I just finished reading a disturbing chapter in Kurt Andersen's book, "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire."
Disturbing, because in America Versus the Godless Civilized World: Why Are We So Exceptional?, Andersen presents facts about our zealous religiosity that sent chills up my atheist spine.
These facts weren't totally new to me. But they were conveyed in a way that made it clearer than ever how religiously wacko the United States is -- not only compared to other advanced countries, but even countries with a reputation for religious mania.
Here's some quotes from the chapter:
According to a Gallup Poll in 1968, only 5 percent to 14 percent of Scandinavians said they attended church every week, as opposed to 43 percent of Americans at the time. And religious commitment in most of Europe has plummeted ever since. In the U.K. in 1985, for instance, a third of people said they had no religion at all; by 2012 it was up to half.
Unlike the Earth's other moderns, we have rushed headlong back toward magic and miracles, crazifying some legacy churches, filling up the already crazy ones, inventing all kinds of crazy new ones.
The loosest measure of religiosity doesn't require any particular belief in the impossible: Does religion play a very important role in your life? is a survey question Pew asks in dozens of countries.
At the top of the rankings are African and Muslim and Latin American countries, as well as India and the Philippines -- places where between 61 percent and 97 percent of the people say religion is very important in their lives.
In the developed world, the percentages range from 11 percent in France to 33 percent in Britain -- except, of course, for the United States, where it's 59 percent, right between Turkey and Lebanon.
The results are the same again and again, no matter how or where the questions are posed.
A majority of Americans tell Pew they pray every day; in the rest of the developed world, those fractions are one-tenth or one-fifth. Elsewhere in the developed world around half the people never pray; only one in nine Americans admit they never pray.
Among the citizens of twenty-three countries surveyed in 2011 by the international research firm Ipsos, people in only three -- Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey -- believe in heaven and hell more than Americans do. Our faith in an afterlife is greater, for instance, than that of Mexicans, Brazilians, and Saudi Arabians.
While a majority of Americans think the devil is in some sense real, in nearly all other predominantly Christian countries, even the Philippines, devil believers are small minorities.
Is the Bible "the actual word of God... to be taken literally, word for word?" Although more than a quarter of Americans think so, in the rest of the rich world, the actual-word-of-God populations range from 4 percent to 10 percent.
Did God create humans in finished form at the start? Among people in thirty-four more-developed countries asked whether they accept evolution, the United States is second from the bottom, ahead only of Turkey. On a different list of two dozen countries ranked by belief in evolution, Americans' disbelief is exceeded only by that of people in South Africa, Brazil, and three Muslim countries.
Although the United States is by far the largest importer of things, we have become the world's great net exporter of fantasy. For the last century, we have created, defined, and dominated the ever-exapanding, increasingly global culture industry -- from advertising to movies to recorded music to television and digital games.
Alongside the shiny pop-cultural fantasies, we're also phenomenally successful exporters of exciting fantasy religion. The market is the Third World, and we are saturating it.
A century ago, right after Americans invented Pentecostalism, no more than one-tenth of one percent of earthlings were Pentecostals and charismatics. Today it's 10 percent, one hundred times as many, more than half a billion Christians -- including a large majority of the world's Protestants -- who believe they're routinely speaking in a mystical holy language, curing illness by laying on of hands, hearing personally from God.
...Why are we so peculiar? Why did Americans keep inventing religions and maintain so many beliefs that people in other affluent countries never took up or else abandoned?
...Most of the scholars examining this question, because they're scholars, and thus are expected to stay in their lanes and suppress tendentious speculations and hunches, exclude the X-factor, our peculiar and multifaceted American credulity that is the subject of this book.
Tocqueville's archetypal American in the 1830s stopped his frenzied making and selling to think impractical thoughts only when "his religion... bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven."
Over the next two centuries, as we ran out of New World forests and frontiers to clear and settle, as life kept getting easier (and for many of the least fortunate over the last couple of decades, gloomier), we've extended those occasional glances toward Heaven into a fixed and frenzied stare.
Like I said, this is disturbing.
Americans' credulity regarding God and all things supernatural predisposes them to also believe in other falsehoods: for example, that human-caused climate change isn't happening; that tax cuts somehow produce more revenue for the government; that homosexuality is a choice; that an embryo is a full-blown person with concomitant rights.
Religion is bad enough as it is. Adding to the badness are the side effects of religiosity caused by a propensity to elevate unfounded personal belief above demonstrable fact- and reason-based truths.
Sadly, many Americans consider our over-the-top love of religion to be something to be proud of, a faith-filled badge of honor. Actually it is an embarrassment.