Religious Skepticism in American History
Holy Smoke: How Jesus Conquered America was more than a decade in the making. It is the soon-to-be book I wrote in response to a revelation of sorts.
In my mid-50s I became increasingly aware that my public-school education in the United States had left out a lot of essential information. Nowhere did it address how we became such a God-enthralled people. At no time did my teachers and textbooks mention that, despite Americans’ fervent religiosity today, vigorous religious skepticism has been a constant throughout Western civilization. My courses did not teach that gnawing atheism had long existed or about Christianity’s ruthless, centuries-long campaign to crush all religious doubt.
This educational deficit initially left me with the default impression that Christianity dominates our culture in the twenty-first century because its doctrines are true. Now I realize that its dominance resulted because “the Church” ultimately beat and coerced its opponents into submission.
Thus, after a 40-year career as an editor and journalist, I became laser-focused on learning why most modern Americans are still besotted with unsubstantiated invisible beings. And why we are still making our most important decisions based on these curious, airy beliefs.
I researched every substantive book and read every article and paper I could on the impact of Christianity on Western culture. This effort included understanding the historical breadth of unbelief (Europe’s unique history, for example, has left it far more secular today than America) and the ever-contentious conflict of belief and atheism in the Western world. Ultimately I concluded that our genes, our history and our political experiences over millennia led directly to most of us today being fervently devout.
Of course, the staggering popularity of Christianity still proves nothing about the veracity of its dogma.
I lived 27 years in Saudi Arabia during three different periods of my life—spanning childhood to retirement—and traveled widely. I learned that religious devotion is a nearly universal and wildly diversified human phenomenon, although not one iota of evidence exists confirming any supernatural reality anywhere. It’s just what we believe. Regardless. History also shows us how religion bestowed much good but along with it enormous suffering in the world.
Perhaps the Greeks were right to question the reality of divinity.
This website and blog, and Holy Smoke: How Jesus Conquered America are intended to continue the conversation the Greek sages began.