In the March issue of the Atlantic, Walter Russell Mead suggests that evangelicals in the U.S. are becoming more moderate as they mature into the mainstream, shedding their more strident tone as their influence grows in politics and society. One example of this, of course, is the move beyond the longstanding focus on gays and abortion, toward “creation care.” This past weekend, writing in the Washington Post (registration required), E.J. Dionne Jr. proclaims the death of the culture wars, not because one side or the other has finally emerged victorious. Instead, as we head to presidential elections this fall, voters simply have too much on their minds — for example, the liberation of Iraq, the state of the economy, the place America stands in the world—and don’t have the time to be worried about “values,” like they could in the past.
It’s too early to tell if this really is the trend both authors see it to be (just between reading this blog and the Humanist, it seems a case can be made that the religious right is not mellowing out that much). But if we grant the authors their assumptions, what does it mean for the humanist movement? Of course, on a philosophical level, humanism is so much more than just a reaction to religion. But when it comes to day-to-day activism in the public square, not only are we out there pushing our worldview forward, we’re doing all we can to push back against most everything the religious right is spewing out. What would happen if evangelicals continue proselytizing on an individual level, but no longer tried to impose their views on the rest of society through legislation? Or, what if they started promoting viewpoints that our movement could support?
Something the humanist movement has never openly and honestly articulated is the ideal role we envision religion playing in society. Do humanists only seek to reduce the influence of the religious right in the public square, ensuring a secular society where religion holds no particular sway? Or do we intend to continue to push, to try and root out religious thinking in society as a whole, and create a world full of humanists? Is the latter even possible? Can religious belief be tolerated in a humanist society, and should it be? Does making common cause with religious believers on shared issues of concern mean an end to the critique of the irrationality of a belief in a god?
This is an issue that we already face as we work with religious liberals on those issues of common concern. But our agreement on various issues are arrived at by very different means, and very different routes. If we truly are facing a trend of a religious right that is more moderate, or of a religious right that is simply less relevant, the question then becomes where does that leave us, and where do we go from there?