In a world where the Catholic Church is looking more progressive than the Clinton faction of the Democratic party (and while I'd love to be proven wrong, I can see no chance for Sanders as a Democrat), I can no longer believe that religion per se is a particular problem in our society: it's lost its dominance on the worst of human ideas. Religion is now just one place among many where we stick our stupid ideas.I started following Larry back in the hey day of Stephen Laws blog during the aftermath of 9/11 when the God Delusion kicked off the American culture wars (I say American because the debate was focused on America and Europe already had a similar debate during Darwin/Huxleys 19th century). Back then atheism was mostly science vs religion or more succinctly, evolution vs creationism. Now atheism as a political movement has become encapsulated by wider sociological concerns, most notably feminism and gender identity. I think these wider movements can influence mainstream politics in areas like reproductive rights, secular schools and through generally trimming the wings of the religious right.
I've long argued that atheism is a political label, and I no longer share the political view associated with that label. I understand those who do still hold that view, and of course I do not think religion should be exempt from criticism, but I no longer believe that religion is anywhere close to the most important problem in society.
The most important problem, of course, is capitalism.
But economics is missing from the debate. Most atheist/left leaning sites I frequent are preoccupied with identity politics; there's very very little economic discussion at a time when social welfare states are collapsing across Europe. In 2013 for example the Dutch king declared the classical social welfare state as unsustainable while the UKs ruling conservative party have also floated the idea of a 'participation society’ where people are expected to establish their own safety nets rather than rely upon the state welfare system. Workers helplessly witness their rights being steadily undermined while mass immigration, fueled by the continuous wars of great powers continuing their conflicts through helpless proxy countries, provide a continuous cheep and exploitable workforce.
The current Pope is mellowing out hostility against the Catholic church by refocusing attention away from reproductive issues towards the poor and the social and environmental impacts of unchecked capitalism. There's very few concerned with those issues among the broader atheist and Left leaning groups where identity and gender politics run rampant. Is gender fluidity and preferred pronouns really more important than growing homelessness and declining health care? Many of us grow tired of watching society crumble while transvestites march in the streets fighting for the right to use whichever bathroom they choose.
Some would answer we can be concerned for trans-rights and for the poor, that I as a privileged white middle aged male am attempting to silence the voices of the oppressed. But this is not the case. Corporations are perfectly happy to embrace diversity policies because they leave intact the underlying mechanisms which cause so much economic instability and poverty. Self-proclaimed activists care more about their identity and perceived victim-hood than about the homeless. Young activists will become middle aged and find themselves more concerned about job security, pension plans, health care than whether they are AMAF. They will lose passion for their social movements and become preoccupied over supporting themselves and their families, often viewing their earlier activism as youthful excesses. This was the fate of activists from the affluent 60's who grew into middle age throughout the recession hit 70s and 80s. It has happened before and will happen again. Nothing will change unless we rediscover economics.
It's a worrying sign when the catholic church is considered more progressive than self-proclaimed progressive moments. Unfortunately I find myself agreeing with Pope Francis that less emphasis should be placed on gender and reproductive issues in favor of the poor and the environment. If the church can refocus itself, perhaps so too can the cultural warriors of the Left.