Municipal Mendacity

James A. Haught

Every city skyline is graced by stately steeples, spires, bell towers, domes, minarets, and other outlines of cathedrals, temples, mosques, synagogues, and sacred edifices of many sorts. The array seems majestic—until you realize that it represents an extravaganza of lies.

The holy architecture proclaims a supernatural realm of gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prophecies, angels, demons, saviors, blessed virgins, and other magical entities that actually don’t exist. Intelligent, educated, modern people know that the whole rigmarole is imaginary, purely fictitious. Yet the panorama dominates each cityscape as a graphic testimonial that humanity lives with myths.

Suppose an extraterrestrial landed and inquired about the religious facades. Could you explain that they represent a past era when humans believed supernatural claims even though many no longer do? The ET might notice that people still attend the worship places. Could you explain the attendees as leftover stragglers from the age of blind faith, people who haven’t yet adopted scientific thinking?

To be truthful, the stragglers aren’t insignificant. They’re a huge, though shrinking, group. More than half of American adults still call themselves Christians. The nation has around 400,000 houses of worship of all types. American believers donated $127 billion to religion in 2016. The internet has thousands of websites—maybe millions, counting individual church sites—espousing faith.

Amid all this religiosity, a few voices say: “Wait—don’t take it seriously. It’s just a chimera, a fantasy rising from the human imagination. It has no actual reality. It’s a game played by the culture, like Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Halloween witches, the Easter Bunny, and the like.”

Fortunately, millions of young Americans no longer take it seriously. Since the 1990s, an astounding number of educated people have turned their backs on supernaturalism, declaring their religion to be “none.” The Nones climbed rapidly to around one-fourth of U.S. adults—40 percent of those under thirty. American churches lost 20 percent of their members in two decades.

America is following the movement toward secularization that has swept Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the rest of Western democracy since World War II. If the snowballing trend continues, religion will shrink to an inconsequential fringe in the West (but not in Muslim lands).

Although Europe lost most of its religion, mighty cathedrals still grace European cities. They’ve become mostly tourist attractions, not citadels of faith. I hope that’s the future for spire-laced American cities as well.

James A. Haught

James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and is a senior editor of Free Inquiry.


Every city skyline is graced by stately steeples, spires, bell towers, domes, minarets, and other outlines of cathedrals, temples, mosques, synagogues, and sacred edifices of many sorts. The array seems majestic—until you realize that it represents an extravaganza of lies. The holy architecture proclaims a supernatural realm of gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prophecies, angels, …

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