Statement for the panel discussion "What is the difference between secular members of diverse associations and states?"

Barbara Stocker

While I support people working together as the best way to further almost any cause including furthering a secular world, I realize that there will be problems to be overcome. The United States and the countries of Europe have many differences in their approach to religion with the countries or Europe having more in common with each other than with the US. The US seems to be far more religious than Europe. It may seem strange at first glance but a look at history may provide a plausible explanation for the difference.

Europe was at one time highly Christian. With the rulers supporting Christianity - indeed even mandating the Christian religion. This led to many abuses by the church including the Inquisition with its persecution of "infidels" that is anyone who was not pious enough or a thorn in the side of the establishment if they could trump up charges. There was horrendous persecution of witches with many women losing their lives. As Europe became enlightened the past left a deep distrust of the clergy that has lingered to some extent to the present time.

In the meantime the US established freedom of religion with the government keeping "hands off." While this would seem to favor a secular culture, it has in fact worked to establish a more religious community. We have in fact a "free market" of religions; something for everyone. Preachers must present a popular message that people want to hear. New religions spring up, for example, Mormonism, Christian Science and Scientology. Each has attracted millions of followers while the old ones are in decline. In addition churches are tax-free which allows some churches to become fabulously wealthy and also makes them attractive to the unscrupulous.

We also have special interests that are interested in promoting religion. We have the "Institute of Creation Science" which tries to prevent the teaching of evolution and a vast propaganda machine promoted by the Catholic Church against abortion. Unfortunately they are quite successful.

Finally we have a link between religion and politics where right-wing politicians use "the morality issue" to get church-goers aboard their conservative agendas.

So we have somewhat different problems in the US, perhaps we can learn from the success you have found in advancing freethought here in Europe.