however, things have been getting better since near the end of the first Bush administration.

20 July, 2022 07:36  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

Thank you for this excellent essay! I admire your extensive knowledge and the way you see the bigger picture.

20 July, 2022 09:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Pliny: That sounds like an excellent idea, especially the given ornaments. Make the holiday meaningful to the individual, not just part of a homogenized mass ritual.

Ami: It always works like that. You're unworthy, you're not good enough, you're falling short of God's (impossible) standards. The goal is to have you groveling, desperate for approval, and thus obedient. And yes, that's pretty much how an abusive parent or boyfriend operates.

NickM: They go together, but empowered religion stymies progress. The modern scientific era began more than four hundred years ago, but progress was painfully slow until the religious authorities were stopped from threatening and murdering people for proposing "heretical" ideas. And when religion or religion-like ideology gains power, it kills progress pretty quickly -- see the twelfth-century Middle East, Lysenkoism in the USSR, etc, and consider what would happen to biological science in the US if creationism really became entrenched in the school system.

Anon: Totalitarianism doesn't modernize. It may sometimes introduce technology already created by free societies elsewhere, but it stymies modernization of culture and governance.

I mentioned that real atrocities, much worse than anything today, continued well into the twentieth century, even though they weren't as evil as slavery or genocide.

Ricko: Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate it. More to come.....

20 July, 2022 22:49  
Anonymous NickM said...

Relentless Church Pastor John Gray praised God, his wife, Aventer, his congregation and others who prayed for his recovery after being released from a Georgia hospital Tuesday, where he was treated for a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.


"Because of prayer and an amazing medical team, I am on course for a COMPLETE recovery!" Gray said. "To my @relentlessgreenville, @relentlessatlanta family, and Relentless Online, so many pastors, leaders, and praying people around the world who bombarded heaven-I say thank you! It was GOD ALONE that turned the tide of this battle. I can't respond to every text I've received and I still need a ton of rest, a lot of benchmarks to hit, outpatient follow up visits, monitoring, and blah blah-but know I'm grateful for every expression, I am getting stronger."

From here:


BTW the block caps are from the original. Yes, he mentions in passing the medics but it was GOD ALONE who saved him. Infidel, you've correctly mentioned the effect that Biblical belief could have on the teaching of biology wrt evolution but this is for my money worse. It is an almost total repudiation of modern evidence-based scientific medicine.

21 July, 2022 07:18  
Blogger Mary said...

I don’t know. I just can’t see this religious nuttery going away anytime soon, especially in the US. We will be like the MiddleEast. Even if things could change in future generations as religion wanes, will climate change make it a moot point?

21 July, 2022 09:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Yeah, that's pretty typical. Since God (being non-existent) never actually does anything, they need to give him credit for things that happen due to human effort or random chance.

Mary: But religion is waning now, and very rapidly. Political power is all they have, and that won't last past the point where the growing secular majority recognizes the threat and mobilizes against it. As I've pointed out elsewhere, there's evidence that the new wave of forced-birth laws after the fall of Roe is already doing that.

We're not becoming like the Middle East. The Middle East is becoming like us.

Just 25 years ago, same-sex marriage or the aggressive New Atheism of today would have seemed unthinkable. What I'm trying to do is anticipate aspects of the future that aren't obvious to most people now.

Climate change is a whole other issue, but that's off-topic for this post.

21 July, 2022 10:37  
Blogger Bruce.desertrat said...

The decline of religion is clearly evident here in the US, but it's maksed by the poiitical power of the NeoConfederate Right. Always remember that the animating principle of the Religious Right was segregation, not abortion.


In reality a majority of Americans do not belong to churches https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx

23 July, 2022 09:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'm aware that segregation was a bigger animating issue for them back in the 1960s, but they are clearly much more energized by abortion (and sexuality in general) today. Even the Christian Right evolves over time, however much they may claim their fundamentals are eternal.

23 July, 2022 11:44  
Blogger Mary said...

Explain please…why does the Christian Right want no abortions, which will only cause an increase in black and minority babies and poor whites? These are the very people they don't like and want less of in their fear of dwindling white power. And the poor whites, they couldn’t care less about, especially true of the wealthier far right Christians. And they certainly don’t want to give up their tax breaks to feed and care for these potential orphans and abused children. I don’t get it.

23 July, 2022 15:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

You're talking about different groups, to a great extent. The ones who focus on things like race and tax breaks are part of what I meant by "traditional Republican" in the first paragraph. The genuinely religion-focused types, who are now in the driver's seat on the right wing, really are genuinely religion-focused. The biggest single problem the left has in understanding what's really going on is the conviction that everything on some level is "really" about race or economics, and that religious motivations are just a smoke-screen for racial or economic ones. That's probably true of the older generation of right-wing politicians, but for the Christian Right masses of voters and the newer breed of politicians they are bringing to power, the religious motivations really are their motivations. They want to fight against homosexuality, abortion, and other violations of the taboo system. That's it. That's the goal. Any racial or economic consequences genuinely hardly seem relevant to them.

The process of Christianists taking over the Republican party from the bottom up has been open and visible over the last few years. Again and again establishment-backed candidates get defeated in primaries by outright religious whackjobs, or by people like Trump who know how to appeal to them. I read a lot of right-wing sites and it's amazing how open the hostility is among the Christianist grassroots against the old-line Republican politicians that the left thinks are still calling the shots on the right.

23 July, 2022 17:34  
Blogger Mary said...

I agree and don’t think the traditional republicans are calling the shots at all, but the Christian wacko right are, so just how is that curbed over time and by what means. Once religion has gone over the top fundamentalist and appeals to large groups, how is that ever turned around except through long time frames and much killing of freedoms and actual killing in some instances. We have all seen the past when religion has ruled in many countries.

23 July, 2022 18:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It's impossible to deal with ideological fanatics via debate. They need to be defeated. Luckily, that can now be done at the ballot box rather than on the battlefield.

Secular Republicans need to make a real effort to get control of their party back, since without it the Christianists would be almost impotent. But that's a job for them, not for us.

23 July, 2022 22:02  

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