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.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a review of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

rehman malikAfter two assassinations, Pakistani politicians are finally beginning to address tensions over the country's blasphemy laws.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in an interview politicians should be able to reach a cross-party consensus on preventing the misuse of the blasphemy laws, as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) religious party. "Its misuse is being, of course, taken into account and the party leaders are going to sit together as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman ... and I hope this matter can be thrashed out, whenever this meeting takes place." 

Two senior politicians, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated this year after they called for amendments to the blasphemy laws, which critics say are often misused to settle personal scores.  The row over the blasphemy laws has become one of most incendiary issues in Pakistan, highlighting the dominance of the religious right which has been able to bring out thousands into the streets to protest against any changes to the laws.  Taseer's self-confessed killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was celebrated as a hero by many.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and abortion at U.S. military bases…

One little-reported aspect of the political wrangling around attempts to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans gays from serving openly in the U.S. military was how the religious right tied it to another hot-button cultural issue: abortion.

This would certainly have caught the attention of socially conservative Republicans who were instrumental in defeating a measure aimed at its repeal in the U.S. Senate on Thursday night.

Many if not most conservative U.S. evangelicals were already strongly opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military — a point underscored by a Pentagon study unveiled at the end of November that found that military chaplains were strongly opposed to ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Many Tea Partiers part of religious right: study

tea party (Photo: Tea Party member Ellie Mels at a Tea Party Fair in Charlotte, Michigan July 24, 2010/Rebecca Cook)

Many supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement that has shaken up politics share the same views as the Christian right on social issues like abortion and the role of religion in public life, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

While the loosely organized Tea Party movement has focused largely on shrinking the size of government and other fiscal issues, its backers are more likely to support government restrictions on gay marriage and other social issues, the Public Religion Research Institute found in its American Values Survey.

The survey found significant overlap between the Tea Party, made up mostly of Republicans, and the religious right, which has played a significant political role for decades.

Christian Coalition joins hunting group in climate change fight

Remember the Christian Coalition of America?

Under the political operative Ralph Reed in the 1990s it was an electoral force to be reckoned with as it mobilized millions of conservative Christians to vote for mostly Republican Party candidates and causes.

It has since lost influence and political ground to other “religious right” groups such as the Family Research Council. But it remains a sizeable grassroots organization and is still unflinchingly conservative.

So it will no doubt surprise some to see that this week it has joined with the National Wildlife Federation – whose 4 million members and supporters includes 420,000 sportsmen and women – to run an ad urging the U.S. Senate to pass legislation that among other things addresses the pressing problem of climate change.

U.S. Religious Left campaigns for climate change legislation

The U.S. “Religious Left” — which has been active at the grassroots level to support President Barack Obama’s drive for health care reform – has now launched a campaign in support his other major domestic initiative: climate change legislation.

Faithful America, a coalition of progressive evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant and Jewish groups, unveiled a video on Thursday urging viewers to “TELL CONGRESS: STOP CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS EFFECTS.” The campaign is called Day Six.

You can see the video below:

 

A climate bill aimed at reducing America’s emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming is being crafted in the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives earlier this year passed its own version.

Huckabee wins round one in 2012 Republican race

Former Arkanas Governor and Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee has won the first informal round in what will no doubt be a long race to head the party’s White House ticket in 2012.

The affable Baptist preacher, who won the hearts and minds of conservative evangelicals during his failed 2008 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, topped other possible Republican presidential contenders in a straw poll at a summit of Christian conservative voters in Washington.

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Out of a field of nine, Huckabee garnered the most votes or 28.5 percent. Delegates to the convention were asked: “Thinking ahead to the 2012 presidential election and assuming the nomination of Barack Obama as Democtats’ choice for president, who would you vote for as the Republicans nominee for president?”

U.S. conservative Christians rally against Obama agenda

U.S. conservative Christians, a key base for the out-of-power Republican Party, gathered in Washington on Friday to rally the faithful against President Barack Obama’s agenda, including his top domestic priority of healthcare reform.

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Obama’s falling poll numbers and what they depict as his ultra-liberal views on abortion rights, healthcare and climate change are galvanizing a group that could prove vital to Republican prospects of taking back control of Congress in the 2010 congressional elections or the White House in 2012.

Conservative activists see exploitable opportunities in Obama’s policies and performance that also can stir more centrist voters, such as suspicions of “big government” and the almost uniquely American skepticism of global warming that prevails in much of the heartland.

U.S. “Religious Right” riled but lacks committed Christian leader

USA/Wanted: a leader for the U.S. social conservative movement. Must be able to press all the right buttons, be a committed Christian and have a vision to propel the Republican Party back to power.

U.S. social and religious conservatives will be searching for someone to fill that void as they gather in Washington this Friday to Sunday for the fourth annual summit of self-styled “Values Voters.” (Photo: Conservative protesters near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, 12 Sept 2009/Mike Theiler)

Dubbed the “Religious Right,” they have been stirred by a summer of discontent when their activists went on the offensive against Democratic President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority of healthcare reform, taking part in widely publicized town hall meetings on the issue that often turned raucous.

from Tales from the Trail:

What does Palin no show at “Values Voter” summit say about her 2012 intentions?

Why is former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin passing on the summit of self-styled conservative Christian "Values Voters" this weekend?

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It's a question worth asking because the annual meeting of "Religious Right" activists has become a "must attend" on the political calendar of any Republican who is serious about running for the party's presidential nomination in the next election cycle.

Former governors Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney  -- frequently mentioned as 2012 heavyweight Republican contenders -- will be there.  So will Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who many pundits see as another possible candidate for a White House run in 2012.