Organized religion plays a major role in daily life around the globe, even in the lives of individuals who claim no religious affiliation. In our own society, laws, social relations (such as a second-class role for women), common language terms, and customs such as major holidays are significantly influenced by the practices of a particular religion. When minority religions ask for equal recognition under laws, or when non-religious citizens ask for freedom from religiously influenced laws, often those groups do not get equal consideration.
The Satanic Temple has been in the news over the last few years regarding this type of religious bias. Most recently, the issue regarding Mississippi revising their racist state flag to a discriminatory Christian flag has put TST back in the spotlight for announcing a lawsuit if this design choice moves forward. There of course is backlash to anyone challenging the religious status quo. We’ve seen this sort of backlash before. A wave of threats to destroy the Baphomet statue as an outcry against protesters damaging & removing confederate statues is the most current example. This sort of response demonstrates how deeply Christian ideologies are imbedded into public thought. The same sort of violent negative response is rarely, if ever, directed towards Christian monuments or symbols in the public sphere. Even individuals who aren’t religious do not seem to overtly decry Judeo-Christian influences in the public realm of society because it is so normalized.
I have heard many people argue that these sorts of issues are not a big deal or not that serious. It’s often asked why an objection is being made over something like the Mississippi flag or the ten commandments monument. One answer is that if these seemingly mundane indiscretions are allowed to infiltrate the public domain, it makes it much easier for religiously influenced laws to be passed that impact us all. I would also argue that these smaller violations of our freedoms are not inconsequential and that they have serious long-term effects. Public displays of a dominant religion has a psychological impact on the public. A 2013 study in The Journal of Environmental Psychology states that feelings of happiness and well-being are improved by environmental and physical surroundings, but that “the effects of physical surroundings on psychological states are not necessarily direct, however, and could also be mediated by group-related factors, self-concepts and social identities…People suffer psychologically when they are convinced that their in-group has not been accepted or has been excluded from an important social context such as a neighborhood, workplace or classroom.” In another study by Schmitt, Davies, Hung, and Wright (2010) on the psychological consequences of Christmas displays in public spaces on citizens who did not celebrate the holiday, the results indicated that the well-being of those who did not celebrate the holiday was harmed, while the well-being of those who did celebrate was enhanced. These researchers did a second study targeting specifically Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs. The second study concluded that the non-Christians had the same negative psychological results mediated by feelings of exclusion. Neither the Christian nor non-Christian participants of these studies thought they would be impacted in such psychological ways by the displays. This research team found that dominant cultural symbols in public spaces can diminish the feelings of inclusion on minority groups and lead them to suffer from negative mood and low self-esteem. In addition, the presence of a dominant cultural symbol conveys who establishes the society’s norms and that those who do not share the same culture or beliefs are omitted from consideration.
Another fun psychology fact determined in a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, was “that those with a religious or spiritual understanding of life had a higher incidence of depression than those with a secular life view. Regardless of country, the stronger the spiritual or religious belief at baseline, the higher the risk of onset of depression. They found no evidence that spirituality protected against depression…” So multiple scientific studies have determined the detrimental effects on the human psyche not only of public religious displays, but of theistic religion itself.
We must take every attempt of religious domination over the public very seriously, no matter how small it may seem. Not only is it a matter of freedom and liberty, but of our mental health.