The history of the religious versus nonreligious message is a long one, and certainly it’s not over. But, its twists and turns are facinating, indeed.
Few would know this today, but in the 1920’s and earlier in the U. S., atheism and agnosticism were popular and seemingly on the rise. How could this have been and what happened? Is was the medium.
Before radio, one of the popular forms of entertainment was public debate. Think of the 60 or so years before the 1920’s and the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
The first decades of the 1900’s with new levels of literacy, science and prosperity gave rise to a new intellectual curiosity. The debate format, with its in-depth discussion, was the perfect vehicle for casting doubt on mythology and the supernatural.
The radio, with its revenue from advertising, changed all that. The faster moving radio format did not accomodate debates about atheism and Christianity. The depression of the 1930’s followed by the Second World War and its marriage of faith and patriotism also helped to put atheism in a big public relations hole.
We all know television moves even faster than radio. We have seen evangelists with money, like Pat Robertson, start universities which train Christian TV journalists.
The irony is, a clone of the debate format, with its depth of inquiry, has returned. It’s called the internet. The internet favors the challenge to conventional wisdom by making information easy to reach.
If the survey data is reliable, atheism is doing better these days.