Our own Mike Papantonio has mentioned it a number of times: the South is a lost cause. It’s time for Progressives to turn the lights out and move on. The good news is the conservative South is becoming less and less relevant from a U.S. political standpoint. Chances are, within a generation, the GOP and its Southern supporters will have passed into history.

One indicator that the political winds are shifting in a more Progressive direction is the growing number of people who are abandoning organized religion. According to a recent Pew research study, people who identify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” now make up more than 22% of the population – and their numbers are increasing. At the same time, the number of self-professed Christians who are official members of a particular denomination is falling.

The facts indicate that people who are “religiously unaffiliated” are more educated as well as more progressive in their political and social views. This is proving to be a major headache for the GOP and the aristocracy to which they answer. Since the Nixon Administration, Republicans have seized upon religiosity in order to appeal to “values” voters. The majority wears their religious beliefs on their shirtsleeves, and many of them may even have sincerely-held beliefs. The corporate aristocracy, of course, worships only Mammon and the Golden Calf – but for centuries, the power elites have used the Church as a tool of control and oppression.

Over the decades, the GOP and the aristocracy have used their version of “God” and the Bible to justify a wide range of abuses, from slavery to segregation, from the disenfranchisement of women, to attacks on science and public education. There are politicians who believe that climate change is the “Will of God,” and that questioning things such as the right to healthcare, a living wage, environmental stewardship and simply caring for the poor is an affront to the Lord and in violation of “biblical” principles. Why? To a large extent, it is because these issues are associated with “godless” liberals.

Fear-based religion, with its threats of eternal damnation and bribes of eternal rewards, has proven to be very effective in controlling groups of people. Is it any wonder that the South, where large numbers of people cling to militantly evangelical religious organizations, suffers from the highest rates of preventable disease, unplanned pregnancies, and poverty?

It’s true – and there are a number of studies and statistics demonstrating it.  For example, a Gallup poll conducted this past July showed weekly church attendance was highest in the South (and in Utah). Interestingly, church attendance was lowest in the more progressive New England and Pacific Northwest states. Likewise, the so-called “Bible Belt” of the former Confederacy has the highest number of evangelicals, who are expected to “Spread the Word” to “non-believers”. Ironically, these “Bible Belt” states have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancies – which according to Martha Kempner of RH Reality Check, is a direct result – not the cause – of poverty.

When it comes to racism and hate, a survey of Tweets conducted  at Humboldt State University shows a concentration east of the Mississippi, while similar survey at Floating Sheep following President Obama’s reelection identifies a concentration of racist Tweets  originating in the Deep South. All but one of the Top Ten racist states were members of the Old Confederacy. It is no secret that of all southern states, only Virginia has escaped GOP control. Might there be a connection, there?

The South also leads in poverty, including poverty wages. A study published in The Atlantic three years ago showed the lowest wages in the country were being earned by workers in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Kentucky. Not surprisingly, there were correspondingly high levels of poverty and food stamp usage in the Deep South.

The conservative, religious South leads the country in other forms of misery as well. Of course, poor health is one of the results of poverty, but ironically, statistics also demonstrate a connection between poverty and obesity.  One reason for this is that poor families have fewer food choices and less money to spend. As a result, these families tend to choose fattening, high-sugar foods that are less expensive and have longer shelf lives than fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats. It’s only a small part of the story, which is presented in depth at Scholars Strategy Network. Suffice it to say that poverty, largely the result of a generation of GOP policies that have been embraced by Southern voters in the name of religious “values,” has led to a whole host of other problems.

Calvinism, from which many ultra-conservative, evangelical denominations trace their roots, teaches that misery and subjugation to patriarchal, aristocratic authority are somehow the “will” of “God.” As more people are fleeing organized religion, conservatives are panicking. They’re calling upon their evangelical followers to pull out the stops in their attempts to shove their beliefs down the throats of the rest of us.

It isn’t working, anymore. There is a new, humanist “Great Awakening” taking place today. The days of religious-backed corporatism and imperialism are numbered, and the end is in sight.

The bad news is: those thrashing, dying dinosaurs can do a lot more damage between now and then. Can we afford to wait?

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.