Personally, I think this might be a good thing, for both the country as a whole and for Protestants in particular, but only if they don’t see this as an opportunity to try to present themselves as a persecuted minority (either to themselves or the public).
Why? Well, the short version is this: “Oh, you’re interested in following Jesus but it’s not the way that everyone else around you sees the world and you’re afraid that it might be harder to live as a Christian? Good. Jesus wasn’t popular in His day either, and the ‘popularity’ of Christianity in America has not done a whole lot to get Jesus’ message out to more people. In most cases it has served as a way for white, middle/upper-class Americans to act as if Christianity is a form of patriotism based around capitalism.”
Note: Be careful not to equate ‘No Religious Affiliation’ with ‘No Religious Beliefs’:
most of the “nones” say they believe in God, and most describe themselves as religious, spiritual or both.
Christian Century is one of the few really good magazines out there for the kind of Christians who cringe at most of the stuff they read or see about Christians/Christianity in popular (USA) culture. (Writing for them is one of my dream jobs.)
(BTW they make their bi-weekly issues available as PDFs for folks who might be inclined to become a subscriber but don’t want more dead-tree publications piling up.)
The Southern Poverty Law Center has added several antigay organizations to its list of hate groups, citing their “demonizing propaganda” and “propagation of known falsehoods.” SPLC Intelligence Project director Mark Potok (whom Amy Frykholm interviewed for the Century a while back) and president Richard Cohen discussed their decision on a web conference last week. Becky Garrison has the highlights.
The Family Research Council, one of the more prominent groups named, is fighting back, aided by some high-profile elected officials. An ad FRC placed in DC-area print publications accuses “elements of the radical Left” of “trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues.”
It’s not worth quibbling over a pejorative word-bomb like “radical.” The bigger problem is with, well, most of the other words in the quote:
SPLC isn’t “trying to shut down” anything. It’s not advocating legal action against the antigay groups or a ban on their media appearances, nor is it accusing them of illegal activity. The goal is to curb FRC and others’ influence by calling them out for their commitment to an antigay ideology that often trumps any commitment to facts.
"Informed discussion" is exactly the standard these antigay groups so often fall short of. For example, SPLC cites FRC’s ongoing claims that gay men are more likely to molest children, a junk-science claim that’s been debunked repeatedly. Running with it anyway is uninformed at best and dishonest at worst.
While there’s no doubt these groups are deeply engaged in the serious “policy issues” facing the republic, SPLC isn’t trying to silence opponents of same-sex marriage or “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. SPLC’s focus is hate groups and hate crimes, and it’s reported that gays and lesbians “are far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States.”
The organizations on SPLC’s list don’t beat up gay kids, but they do spread falsehoods that fertilize seeds of hate and violence. Some of them even do this in the name of Christ.
I wish Undercover Nun had written that story so it could have ended with her praying for their immortal souls. Alas, CC didn’t quite rise to that.
That last paragraph really nailed it for me. These folks love to wrap themselves in the first amendment when it suits them. See some of the comments in the article I wrote about Apple removing the Manhattan Declaration app from the App Store and you’ll see people who say things like: “What? It’s not hate speech, it’s just people expressing their beliefs.”
Yeah, well, when your beliefs say that one group of the population is inherently bad and ruining the moral fabric of the country, that’s not exactly “value neutral” is it?
Not that I’m against those sorts of declarations entirely; for example I would say that rapists and murderers are inherently bad for the country. The biggest, most obvious difference is that rapists and murderers hurt other people, whereas people who are gay don’t hurt anyone except dusty old bigots, many of whom probably still think equality among the sexes was also a bad change for the country because it demeaned husbands and fathers (as if husbands and fathers hadn’t done plenty to ruin their own reputations).
TL;DR: just because hate groups hate being called hate groups doesn’t mean they aren’t hate groups.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Protestant pastors overwhelmingly believe that Oprah Winfrey isn’t a Christian, but three-quarters of them say former president George W. Bush is.
… [Glenn] Beck, earned the second lowest affirmative response [after Oprah] at 27 percent.
First of all, I don’t know anything about Oprah other than she’s rich, has a TV show and a bookclub, and gave away cars awhile ago.
You might be tempted to be cheered by the fact that out of 1,000 “pastors leading Protestant churches” (no definition for what the word “leading” means in that context, but I think one can safely assume it means “rich megachurch”) thinks that Beck has gone so far off his rocker that it would be wrong to classify him as “Christian” because he has strayed so far from the teachings of Christ, but the article goes on to say:
“And it is likely that Glenn Beck’s Mormonism, widely viewed by Protestants as a different religion rather than a different Christian denomination, probably caused many to indicate he is not a Christian.”
So it’s not his beliefs that determine whether he’s a Christian, it’s the fact that he’s in “that Mormon church” and “them people’s not really Christians like us folk” (paraphrased).
Among the politicians on the list, Bush earned the highest affirmative response, with three-quarters of pastors (75 percent) saying they believe he is a Christian. Palin earned the next highest response at 66 percent, and Obama received the lowest affirmative response with less than half of Protestant pastors (41 percent) saying they believe him to be a Christian.
I’m never going to be able to get rid of the taste of throwing up in my own mouth just now.
“For many people, ‘Christian’ is a box they check on a demographic survey,” [Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research] said. “Protestant pastors, however, often have a more detailed view – many apply terms like ‘born again,’ ‘evangelical’ and ‘a changed life’ as synonyms for ‘Christian.’ Thus, their standard is often different than the prevailing view.
“Using their standard, the majority would not agree that President Obama is a Christian, though he is a mainline Protestant,” Stetzer explained.
Whether or not you think that influences the way they do research is up to you, but it may explain the cognitive dissonance over the idea that someone could be a “mainline Protestant” and yet be considered “not a Christian.”
Perhaps the most telling part of the story is buried way down at the end:
Protestant pastors who self-identify as Democrats, politically liberal or very liberal, or mainline are more likely to indicate these prominent personalities are Christians. For example, 88 percent of those who self-identify as liberal or very liberal say Obama is a Christian compared to only 31 percent of those who say they are conservative and 12 percent of those who say they are very conservative.
HEY! If we get those 12% of the “very conservative” together with the 88% of the “liberal or very liberal” then 100% think Obama is a Christian! YAY!
(It’s possible I don’t really understand how statistics work.)
Anyway, I think the take-away here is clear:
"Out of a group of 1,000 pastors of megachurches selected by a Southern Baptist research group, most of them don’t think Obama is a Christian as they define being a Christian, which is in such a way as to challenge the Christianity of most mainline Christians."
(I’d love to see what this group thinks about Catholics. I’m guessing there would be a large percentage of them who would use the phrase “Catholics and Christians” although the Catholic church’s stance on abortion is probably enough to convince them that Catholics are sort of OK, even if they still hope their kids won’t marry one.)
What is most surprising to me about this survey?
Although anyone who reads this is likely to be initially struck by the numbers against Obama, 1/3rd of the people surveyed don’t believe that Palin’s is a Christian… and 1/4 of them don’t think George W is… Those numbers are higher than I would have thought.
Then again, their reasons for classifying someone as “a Christian” or “not a Christian” are fairly suspect, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.
In reply to my Secularism post:
evy26 asked: I am a complete ignorant when it comes to US Constitution (well,and other things as well…) but you seem to know a lot about it. So I was just wondering if this is same law (1st Amendment) why intelligent design can’t be taught in schools?
Yes, I believe so. Again, I’m not 100% sure of the exact legal argument, but I think it comes down to the fact that there are no non-religious people who argue for Intelligent Design.1
Despite the protestations of the folks who want to get so-called “Intelligent Design” taught as an option in school as a backdoor way of geting religion into public schools, “Intelligent Design” leads inevitably to the idea of a “Designer” and a “Designer” who organized the creation of life and the universe as a whole is obviously a god2 because that action is absolutely superhuman.
All “ID” does is give a potential open door to the possibility of the teaching of the creation stories in Genesis in public schools.3
That is not to say that all religious people believe in Intelligent Design. I started to question Intelligent Design when I realized that chocolate (which is bad for me and I love to eat) tastes good whereas many vegetables (which are good for me) make me want to puke. (Seriously. Want to see me gag? Feed me peas.) Why wouldn’t an Intelligent Designer make stuff that’s good for you taste good and stuff that’s bad for you taste bad? FFS, even Ron White has figured out that semen should taste like chocolate. I feel like I’ve taken this tangent as far as I should. Or maybe beyond where I should have. ↩
Intelligent Design does not necessarily mean that the God that most Christians believe in was the designer. It could have just as easily been Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Designer also could have been mean or crazy or evil. The idea of “Intelligent Design” doesn’t answer the question of evil in the world. It may, in fact, raise more questions. Ignoring my true-but-perhaps-superficial chocolate vs vegetables issue, if the Designer was Intelligent, how do we explain that His/Her creation occasionally mutates into cancer? Was the Designer just not Intelligent enough to prevent it? ↩
Genesis has two creation stories, by the way, not one. They disagree on the order of how things were created. This only bothers people who want to take a literal interpretation of the Bible, as opposed to others who see the Genesis stories as a way of answering the question “Where did we come from?” with “In the beginning, God did this. We believe that God created humanity for a reason and that God has always been a part of our lives.”
Arguing over whether or not this took place over a course of six literal 24-hour days completely misses the point of the story. I had a professor once who said that there is a difference between taking Genesis literally and taking it seriously. I have no problem taking it seriously. I have immense problems taking it literally. For example, after you explain away how creation literally happened twice (Genesis 1 & 2) you reach the story of Cain and Abel. Now according to a literal interpretation, there are 4 people on the earth: Adam & Eve, and their two childen, Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel. God’s punishment for Cain includes being “a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain objects, saying, in part, “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”
Count with me: Adam + Eve + Cain + Abel = 4 people, right?
Cain kills Abel. 3 people, right?
Who is Cain afraid of? His parents? The sense is the Cain is going to be killed by a stranger. Where did they come from?
It gets worse: “Cain ‘knew’ his wife [that’s Bible talk for sex] and she conceived.” (Genesis 4.9-19)
WHOA WHOA WHOA WHOA.
Did Cain sleep with his mom? Because as far as a literal interpretation goes, she’s the only female available.
B) That’s against the law of God in Exodus and Leviticus
C) Genetics tell us that incest breeds genetic problems
I raised these issues with a Creationist once. He told me that because the Law hadn’t been given yet, it was OK with God. He also said that because it was necessary for the population of the earth, God prevented genetic problems from occurring. That was when I decided that it was not worth trying to have a reasonable discussion with some people. ↩
As a brilliant, kind, generous and open-minded Christian, and as a proud citizen of this country, I feel you may be in the best position to help a foreigner understand something.
1. Is secularity an important concept in the United States? This is a genuine question. While for many countries, secularity came as a direct consequence of modernity and progress, some States (such as Israel and the U.K., for example), clearly have a religion attached to it (even if the Queen's subjects don't practice it en masse, much the opposite in fact), so I'm perfectly willing to accept that secularity might not be at the top of the list here.
2. If it is an important concept, then is the way things are done acceptable (i.e., the motto, "One nation under God", the fact that a politician has little chance of being elected if he doesn't publicly refer to God in his speeches)? Again, an honest question: I have experienced first hand that while the definition of secularity might be the same everywhere, its practice varies wildly from country to country (for example, in France, the Muslim headscarf has been banned from schools while in other secular European nations, it's perfectly acceptable for girls to wear it in class).
Freedom of religion (which is guaranteed by the first amendment here) and secularity (which I understand to be the absence of reference to religion or God in any of the symbols that might be associated with a nation's government in order for every citizen - not just the majority - to be represented by it) are very, very different things. But I'm starting to ask myself whether there is a confusion between two concepts (as in, whether for many people, freedom of religion is secularity, which it really isn't)... Any thoughts?
Aww. Flattery will get you everywhere :-)
First off, I’m glad you defined your terms because that was my first question.
So, let’s start there:
secularity: “the absence of reference to religion or God in any of the symbols that might be associated with a nation’s government in order for every citizen - not just the majority - to be represented by it.”
I should also state up front that I’m no constitutional scholar or law expert. I’m speaking from my observations and opinions.
From my understanding of the intentions of “founding fathers” it was that no religion be established over any other. There were a variety of levels of personal belief among them, but they saw the damage that ‘state sponsored religion’ had done, not just in England, but in the colonies. They saw people persecuted for having their beliefs differ from other people’s.
The intent (as I understand it) was that no one was treated better or worse because of their practice of religion. Honestly, I’m not sure what their intentions were regarding those who chose ‘none’ but again I think the same would hold: no advantage or disadvantage.
In his book, The Culture of Disbelief, Stephen L. Carter argued that the separation of church and state was designed to protect the church from the state not the other way around. That is, their intention was that the church should be free to influence the government, but the government should not interfere with the practice of religion. I don’t know how Carter’s opinions are viewed by others, but I remember finding the book fairly compelling when I read it about 10 years ago.
Carter told the story of a man who had an apartment to rent (actually I think it may have been a room over his garage), and a couple wanted to rent it. They weren’t married. The man refused to rent the apartment to them because he believed that premarital sex was a sin. IIRC the case was still being deliberated when the book was written. The question was not whether or not unmarried couples should be allowed to rent apartments, but whether or not someone could be compelled to violate their religious beliefs just because they put an ad in the paper advertizing an apartment for rent.
The answer to that question may seem obvious to some (“Of course he has to rent the apartment to them!”) but what if you changed the situation? What if the person who wanted to rent the apartment was the head of the local KKK? What if a man came by to rent the apartment but the lecherous way he looked at your teenage daughter made you uncomfortable? Are you allowed to decide who you rent to, or aren’t you? Are ‘secular moral’ (KKK) or personal (daughter’s perceived safety) objections OK but religious objections not?
Again, as a non-lawyer, I think all the First Amendment says about this is that Congress can’t pass a law saying that you can’t own property if you aren’t, say, a Methodist.
After reading the Prop 8 ruling from California, I’m pretty convinced that there is no non-religious argument against full and equal right for gay/lesbian people. (For those who haven’t read it, the argument they tried to make was that marriage was supposed to be about having kids.) The largest group of people who object to equal rights do so for religious reasons. Well, sorry, but religious objections aren’t sufficient in a court of law. The effect of that law is currently: “If you don’t subscribe to a certain conservative brand of Christian sexual mores, you can’t get married.” That strikes me as obviously against the separation of church and state, the same way that the so-called “Blue Laws” which kept businesses from opening on Sundays because those was “church day.”
As anyone who has studied language knows, there’s a lot of importance in the “little words.” Does the Constitution promise freedom of religion (meaning the freedom to practice however one wishes) or freedom from religion. Clearly there are some people (like those who object to “In God We Trust” being printed on currency or the words “Under God” being part of the Pledge of Allegiance) who want it to be freedom from religion. I’m not sure that’s part of the First Amendment.
I don’t want kids on the public football team to be required to say the Lord’s Prayer before a game. I don’t want public officials to have to pretend to have religious affiliations. I don’t want people to have to pretend to be Christian so (among other things) their kids won’t be excluded from play dates. Why? Because all of these things cheapen true faith by forcing people who don’t really believe to participate.
I don want there to be prayers that open Congress or Senate meetings, and I certainly don’t want to to hear the State of the Union address talk about our continued involvement in two seemingly endless wars end with “God bless America” because I think it becomes too easy to believe that God in on “our” side (especially when one former president whose name I won’t mention categorized our enemies as “evildoers” which is a 10,000dB ‘dog whistle’).
The founding father’s intent seems to have been (from what I know) that Americans would have the freedom to practice their religion without government interference. I’m not sure that translates to freedom from religion for those who choose that path. That being said, I also think it is clear that they didn’t want the government shoving religion down anyone’s throat. So, yeah, we have “In God We Trust” in our money, but you aren’t required to be Presbyterian to qualify for Social Security or get a government-backed student loan. The voting public may currently prefer a candidate who can “talk religion” but the government doesn’t require that you pass an “orthodoxy test” to get your name on a ballot.
My point earlier was that peppering a little “God talk” on our currency and into the Pledge of Allegiance (something I’m not convinced Christians should recite anyway but that’s another story) isn’t the same as Congress establishing a national religion.
Gosh that’s a really long answer, isn’t it?
See also: postscript
I was sitting at a bar. My wife and I were meeting for dinner after a hard day at work. She’d had demanding clients; I’d just wrapped up a difficult committee meeting at church.
I noticed a disheveled and unshaven man in his early fifties a few barstools down from me. Something about him seemed uninviting. He was watching the baseball game on the bar’s flat screen while smoking a cigar that was now a smoldering butt. Soon an attractive 40-something woman arrived in a crisp little black dress and perched on the stool next to him. She seemed nervous.
"Ah, there you are," he said without looking at her.
"Sorry I’m a little late," she offered. "I had to wait for the babysitter."
He said nothing.
"You look nice," she lied.
He raised his eyebrows and smiled faintly. The silence hung between them until the bartender came by to ask the woman if she would like a drink.
To many this would be unremarkable bar chatter. To a pastor it was a call to worship. I make my way through the week as if I have a license to eavesdrop. OK, I realize that there actually is no such license, but my urgent need for sermon material often trumps all other realities. So I kept listening.
(Craig Barnes may have been my favorite professor in my doctoral program, and is also the pastor of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.)
Jesus confronted the attitude of religious superiority prevalent in his day.
In the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, he told the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, challenging his hearer’s theological assumptions. The parables are cleverly told, each beginning with a question—“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” and “What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?”
At first glance, these queries seem innocuous, but they burrow into the conscience, prodding the listener to reconsider the parameters of God’s love. In a religious culture that tended to limit God’s affections to the religious insiders, Jesus’s questions revealed a divine fondness for the spiritually estranged.
This theme of inclusion was a recurring one in the ministry of Jesus and called into doubt first-century Judaism’s presumption of divine favor. While honest challenges to our settled assumptions can be painful, they can also provoke us to view our world differently.
Unfortunately, the reaction of Jesus’s audience was less enlightened. Luke tells us “they scoffed at him.” This is often the response of the religiously entrenched when urged to reevaluate what they thought were timeless truths. The test of our life in the Spirit is our ability to welcome as good news the very questions that in the end might break us down to build us up.