Oh, if only the press would have the balls to ask the twelve questions John Allen Paulos wants posed to our presidential candidates. A sampling:
Do you really believe, Mr. Huckabee, that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and that humans and dinosaurs cavorted together?
Do you not see an implicit religious test in your statement that "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom"? Furthermore, are not, respectively, most of Europe and some Islamic countries obvious counterexamples to your statements?
Do any of you think God speaks to you, only to Gov. Huckabee, or to none of you? And, if I may, does God have a tax policy, a health care policy, a policy on Iraq, Iran, gay marriage, Guantanamo or the Riemann Hypothesis?
How literally do you take the Bible or other holy book? Do you subscribe to any argument(s) for God's existence other than the one that God exists simply because He says He does in a much extolled tome that He allegedly inspired?
Looking into the future, it seems obvious that these strangely religious 21st century days will, before too long, appear as superstitious hangovers from humanity's pre-scientific lineage.
As Paulson points out, it's freaking weird that the United States elects people to high office who hold such bizarre unproven and unprovable beliefs.
Good god. There's a chance this country might be led by a Mormon president who believes that special underwear confers religious benefits.
At the end of the PBS series, "A Brief History of Disbelief," philosopher Colin McGinn is interviewed. He foresees a time when questions of religious belief and disbelief simply are irrelevant to people, much as debates about the nature of phlogiston have vanished.
I'd like to distinguish atheism from anti-theism. Anti-theism is opposition to theism. I'm an anti-theist because I believe that religion is harmful. I'm not just an atheist who my only values are, that I don't agree with it. I'm actively opposed to it.
I'd distinguish that from I'd call post-theism or post-atheism. Which is the healthy state of mind where you've put all that behind you. Now we can't do that yet because there's lots of religion in the world and lots of bad results of it.
To me the ideal society would be one in which the question of religion didn't really arise for people. Or if it did, it wasn't a heavy question for them.
They would say to each other, "You know, those humans used to believe back there in 2003, some of them believed there was this god who did this, others didn't, and there were TV programs about why they didn't. What a funny debate that was, you know."
So it'd be a post-theist society where it just wasn't an issue.
May it come sooner rather than later. Like, tomorrow.