We’re living through a change that has no precedent in the history of humanity.
Since misty antiquity, religion has been the sea in which we swam. It was the backbone of nations, the justification of kings and emperors, the motivation of colonizers and missionaries, the unquestioned source of morality and truth.
But now, like the tide going out, it’s in retreat. All over the world, religion is losing numbers and influence. Membership rolls are shrinking, congregations are graying, and churches are shutting their doors.
In many Western nations, religion is functionally extinct. Even in the United States, there are tens of millions of nonreligious people. In fact, there are now more of us than there are members of any single church. Some of us are atheists, some of us have spiritual beliefs but don’t identify with any particular faith, and some of us just find the whole subject boring or irrelevant to our lives. There are many umbrella terms for this group, but a common one is the “nones,” as in “none of the above.”
Surveys say there are between 80 and 90 million “nones” in the U.S., and between a third and a half of that group identifies as explicitly secular. We’re younger and more politically liberal than the general population. We tend to be more educated, more supportive of racial and gender equality, and more opposed to war, torture, the death penalty, corporal punishment, and state-sanctioned violence of all kinds.
And where nones live and vote, religion’s once absolute grip on the reins of society is slipping. Marriage equality, and gay and lesbian rights in general, is an illustration of this. In just a few years, it went from an inflammatory wedge issue, which the religious right exploited to scare up votes, to a settled truth that even religious conservatives are scarcely trying to resist anymore.
However, religion still has an advantage: it has a bigger megaphone.
There are tax-exempt churches, religious radio stations, TV channels, publishing houses, private schools, private colleges, evangelistic ministries. It’s an entire ecosystem of religious media, devoted to blasting out their message 24-7. Believers can spend their lives enveloped in a bubble of ideologically friendly opinions and never have to encounter anything that disturbs their preconceptions.
Religion’s outsized influence wouldn’t matter if preachers and churches only used their pulpit to espouse virtues like charity, humility and tolerance. But instead, it’s too often been a force for evil in the world. Throughout history, religion has spread poisonous ideas: sanctifying atrocities; undermining democracy and demanding their particular beliefs be written into law; encouraging blind faith and fomenting mistrust of science; perpetuating racism, sexism, xenophobia and other kinds of bigotry; and defending unjust hierarchies of wealth and power as God’s will.
Secular people have nothing comparable to religion’s reach. We don’t have our own media outlets, our own stadium-sized megachurches, or our own billionaire-funded think tanks. Because we prize our independence and tend not to be joiners, we’re not highly organized, and there’s no one who can speak on behalf of us all. This makes us seem less numerous than we are and makes it easy for politicians and the media to ignore us.
Nonbelievers aren’t entirely voiceless. We have venerable organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the American Humanist Association or American Atheists, as well as charities like Foundation Beyond Belief. These groups do good work on behalf of the nonreligious, defending our rights and speaking up for us. But too often they fly below the radar. There are also public figures like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but they have their own problematic views, and it’s arguable whether they represent anyone but themselves.
OnlySky, the first (as far as I know!) explicitly secular multimedia platform, aims to be a bridge to span this gap. We want to tell the story of the coming secular era. We want to give faces and voices to the nonreligious generations who will inherit the earth. We want to make it clear who we are, what we stand for, and what we have to offer. We want to put our message out, like a refreshing cool breeze in a crowded and noisy marketplace, and to push back against the arrogance of religious apologists who insist that only their views are real or worth discussing. We want to make the case that our ethics and our morals are good ones, and moreover, they’re just the morals our culture needs.