The first decade of the third millennium since the time of Jesus has passed. What happened for religion and atheism in this past decade?
The most defining moment was, of course, 9/11. Radical Muslims flew planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York, killing nearly 3,000 people. Religious terrorism escalated around the world. Muslims alone have carried out nearly 15,000 deadly terror attacks since that date in 2001.
Christianity provided the next major religious horror. Throughout the decade, thousands of cases of Catholic priests sexually abusing children came to be known. The Catholic Church had known about many of these abuses and covered them up instead of reporting them to authorities. The long-running abuse of children at Catholic “Magdalene Asylums” throughout the last century also caught the public’s attention due to the 2000-page Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report and fictionalized accounts like The Magdalene Sisters.
In response, the (mostly peaceful) secular resistance to religion also escalated. Several pro-atheist, anti-religious books hit the bestseller lists in America for the first time. In Western countries, including the United States, a greater percentage of the population claimed no religion at the decade’s end than at its beginning. And for some reason, Switzerland banned (Muslim) minarets.
The contrast between the violent means of Islam and the peaceful means of secularism were best summed up by the Muhammed cartoons controversy. A Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons mocking Muhammed. In response, Muslims around the world destroyed several buildings and killed over 100 people. Some Muslim leaders called for peaceful protest, while others issued death threats.
The issue of homosexuality divided the faithful. The Anglican church split in half over whether or not to allow gay ministers. In America, the debate over gay marriage reached a fever point, with some states allowing it and others outlawing it.
This was also the decade in which Christian scholars noticed that Christianity had migrated south, away from wealthy and well-educated northern countries to the impoverished South: Africa and Latin America, where superstition and witch-burning may return Christianity to the Dark Ages.
It was also a decade of battle between evolution and intelligent design, which seemed to climax in a rousing defeat for intelligent design with the 2005 Dover decision. But intelligent design marches on, for example with Stephen Meyer’s popular book Signature in the Cell.
What do I think? I leave the decade very scared of Islam and what it will do to Europe. After all, the Muslim extremists are the ones following the demands of the Koran and the example of Muhammed. It’s not Islamophobia if they really are out to kill you.
I leave the decade hopeful about Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. They each seem likely to very gradually fade into irrelevance over the next few centuries.
Finally, I leave the decade hopeful for the future of nonbelief. Unfortunately, I don’t yet see a likely rise in critical thinking. That cultural revolution is even further off than global secularism, I’m afraid.