Religion

Rise of the “Nones”

America’s rapidly changing religious landscape

AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan, Thomas Barker
AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan, Steve Jahnke I n the two years leading up to his death this past February, the legal and political philosopher Ronald Dworkin was completing a slim volume with a weighty title. Religion without God , which began as a series of lectures in 2011, set a lofty goal: to propose a “religious attitude” in the absence of belief. Dworkin’s objective was not just theological. The book, he hoped, would help lower the temperature in the past decade’s battle between a group of scientists and philosophers dubbed the New Atheists and an array of critics who have accused them of everything from Islamophobia to fundamentalism to heresy. Although the New Atheists are part of a long and distinguished tradition, including (but not limited to) philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Bertrand Russell, they are notable because they have made atheism a pop success in the U.S. Since the 2004 publication of Sam Harris’s post–September 11 polemic, The End of...

A New Plot to Change the Pledge

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma Fairmeadow Elementary School students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a school assembly in Palo Alto, California. L ast week, as children across the country returned to school and struggled to remember the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, the Massachusetts Supreme Court was considering whether to make it easier for them by removing “under God.” This might seem like déjà vu. Church-State separationists have tried unsuccessfully to pry “under God” out of the Pledge since Congress inserted the phrase in 1954—more than a decade after the oath was adopted. But the case filed by the American Humanist Association (AHA), which is representing an atheist family from suburban Massachusetts, may be different. Rather than contesting the language in federal court—where any challenge is likely to come up against an unsympathetic Supreme Court—lawyers have opted to sue in state court. The legal angle is also new. Traditionally, lawsuits challenging “under God” in the...

Back to the Future in Egypt

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
It’s too soon to say whether the Egyptian coup that overthrew the elected government of Islamist Mohamed Morsi—and the ensuing crackdown that has now killed more than a thousand people—has squashed any chance for democratic reform in Egypt. I think it’s safe to say that its short-term prognosis is grim. What seems clear, however, is that the Egyptian military crackdown has ended talk of George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda.” At the very least, it has revealed that many of its supporters weren’t that serious about it to begin with. One of the great (and little-noticed) ironies of the post-9/11 era is that, in an effort to justify its grandly transformative policies in the Middle East, the Bush administration and its supporters latched upon a leftist critique of U.S. foreign policy. For decades, America’s interest in stability in the Middle East had led it to support a set of undemocratic, authoritarian regimes that promised to keep the peace if we didn't bother them about human rights. The...

The End of the Evangelical Era

GOP presidential hopefuls are still kissing the rings of Christian conservative leaders in Iowa. But it's an increasingly empty ritual.

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Saturday, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz, two of the many candidates whose names are being bandied about for the 2016 presidential race, made a pilgrimage to Iowa to speak at the Family Leadership Summit. There, as part of a nine-hour marathon of speeches to an audience of 1,500 evangelical Christians, Cruz and Santorum joined a host of conservative politicians and public figures—including Donald Trump, that standard-bearer of wingnuttery—in lambasting Obamacare, the Internal Revenue Service, and the GOP establishment. Pastor Rafael Cruz, father of Senator Cruz, spoke vividly and at length about liberals’ attempts to turn the country into a socialist paradise. “Socialism requires that government becomes your god,” he said. “That’s why they have to destroy the concept of God. They have to destroy all loyalties except loyalty to government. That’s what’s behind homosexual marriage.” More than highlighting the candidates and issues that will drive the 2016 primaries, the event illustrates...

God Was My Freshman Roommate

flickr/Illinois Springfield
flickr/bamaboy1941 L ater this week, Troy University, located 50 miles south of Montgomery, Alabama, will open the first ever faith-based dormitory at a public university. The brand-new building, which cost $11.8 million and will house nearly 400 students, has set off a debate about whether faith-based dorms represent a violation of the separation of church and state. To live in the dorm, students must maintain “an active spiritual lifestyle and maintain an active engagement in a campus faith based organization.” Maintaining a GPA of at least 2.5, refraining from drug and alcohol use, and participating in community service projects are also requirements for living in the cushy new quarters. The building includes a Catholic ministry—which is being leased to the nearby Catholic archdiocese of Mobile by the university—a chapel, and an office for a local priest. Three Catholic and three Baptist residential assistants will live in the dormitory with the students. Faith-based dorms are a...

Pray the Atheists Away

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, Raul R. Rubiera Earlier this week, two Democratic representatives felt the sting of the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Earlier this summer, Colorado representative Jared Polis and New Jersey representative Robert Andrews tried to push through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act—a large defense budget bill—that would allow the Department of Defense to add nonreligious chaplains to the ranks of the military. Not only did the amendment fail, its opponents were so incensed that they introduced their own amendment, requiring any chaplain appointed to the military to be sponsored by an “endorsing agency,” all of which are religious. The new measure passed resoundingly, 253 to 173. Republicans seemed simultaneously baffled and horrified by the notion that nonreligious chaplains might have something to offer service members. “They don’t believe anything,” explained Representative Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas, during a...

More Than a Hobby

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez I n February of 2012, as the Obama administration sought to placate the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) objections to contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, a new wrinkle in the debate took observers by surprise. Anthony Picarello, the USCCB’s general counsel, protested that exemptions and accommodations for churches and religious charities didn’t go far enough. “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell,” Picarello said, “I’d be covered by the mandate.” This was the first time one of the religious objectors to the proposed regulation had raised the prospect of an exemption for for-profit, corporate entities. “We thought it was laughable at the time,” says Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has filed amicus briefs in support of the government’s position in lawsuits later brought by for-profit companies. “I’m not laughing anymore.” Last month, in the first appellate...

The Religious Right's Terms of Surrender

Rachel Ensign/Twitter
Rachel Ensign/Twitter (@RachelEnsignWSJ) L ast week's Supreme Court rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and denying standing to California's Proposition 8 supporters have brought out the usual clown show of conservative religious leaders proclaiming the end of days. It's the standard stuff from the activist right: Here comes pedophilia, incest, polygamy, and bestiality. Christian florists will be dragged to jail for refusing to cater a same-sex wedding. School children will now be forced to simulate lesbian sex with their Barbies. Stirred to action by the decision, the Christian right has vowed to resist the spread of same-sex marriage nationwide, using civil disobedience if necessary. There's even talk of reviving the Federal Marriage Amendment , which would amend the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. But conservative intellectuals aren't expressing the same bravado as their activist counterparts. Like the 73 percent of Republicans...

Rand Paul Plays God Politics

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Senator Rand Paul at a forum on immigration organized by the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference A s Senator Rand Paul delivered his keynote speech on immigration reform at yesterday's gathering of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, anxieties about the GOP’s identity crisis rippled through the room. The likely 2016 presidential hopeful spoke briefly in Spanish before discussing his Christian faith and opposition to abortion. He assured his audience he got them: “Man’s humanity to man is how we will be judged,” he said. The religious undertone of Paul’s remarks stood in stark contrast to the rest of the event, which focused on the economic and border-security provisions of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, currently being debated on the floor of the Senate. This highlights the competing interests pro-reform Republicans are scrambling to satisfy. On the one hand, pro-...

Atheists in Tornadoes and Foxholes

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
I f you've watched the endless interviews with survivors of natural disasters, you may have noticed that the news media representatives, faced with someone who may be too shocked or nervous before the cameras to offer sufficiently compelling testimony, often do some gentle prompting. "When you saw your home destroyed, were you just devastated?" "You've never seen anything like this before, have you?" "Your whole life changed in that moment, didn't it?" Not everyone who survived a disaster is YouTube clip-ready, so some need to be coached. There was one such interview after the tornado ran through Moore, Oklahoma that got some attention. Interviewing a woman as they stood before the tangled pile of debris that used to be her home and discussed her family's narrow escape, CNN's Wolf Blitzer said , "You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?" When she hesitated, Blitzer pressed on. "Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?" She paused for a moment...

Government Oppression of Religious People Continues With National Day of Prayer

Flickr/C Jill Reed
One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn't able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month. The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don't confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that's an entirely separate national prayer event. Here 's Barack Obama's proclamation of the day, though...

John Kerry's Middle East Mystery Tour

AP Photo/Paul Richards, Pool
AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool T he mysterious Mr. Kerry has come to the Middle East and gone. The secretary of state promises to return soon, but does not tell us exactly when. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, he says, he listened to leaders' suggestions for restarting peace talks. He does not say what those suggestions were. Curiously polite things happen while he in in the neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for instance, postponed his previously announced trip to Gaza, lest he cause Israel grief. Kerry does not explain how he inspires such thoughtfulness. John Kerry is quite open, though, about his motives: He wants to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, right away, soon, to conduct them "in a clear and precise, predetermined manner" toward the agreement that has eluded every previous peace effort. The only mystery here is the one created by broken expectations, which say that Washington should treat Israelis and Palestinians with benign neglect, that the...

Smart People Believing Stupid Things

So after a brief moment in the spotlight, it appears that Ben Carson will not be this week's Savior of the Republican Party after all. But his quick rise and fall raise an interesting question: Why are some people incredibly smart when it comes to some topics, and incredibly stupid when it comes to others? To bring you up to speed, Carson is a noted neurosurgeon who, among other things, was the first to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. He's also extremely politically conservative (and African-American), which made him a popular, though by no means nationally famous, figure in some conservative circles. Then in February, he gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which he took the occasion to sharply criticize President Obama (who was sitting right there) and advocate for a flat tax, which as everyone knows is pleasing unto the Lord. The Wall Street Journal then ran an editorial titled "Ben Carson for President," and he was off to the races, making...

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage. On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong. But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually...

Why Now, Mr. President?

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi S ome free advice for anyone who lives in Jerusalem and hasn't been invited to meet with Barack Obama: stay out of the city center from Wednesday to Friday. One major artery, King David Street, will be shut throughout the president's visit this week, and parking will be banned on a host of others, City Hall has announced. Experience teaches that traffic will tie up in knots and buses trying to get from Point A to Point B will travel via Point Z. Beyond gridlock—in the original sense of the word, vehicles sitting in mid-intersection going nowhere—the potential impact of the president's pilgrimage remains a mystery. The trip's timing suggests that Obama feels it absolutely urgent to renew the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now, before the weekend, before it expires. The pre-trip spin from Obama himself, from sundry off-record officials and from the punditocracy of two countries suggests that the president is coming, to quote Thomas Friedman , as "a...

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