RichardCarrier is a published historian and philosopher with a Ph.D. in Greco-Roman intellectual history from Columbia University. He is the author of Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism and Not the Impossible Faith, as well as a major contributing author to The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave. A professional writer and teacher, he also translates English, German, French, Latin, and (Ancient) Greek. He has published many articles in books, journals, and magazines, and was featured in the documentary film The God Who Wasn't There. He is a veteran of the United States Coast Guard and served as Editor in Chief of the Secular Web for several years, where he has long been one of their most frequently read authors. His popular online essays can be found at: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier.
For more biographical information, go here:
I contacted Carrier and asked him about the future of Christianity and religion in general, problems with academic philosophy, the Jesus Project, secularism and human happiness, and his idea for a truly representative congress.
The Future of Christianity and Religion:
Ben Dench: What do you see happening for the "religious/philosophy" orientation in the U.S. and/or globally over the next 100 years?
Richard Carrier: I predict Evangelicals and Catholics (and Mormons and Baptists and everyone else) will not be able to arrest the current trend in younger generations toward liberal non-denominationalism and the abandonment of the entire church-sermon model that Christianity has maintained so far. The young are leaving in droves, and the reasons seem clearly beyond the ability of the church model to answer, even in principle. Michael Horton's Christless Christianity and Frank Turek's latest battle cry on crossexamined.org exemplifies the panic this is already inducing among the older generation of conservatives. It will only get worse.
Within fifty years there will be a remarkable trend toward more ambiguous spirituality. The bible and sectarian doctrine will have increasingly less importance even among professed Christians. But the majority will still be believers and embrace various amounts of the supernatural, and there will still be a sizable minority clinging to organized, even conservative religion.
Within a hundred years America will look more like Sweden in terms of religious demographics, though not entirely. America will still have a peculiarly large segment of conservative religious minorities, and of New Age style religiosity, but its majority will be effectively secular.
This all hinges on things continuing the next hundred years the way that they have so far the last hundred years. Any catastrophic changes in the course of events can change everything. Then all bets are off.
See my recent blog on this:
BD: I'm sure to many Americans it seems like fundamentalism is alive and well. Can you go into a little more detail about how we know that this surface appearance is really deceiving and that the movement is actually taking on water?
RC: Numbers. Just count them. Then look at where the counts were forty, fifty years ago, and do the math. Even in the last fifteen years the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey has tracked a decline in their numbers. You can also listen in on their own chatter. They are freaking out over how badly they are hemorrhaging youth. Those leaving, of course, are still pursuing Christianity, just a lot less conservative variations of it. And some are coming all the way over to our side.
BD: What are the reasons that the young are leaving in droves, and why is it beyond the ability of the church model to answer, even in principle?
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RC: Because society and technology have changed so greatly, people just don't join social networks of the sort the church model served. They have more diverse friends, no longer quarantined by neighborhood, or even city or region. Everyone is more mobile, and increasingly urban. They have more access to mass media, including interactive mass media (the internet most generally, but not only). They have many friends and (increasingly) family of other faiths. And they have ambitions and interests and desires the old model couldn't even comprehend much less cope with. The old method was to browbeat with sermons and social networks of acceptance/rejection and approval/disapproval. But now that it's so easy to ditch any social network to join another, that model will only cause defection to more agreeable social networks. The very methods the church-sermon model employs at its foundation, are the very methods that are destroying its future base. Kids now know when they are being played, they are a lot harder to scare or lie to, they have much easier access to "second opinions" on any claim or effort, they see others getting along fine without any particular faith dogmas, and they can locate comfortable networks for society and support that no longer depend on religious affiliation. They also see the hypocrisy and silliness and self-defeating behavior of the most conservative Christians, and can no longer be socialized into accepting or overlooking it. There's just no way to repackage Christianity that will ever gain numbers anymore, except by tilting it to the center politically, socially, and philosophically. Which by definition entails the demise of fundamentalism.
BD: Can you talk more about the effect of new technology in regards to religion?
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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...