FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

The religion of an increasingly godless America

By Amanda Marcotte
The views expressed are her own.

Listening to the national discourse, one could be forgiven for imagining that America is becoming an ever more religious place. The amount of God talk in the public square has dramatically increased in a generation. Prior to the 70s, the concept of “the religious right” had barely existed, but now it’s a powerful lobbying force with multiple groups from Focus on the Family to Concerned Women for America, all sitting on more money than most liberal special interest groups could ever hope to accumulate. Republicans, especially, claw over each other to demonstrate fealty to a very narrow, fundamentalist view of Christianity that forbids gay rights, reproductive rights, and requires you to believe that evolution never happened. A generation ago, most people outside of evangelical Christian circles had never heard of things like “megachurches” or “the Rapture”, but now even people living in the most secularist urban enclaves are familiar with these concepts, if still less than approving. Americans seem not just more religious, but more drawn to reactionary religion than ever before.

That is, until you start to dig into the actual facts. If you poll actual Americans, you’ll find that the trend is not towards more religiosity, but towards less. Much less, in fact. Recent research from the Pew Research Center on politics and generational differences shows that interest in religion is actually declining from one generation to the next, and not only that, but interest in mixing religion and politics is on the decline. When asked which factors are the key to America’s success, fewer than half of Millennials say they believe that religious faith and values are important. They are the first generation to respond in such a way, as a majority of all older generations cite religion as an important factor. Even the generation known for cynicism, Generation X, has 64% of respondents citing religion as an important factor in our nation’s success, a full 18 points over the Millennial generation. Despite myths that people become more religious or more conservative as they age, previous Pew research shows that Xers and Boomers held roughly the same opinions on religion in their youth as they do now.

The research also found that more than one in four Millennials have no religious affiliation at all, the largest of any generation, though only by a small margin, as one in five Gen Xers is also irreligious. The percentage of unaffiliated Americans has grown gradually over the generations, but with the Millennials, we’re seeing a new trend emerge. There is now a large group of Americans who have a faith, but separate it from public life, keeping it in the private sphere.

So how to square away declining rates of belief with the perception that America is a land where the Bible is thumped regularly in the public square? What we’re seeing with the heightened emphasis on religion in politics is the death throes of the old order. After all, in the past, where it was assumed that a vast majority of Americans were not only religious, but Christian, those who wanted Christianity to dominate didn’t feel they had anything to prove. It’s only when they started to feel their power threatened did they become defensive, and in doing so, became much louder.

Right wing Christians would be the first to tell you that they feel that the dominance of traditional Christian values is under threat in this country. If you have any doubt about this, look at the long list of people they consider the enemies, internal and external, to their view of how America should be: atheists, Muslims, feminists, liberals, uncloseted gays and evolutionary biologists, amongst others. They aren’t wrong to believe these groups are growing both in numbers and in influence, as the polling data suggests that they are. The increasing volume and militancy from the religious right is to be expected in light of these changes. Sarah Posner, a senior editor at Religion Dispatches magazine, says the religious right has grown specifically in response to massive social changes. Opposing these changes was “exactly their point,” she told me, and conservative Christians believe that when they see these more secularist worldviews on the rise, they have a duty “to redouble one’s efforts”. She added that, in the eyes of evangelical leaders, “evangelicals had insulated themselves too much from secular society, and that they had a God-given duty to have an impact on the culture, on politics, on the media, and so forth.”

Evangelical Christians from Global South see expanding influence

Prisoners attend a cult meeting presided over by Evangelical pastor Marcos in Rio. 30 October 2009

A survey of evangelical Christian leaders found a Global North-South split on how they see their prospects.

The 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life revealed optimism among 58 percent of evangelical leaders in the Global South – sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East/North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia. But 66 percent of leader in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand tended to be pessimistic about evangelicals’ influence on society. 

Does FRC index underline weak link between faith and family?

The conservative Christian, Washington-based Family Research Council (FRC) has just released its first “Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection.” You can click here to see its full details.

The “Index of Belonging” is 45 percent and that of “Rejection” is 55 percent. The report’s author, Patrick Fagan, who heads FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute, says the following:

“Only 45 percent of U.S. teenagers have spent their childhood with an intact family, with both their birth mother and their biological father legally married to one another since before or around the time of the teenager’s birth … 55 percent  of teenagers live in families where their biological parents have rejected each other. The families with a history of rejection include single-parent families, stepfamilies, and children who no longer live with either birth parent but with adoptive or foster parents.”

from UK News:

A nightmare week for the Archbishop of Canterbury

rowan williamsMany members of the Church of England will be wondering "where do we go from here",  the morning after the church's parliament voted down a compromise amendment put forward by its two most senior clerics.

The liberal wing of the church will probably feel the road is clear ahead for the ordination of women as bishops after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were foiled, though there is still a long way to go. (Photo: Archbishop Rowan Williams in Canterbury Cathedral, 4 April 2010/Toby Melville)

But some among the traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and conservative  evangelicals will be wondering where their spiritual home now lies. Some traditionalists may be more persuaded to take up Pope Benedict's offer made last October to convert to Roman Catholicism, in the knowledge that they would be able to retain some of their traditions and liturgy.

from UK News:

Rejection of gay clergyman as bishop sends CoE into spin

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The Church of England has blocked the appointment of a gay clergyman to the role of Bishop of Southwark after a bitter behind-the-scenes battle which has left the conservatives and liberals at loggerheads and possibly weakened the standing of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, media reports said.

Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, was rejected after it was leaked that he was on the Crown Nominations Commission shortlist for the post in south London, one of the most liberal of all the church's dioceses, the Daily Telegraph said.

It is a second humiliation for the openly gay but celibate John, who seven years ago was forced to stand down from becoming the Bishop of Reading after opposition from evangelicals.

U.S. Christian leaders slam Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act

kampalaA diverse group of U.S. Christian leaders — who don’t always see eye to eye on same-sex lifestyle issues — have spoken out against a law under consideration in Uganda that could make homosexual behavior punishable by death. You can see the full statement and list of signatories here.

Our Christian faith recognizes violence, harassment and unjust treatment of any human being as a betrayal of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. As followers of the teachings of Christ, we must express profound dismay at a bill currently before  the Parliament in Uganda. The ‘Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009′ would enforce lifetime prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty for homosexual behavior, as well as punish citizens for not
reporting their gay and lesbian neighbors to the authorities
,” it says in part.

Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, in our churches, communities and families, we seek to embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as God’s children worthy of respect and love,” it added.

from Tales from the Trail:

Has abortion role been overblown in U.S. healthcare debate?

A new poll by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests that concern about federal funding for abortion is very low on the list of factors driving opposition to President Barack Obama's effort to overhaul America's healthcare system.

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The results of the poll, released on Thursday, show that just 3 percent of healthcare opponents cited abortion funding as their main reason for opposing congressional healthcare proposals.

The biggest reasons, cited by 27 percent of respondents to an open-ended question about their opposition, were that the overhaul would be too expensive and lead to higher deficits and taxes. Another 27 percent said they did not want government involvement in healthcare.

U.S. conservative Christians sound “cap and trade” alarms

America’s social and religious conservatives are turning up the heat as they galvanize heartland opposition against the latest example of President Barack Obama-inspired “socialism” — a climate change bill that aims to reduce fossil fuel emissions, which most scientists have linked to climate change.  

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The Democratic Party-led House of Representatives passed the bill on Friday. It would require large companies, including utilities and manufacturers, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, from 2005 levels. It must still go through the U.S. Senate, where its ultimate fate remains uncertain despite the Democratic majority there.

Conservative Christians, a key base – if not THE base — for the out-of-power Republican Party, are among the biggest skeptics of human-induced global warming. In the eyes of many environmentalists, they were part of an “unholy alliance” with the energy industry that enjoyed its zenith under former president George W. Bush, who pulled America out of the Kyoto Protocol aimed at cutting emissions in the developed world. The Bush administration was widely seen as hostile to any attempt to cap emissions as well as the science behind it.

Southern Baptists (and Republicans): old, white and in decline?

The evangelical Protestant revival has been one of the most dynamic religious and social movements in the United States in the last three decades. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, one in four U.S. adults now count themselves as followers of this faith tradition.

BUSH

So it may come as a surprise to some non-American readers of this blog that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – with 16 million members, America’s largest evangelical denomination and the country’s second largest after the Catholic Church — is ringing the alarm bells of decline.

Its research arm LifeWay Research released the following projections this week at the convention’s annual meeting in Kentucky:  it said its numbers would fall nearly 50 percent by 2050 “unless the aging and predominantly white denomination reverses a 50-year trend and does more to strengthen evangelism, reach immigrants, and develop a broader ethnic base.”

What Darwin and evangelicals had in common: hatred of slavery

Back in January we reported on a new book which argued that a hatred of slavery did much to form Charles Darwin’s views on natural selection as he sought to prove that blacks and whites had a common ancestor and were not separate species or products of “separate creations” as many of the 19th century defenders of white supremacy maintained.

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I did a blog at the time to draw attention to my colleague Mike Collett-White’s story on “Darwin’s Sacred Cause” by Adrian Desmond and James Moore and said that it had piqued my curiosity enough that I might be tempted to read it. I have done just that and think it raises a couple of issues that will be of interest to readers of this blog. (Photo: A portrait of Charles Darwin is displayed as part of an exhibition in Darwin’s former home Down House, Kent, England, 12/02/2009, REUTERS/Stringer, UK)

For starters, much of the credit for the anti-slavery movement has been taken by evangelicals and other Christians such as the Quakers, who were indeed often the driving force behind it.  There was much excitement in U.S. evangelical circles two years ago about the release of the movie “Amazing Grace” about British anti-slavery pioneer William Wilberforce who was an ardent evangelical. Much ink has been spilled on this topic, notably in 2005 by Adam Hochschild in his superb book “Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery.”