An Unprecedented Time in Human History

Ronald A. Lindsay

Don’t look now, but we’re in the middle of a revolution in human attitudes and belief. In Europe and North America, large portions of the population are nonreligious; that is, they reject belief in God and transcendent spiritual entities of any sort. This is an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of humanity. Widespread religious skepticism was largely unknown until modern times; indeed, it’s principally a phenomenon of just the last few decades. Not that there were not doubters in the past, but, as far as we can tell, they were few and far between. (Of course, given that open atheism often meant either a social or a very real death, there were, admittedly, significant disincentives to going public with one’s doubts.)

Granted, there were some freethought organizations in the United States and some European countries in the nineteenth century, but outside of these organizations religion remained dominant. In other words, their influence on the broader culture was minimal. Others may protest that mass atheism has been around at least since the early twentieth century, given that Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) had a Communist regime as of 1917, and a number of other countries went Communist about thirty years thereafter. Without question, Communist ideology incorporated atheism as one of its tenets, but that’s precisely the problem. This was top-down atheism. Rejection of the supernatural was largely imposed by the Communist leadership and did not necessarily reflect the views of the populace. This has been corroborated by the religious revival in many formerly Communist nations and by the continuing (if not increasing) strength of religious/spiritual beliefs and practices in China.

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