Religion

Religious Belief Declining Very Slowly Around the World

Nope. Not by a long shot.
For a century or two now, people have been predicting the eventual disappearance of religion. As education spreads and scientific knowledge increases, people were supposed to cast off their old superstitions and come into the light of reason. While that has happened in many places—basically, the developed countries of the West, with the exception of the United States—for the most part religion has stubbornly persisted. An interesting survey of religious belief in 30 countries just out from the University of Chicago shows overall religious belief is declining, but at a very slow rate. And even in countries with high rates of atheism, as people get older, they are more likely to become religious. There is evidence from the survey that this is both a cohort effect (older generations being more religious than younger generations), and an aging effect, that individuals may actually be changing their beliefs as they age, particularly as they hit senior citizenship. Why? Death, of course...

How Mitt Romney's Supporters Are Like Uncle Leo

Uncle Leo and his anti-Semitic hamburger.
We always knew that Mormonism was going to be a touchy issue in this presidential campaign. After all, there are still many Americans who express discomfort with the idea of a Mormon president (up to 40 percent , depending on how you ask the question). But it's one thing when you ask that question in the abstract, and quite another when we're talking about a particular Mormon. In that case, I'm fairly sure that nearly everyone is going to decide their votes on how they feel about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, not how they feel about Joseph Smith. Even Robert Jeffress, the Baptist minister and Rick Perry supporter who only a couple of months ago denounced Mormonism as a "cult," just announced that he'll be supporting a member of that cult for president, since Obama is so vile unto his sight. But all that doesn't mean that the Romney campaign and its supporters aren't going to be on the lookout for any anti-Mormon slights, so long as they come from Democrats. You may remember that back...

Bible Reading and Faithful Politics

Flickr/knowhimonline
If you're a deeply religious person seeking guidance as you navigate the political realm, sacred scriptures can be distressingly puzzling. The problem is that (depending on your religion) they were written a long, long time ago, when no one knew about the problems we have to confront in the modern world. The Bible is full of specific instructions for things that most people today don't do (the proper method of ceremonial animal slaughter, for instance), and general instructions that different people apply to particular situations in radically different ways. Jesus says we ought to treat other people as we would have them treat us, but that doesn't really tell you whether net neutrality or an extension of copyright limits is a good idea. But that doesn't stop people from trying. Today NPR has an interesting story about Christians having a "fierce debate" about which policy moves the Bible actually commands. You'll be shocked to learn that people mostly find scriptural justification for...

Chill. Jews Aren't Voting Republican.

Faith-based policy, nativism, and Ayn Randian economics will not create a Jewish electoral shift.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Forecasts of the Great Jewish Shift began as soon as the presidential campaign did: This year, we are told, Jews will finally vote Republican, or at least significantly more of them will than have done so in many a decade, perhaps forever. The predictions are a quadrennial ritual. They are made most often by Jewish Republicans, speaking in the bright voice of a compulsive gambler who knows that on this spin, the little ball will absolutely land on the right number. They are made by social scientists certain that reality will finally behave according to their models. They are made by Jewish Democrats as unable to control their anxiety as someone is to stop a tic. This year's minor variation is the explanation that Jews will switch because they are upset with Barack Obama's attitude toward Israel. As an Israeli political writer, I admit, I am particularly conscious of this ritual, because the Great Jewish Shift (GJS) is the second thing that people want to discuss with me as soon as I...

Rick Warren and the Gospel of Supply-Side Jesus

(jurvetson/Flickr)
This past weekend, evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren spent a portion of his Easter on the Sunday shows, where he patiently explained to ABC News' Jake Tapper that the Gospels require him to oppose both a social safety net and higher marginal tax rates on the rich: Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There’s over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness.” Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation. The only way to get people out of poverty is J-O-B-S. Create jobs. To create wealth, not to subsidize wealth. When you subsidize people, you create the dependency. You – you rob them of dignity. The primary purpose of...

Purpose-Driven Partisanship

Flickr/Steve Jurvetson
Remember just a few years ago, when "Purpose-Driven Life" author Rick Warren was considered such a bipartisan figure that candidate Obama visited his Saddleback Church, and then invited him to deliver an invocation at the inauguration? Even at the time, a lot of knowledgeable people on the left protested that Warren was actually a deeply conservative person, even if he wore Hawaiian shirts and led the hip and casual megachurch movement that presented itself as inclusive. Well listen to Warren now. In an appearance on ABC's This Week yesterday, he was asked to respond to President Obama saying "I believe in God's command to love thy neighbor as thyself": Well certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There's over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there's a fundamental question on the meaning of "fairness." Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of...

Bait and Convert

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
The 2012 Republican primaries were without question the most religious party contest in memory. Nearly all the major candidates put their religious beliefs at or near the center of their public personas, from the puritanical scold Rick Santorum, to the prayer warrior Rick Perry, to Newt Gingrich, producer of books and movies on the importance of God in American politics. As for the Almighty himself, He apparently told no fewer than three separate candidates (Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Santorum) that they should run. Awfully sneaky of Him not to tell them they were going to lose, but who has time to consult the fine print when you're hearing messages from above? Yet in the end, the candidate who prevailed was the one least interested in talking about his religion. That's not because Mitt Romney isn't devout, but because he's all too aware that his Mormonism presents some political complications. Many evangelicals consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) a...

An Easter Foreign-Policy Lesson

(Flickr/WillowGardeners)
There’s nothing like a double-barreled Holy Week/Passover to send media flacks leaping for “hooks” of relevance. Here’s my nominee for Most Dubious Holy Week Tie-in—an article from the august Council on Foreign Relations which documents, the email release promises me, how: [W]hile Obama is by all accounts religious, that faith has not resulted in real foreign policy gains. "Rhetoric is important, but direct action grounds real diplomacy. And on that front, the White House has not kept up with the issue," Preston writes. ‘Cause the first thing you thought when Rick Santorum questioned whether Obama actually was a Christian, and said his theology was “phony,” was, No, Rick, Obama’s faith is an important tool of American foreign-policy efforts to exercise hegemony express American values in the global arena . Of course what’s funny is that, when the author wants Obama to turn from words to deeds, what does he point to as an effective example? A speech by Franklin Roosevelt. A great...

Why Do Conservative Christians Feel Persecuted?

(Liberty University, Wikipedia)
Kevin Drum has a few smart thoughts on why conservative Christians might feel persecuted in a country that overwhelming identifies as Christian: A century ago, something like 10% of the country belonged to a conservative Protestant denomination. That’s grown steadily ever since, and today it’s around 30%. So there’s really no mystery to explain here. Conservative Christians have become more outspoken and more politically powerful simply because they’ve grown more numerous. Sometime in the 70s, their numbers finally passed a threshold where they became a serious voting bloc, and they’ve been growing more powerful every year since then. We’ve been chipping away at traditional religious expression in the public square for decades. At the same time, conservative Christians denominations have grown steadily. Put the two together and you have a substantial segment of the population that feels like it’s under assault. I would add one more thing, namely, the rise of an evangelical subsculture...

Anti-Abortion Measures Die with a Whimper

(Flickr/World Can't Wait)
Women's health and abortion access have dominated state legislatures across the country and, until recently, dominated the headlines as well. But as legislative sessions are wrapping up and final decisions get made, there's been less focus on the issues. Perhaps it's because, in several cases, the bills are dying with whimpers instead of bangs. This week, many of the measures look doomed. Idaho's pre-abortion sonogram bill died Tuesday, with pro-life activists accepting defeat—at least for this year. According to the Spokesman-Review , House State Affairs Chair Tom Loertscher worried that the controversy around the sonogram could threaten the state's other anti-abortion measures. The bill did not have any exemptions for rape or incest and would likely have required invasive, transvaginal sonograms—the kind that got Virginia so much attention. Right to Life of Idaho has said it plans to bring the bill back next year. In Pennsylvania, a similar sonogram measure has stalled after...

Tennessee Travels Back to 1925

(Flickr/latvian)
By the end of this week, teachers in Tennessee will likely have new protections if they teach creationism alongside evolution or rely on dubious reports that climate change is a myth. A measure awaiting gubernatorial approval explicitly protects teachers who give countering theories to evolution, climate change, and the like, in an effort to foster critical-thinking skills. The bill received overwhelming legislative support, and the governor is expected to approve it. "It's a really sad state of affairs," says Steven Newton, policy director at the California-based National Center for Science Education. "In an era where other countries are pushing forward … the United States is passing anti-science bills in some of its states." As I wrote last week , the measure create any requirements, and, as the Times Free Press reports , its sponsor has been adamant that it "does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any nonscientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom."...

More God Stuff

Tiny heads; see larger heads to left.
In addition to my column this week about the secular movement (such as it is), I also had a bloggingheads conversation with Sarah Posner, senior editor at Religion Dispatches and frequent TAP contributor on the same topic, which you can enjoy without all the stress and strain of "reading." Give it a look:

One Nation, Not Under God

(Flickr/djwhelan)
Picture this scene: A recently elected president announces that he will decline to place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. When people object, he replies that he doesn't believe in God, so it wouldn't make much sense for him to go through the motions of a religious ritual when he does not share that religion's beliefs. Chances are you think such a thing is unlikely. After all, the politician would never have gotten elected in the first place without proclaiming his belief in God. It has happened, however—just not in America. The current prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, is forthright about her atheism and did not put her hand on a Bible at her 2010 swearing-in, generating a meaningful but not outsize controversy . Back here in the United States, however, our politics seem to be consumed more with religion than they have been in quite a while. That's partly because we're in the midst of a contentious Republican primary in which candidates are competing to...

Kinder, Gentler Secularists

Carl Sagan, happy atheist. (Flickr/Aleiex)
Tomorrow, a coalition of non-believers is gathering for a rally on the Mall in Washington, an event that is mercifully not being called the Million Atheist March, but rather the Reason Rally. I predict it will be almost completely ignored by the press. That might be justified if turnout is small, and the secular agenda is pretty vague at this point. The latter point is really the key question for the secular movement, such as it is. While they have a few high-profile spokespeople, the movement is a collection of organizations that are small, underfunded, and, forgive me for saying so, not particularly impactful (sorry for using that awful word, but it gets across my point). But whatever the success of tomorrow's event, they may be moving in the right direction. Many of the usual suspects will be speaking at this rally (Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, James Randi). But they've also got Adam Savage from Mythbusters , so that's something. And Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is going to send a...

GOP Senator Defends Planned Parenthood

(Flickr/JRockefellerIV)
The last time Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison took on Rick Perry, things didn't go so well. Hutchison, among the most popular politicians in the state at the time, was the favorite to win the Republican nomination, and instead Perry rode into the general with overwhelming support. Among Hutchison's key problems—besides simply running a bad campaign—a nagging reputation as a moderate, who was at least somewhat pro-choice and who'd voted for the bank bailout. After the disappointing finish, she later announced she wouldn't run for re-election in the Senate. This may be her last year in politics. And evidently, she's decided that it's no time to back down from her political rival. On MSNBC Thursday morning, the senator openly criticized Perry's decision to defund Planned Parenthood and jeopardize the state's federal funding for the Women's Health Program. "We cannot afford to lose the Medicaid funding for low income women to have health care services," she said. "We cannot." Hutchison...

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