November 14, 2006
I was skimming through that Baylor study and came across this:
Are Americans losing their religion? Prior national studies with questions on religion, such as the General Social Survey and National Election Study, show an increase in the percent of the population with no religion over the past quarter century. For example, the 1988 General Social Survey reports that eight percent of the population have no religion. By 2004, the percentage had risen to 14.3%. This growth in “religious nones” is often used by academics and the press to indicate growing secularization in the United States. But are Americans really that detached from organized religion?
I think that sounds very hopeful.
So, if religion is not growing in popularity, can it really be said that the US is trending toward a theocracy as Dr. Peikoff seems to have claimed?
the Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, and are taking ambitious strides to give it political power.So, in re-reading, Peikoff's claim becomes a bit more specific.
Religion, by contrast—the destroyer of man since time immemorial—is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.
If you hate the Left so much that you feel more comfortable with the Right, you are unwittingly helping to push the U.S. toward disaster, i.e., theocracy, not in 50 years, but, frighteningly, much sooner.
He's not saying that more people are becoming Christian, but that the Christians are pushing to have more influence in the government.
This changes the standards of proof a bit. I don't think that stating trends to show whether or not more Americans are Christian would fit the bill.
We could look at the number of candidates who are successfully elected and are supported by Christian groups.
In that forum discussion, Paul suggests:
It is the nature of religion that force is used to suppress opposition and institute laws or decrees that are used to control the populace. A simple survey of history and modern societies is all that is needed to demonstrate that. However, like the heavier-than-air airplane and gravity, in American society (not to mention the West in general), there are enormous forces set in opposition to religion that prevents it from exercising its nature. So to demonstrate that a theocracy is possible or imminent in the US, one has to take into account the nature and strength of those who oppose theocracy, statistics be damned. None of that has been done in the current controversy.
I wish I were as hopeful as Paul is. He seems to think that religion has no real following and presents no serious threat in the political realm, at least not when compared to things like (his words) "egalitarianism," "multiculturalism," and "environmentalism."
I wish I were as hopeful, but I don't agree with his characterization of Christianity, nor do I agree with his equating it with those other -isms, but that's a digression for another time.
I know that there are people opposed to the rise and spread of religion and happily, the statistics we do have about religion in America seem to show that fewer people are buying into that rigmarole. I'm in the process of reading this article on so-called New Atheism in Wired (Thanks, Chip!) that talks about Richard Dawkins' attempts covert the people who politely "respect" religion into militant atheists.
But it also seems like the Christians, particularly those on the Right, are wising up to the power of the dollar and the fun of grassroots efforts. The Christian Coalition was start not that long ago, in 1988.
If I had to state a theory to pursue with testing and observation and all of that, I would guess that the influence of all sorts of statist organizations has actually grown over time and increases more rapidly each year.
The explanation I would offer for this is to say that since day one of the Republic, the limitations placed around the government have been slowly eroding. Perhaps it started with things like paying money out to the widow of a naval officer. I don't know, but the speed of the erosion of our freedom seems to have been slowing increasing.
Around the turn of the century (I'm talking about YOU, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt) the statist movement seems to have really worked up a full head of steam and in the days following the First World War, during the Great Depression, statism broke into an all-out sprint. Judging from the growth of the national debt since Franklin Roosevelt, the exercise seems to have been doing those tyrants some good.
As they have chipped away at freedom, increased state interference in our daily lives, and even shifted the "American" sense of the proper role of the state they've gained more wiggle room for themselves.
(I'm using the word "American" above to refer to the political ideal of a government dedicated but also limited to the protection of individual rights.)
Now, when someone proposes an increase in the minimum wage, spending a jillion dollars so that churches can hand out food stamps, or forcing teachers to teach kids abstinence, or passing special laws just so that a woman's husband can't exercise his rights as her spouse and unplug her... many people (possibly most) are upset when that isn't done. Only a precious few ever say, "Hey! That's not what the government is here to do!"
So, spending increases even more rapidly. Regulations proliferate. New ways of using the state to excuse our inability to deal with reality are invented.
We have socialized education. We have a socialized retirement plan. We have socialized housing. We have socialized food plans. Why NOT socialized medicine? Why NOT socialized automobile production and sale? Why NOT socialized fast food restaurants?
The flawed logic for socialized anything is the same. If you give into one, it's difficult to stand against the spread of such socialism. It is socialism.
The Christians don't reject socialism, either. I mean, it's a religion that tells you to give you enemy not just the cloak from your back, but your shirt as well. It tells you that the love of money is the root of all evil. They preach that one should render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar, but spends precious little time talking about one's just desserts.
It's strange to me that the people who push for socialistic programs complain about the influence of special interests in government. It is the bureaucracy, the socialism, the inherent favoritism and nepotism in the government that allows special interests to happen in the first place.
Just listen to how they complain about how the voice of the little man gets drowned out by that of millionnaires just because the rich people can buy more attention.
If our government were limited in the American sense that I described above, a politician might accept the money, but there would be little he could actually do on the matter. Protection for individual rights is not limited to income bracket, race, or geographic situation within the state.
So, the cozy nest that the statists started building from the beginning is quite spacious now and allows for constant construction on new wings, halls, gables, windows, gardens, atriums, towers, ramparts, and other architectural structures and details that completely confuse the birdnest/castle metaphor I was making just there.
Statism, as a general term for the expansion of government beyond the limited capacity of protecting individual rights, which by default means the erosion of freedom or liberty, has been growing and spreading. I'm not sure if that is a claim that is up for debate given the obvious size of our bloated government.
But what part in this statist growth does Christianity play, if any? Has its part changed over time? How much time? How do we check on this?
It's easy to cite examples of laws proposed and passed based on arguments from religion. We've got those straight-marriage amendments going around, there's faith-based initiatives, restrictions on abortion and more.
The Christian Coalition website lists this as its legislative agenda:
1. Protect Religious Television Programming
2. Support Legislation Stopping Religious Discrimination Against Evangelical Christians in the Military
3. Making Permanent the 2001-2003 Federal Tax Cuts
4. Passing the 'Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act'
5. Passing in U.S. Senate of Broadcasting Decency Enforcement Act
6. Getting votes to Confirm President Bush’s Judicial Nominations
7. Passing the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act in the House and Senate
8. Passing Congressman Walter Jones’ 'Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act,' H.R. 235
9. Passing in the U.S. Senate Congressman Hostettler’s Legislation Protecting 10 Commandments
10. Passing Congressman Roscoe Bartlett’s 'Holly’s Law'
11. Passing Senator Sam Brownback’s anti-cloning bill in the U.S. Senate
12. Passing Congressman Ernest Istook’s Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Protecting Religious Freedom
13. Passing Congressman Todd Akin’s and Senator Jon Kyl’s 'Pledge Protection Act of 2005'
14. Passing Congressman Henry Hyde’s 'U.N. Reform Act of 2005' in the U.S. Senate
15. Passing Congressman Bartlett's First Amendment Restoration Act (FARA), H.R. 689
Sometimes, Christian groups support things that I would support. They say, for instance, that they're for reducing taxes. They also support a law that would countermand McCain-Feingold:
Congressman Bartlett's First Amendment Restoration Act (FARA), H.R. 689
Christian Coalition of American strongly supports Congressman Roscoe Bartlett's "First Amendment Restoration Act" (FARA), H.R. 689, campaign reform legislation will restore First Amendment rights in the 30-60 day period before elections. The Bartlett bill would repeal an unconstitutional provision in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in 2002. The McCain-Feingold bill bans non-PAC-funded issue advocacy and other such references to federal candidates in broadcast ads during the 30 and 60 days before primary and general elections."
But this doesn't mean that we agree with one another in principle. It also doesn't make their motivations more rational. If this law passes, it will be in part because it is supported by Christians.
Even the passage of "good" laws thanks to the support of evangelical Christians represents a notch in their belt and one data point more in support of a trend toward theocracy.
I remarked once that the Republican party is the party of religion. I cited statistics that show that Christians over all tend to support the Republican party, but in spite of this, some people took my statement to mean that I think the Republican party is a religious party, rather than to simply mean that religious people support the Republican party. I think such a "mistake" represents dishonesty in those who claim to have made it.
But while the Republican party is not a religious political party as such, I am certain that the evangelical Christians would love to hijack the party and make it such. So far, they haven't made it and I would like to think that such a party would find itself unable to win elections in the current climate. Although, that Dubya was able to win with all of his overt religiosity somewhat flies in the face of that thought.
The whole of Dr. Peikoff's book, Ominous Parallels, is dedicated to demonstrating the ideological similarities between Weimar and early Nazi Germany and the United States today.
He makes the argument that subjectivism and its variants because the primary ideology of Wiemar Germany and that the same symptoms are appearing in America today. Those symptoms include a rise in mysticism. Religion is certainly mysticism but in the book, he talks more about ghost hunting, seances, palm-reading and the like.
Now he says, "Religion ... is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government."
I said in another forum that I agree with that statement if only because I cannot name an ideological movement (as opposed to the movement of an idea, like multiculturalism, environmentalism, or egalitarianism) like religion or socialism that are on the scale of religion in the United States today.
The Democratic party is an extremely fractured party. They have their socialists, communists, moderates, fascists, evangelical Christians, and other groups, but as a whole they seem to lack a cohesive identity in terms of principles that guides them in making decisions. The party of late seems to have been mostly defined by not liking George Bush than anything else. Perhaps that will change.
The wall of the Republican Party is not without its cracks, though. The moderate parts of the party struggle against the extremes and the extremes these days are typically the evangelical Christians. "Right-wing" has become nearly synonymous with "Christian" in popular discourse. The right wing is also very powerful, so GOP candidates can't afford to make them too angry, but losing the middle ground is why they lost the recent mid-term elections. Did they learn a lesson?
I don't think that the Republicans lost the election because they were pandering to the religious right too much, although that might be part of it. I think most commentators agree that the War in Iraq was the decisive issue for most.
Was the War in Iraq launched at the encouragement of religious factions in the GOP? I don't know. Seems plausible.
Are religious groups exercising more and more influence in our government? In our culture? I think so, but it's difficult to produce quantifiable data that shows a definitive trend. It's definitely worth more thought.
November 09, 2006
I found some interesting things.
Religiously motivated social conservatives are an important base for base for President George W. Bush and the Republican Party, which lost control of both houses of Congress in the elections amid voter anger over corruption, intrusive government and the Iraq war.
"Based on the exit polls it is clear that the evangelical vote did come out quite strongly for the Republicans," said Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center.
Based on exit polls he estimated that 72 percent of white evangelical Protestants voted Republican versus 74 percent in 2004. Democrats got only 27 percent of their vote versus 24 percent in 2004, Keeter said.
"But the problem for the Republicans is that they lost the middle," he said -- meaning both religious and secular Americans with more lenient views on social issues.
And analysts say the Christian Right has no political option but the Republicans because it has demonized Democrats.
I pulled out those quotes because they support the notion that the Republican party really is the party of religion. They also contradict Paul's odd implication that the Democratic party relies as heavily on the Evangelical Christians as the Republican party.
BUT! What of this claim that religion is rising in America?
It's true that many states have shown support for religiously-motivated laws, but what other evidence might be present to answer this question?
I looked on Wikipedia about religion in America and found these interesting census statistics: between 1990 and 2000, there was 8.5% decay in people who call themselves Christian. Other religions saw a minor growth and non-religious/atheists saw growth as well.
And Religious Tolerance.com is reporting a shift away from organized religion as well.
76.5% (159 million) of Americans identify themselves as Christian. This is a major slide from 86.2% in 1990. Identification with Christianity has suffered a loss of 9.7 percentage points in 11 years -- about 0.9 percentage points per year.
Of course, they aren't exactly unbiased in their reporting.
These statistics call into the question the claim that religion is on the rise in America.
I made an attempt, albeit brief, to go look on the Ayn Rand forum for a discussion on this topic, but I lost my patience for sorting through some of the blather that can be found over there.
But there was this post by one Stephen Speicher who cites similar statistics regarding a trend away from religion in America.
By contrast, this article on religion-online discusses the increase in sale of Christian music. Again, those people are biased and more spending doesn't necessarily reflect a rise in religion. It could be that Christians are getting richer.
So, then I went to http://www.theocracywatch.org/ to see what they had to say about the influence of religion on our government. When I got there I noticed that they're only concerned about the rise of religion in the Republican party. Hello, bias! But they do offer some notable statistics that I will allow you to consult on your own.
In my studies from business school and personal interest in the topic, I know that religion is a big business.
Economist: Onward, Christian shoppers
The reason for corporate America's new-found interest in religion is simple: the market is booming. Packaged Facts, a market-research company, estimates that the “religious products” market was worth $6.8 billion in 2003 and will grow to $8.6 billion in 2008. Christian radio has seen its market share expand from 2.2% in 1999 to 5.5% today. The Association of American Publishers reports that the market for religious books grew by 37% in 2003. The definition of religious books is vague—but religious publishing is undoubtedly growing much faster than the industry as a whole.
The reason the religious market is booming is simple: religious America is booming. John Green, of the University of Akron in Ohio, calculates that there are 50m Evangelicals in America. He argues that Evangelicals are growing as a share of the population. They are also getting richer, in part because the Evangelical heartland of the South is booming and in part because richer people are joining the cause.
So, I then looked up John Green from the University of Akron in Ohio. I mean, what reason does he have to dissent from the census statistics? His interview with PBS is interesting, but devoid of substantive facts, citations, or statistics.
Then, my google took me to a slightly different corner:
Washington Post.com: Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility
The religious left is back.
Long overshadowed by the Christian right, religious liberals across a wide swath of denominations are engaged today in their most intensive bout of political organizing and alliance-building since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, according to scholars, politicians and clergy members.
In large part, the revival of the religious left is a reaction against conservatives' success in the 2004 elections in equating moral values with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Religious liberals say their faith compels them to emphasize such issues as poverty, affordable health care and global warming. Disillusionment with the war in Iraq and opposition to Bush administration policies on secret prisons and torture have also fueled the movement.
Good luck with that.
That article says precisely two things to me:
1) As I suspected, the two parties really aren't all that different.
2) Each party has its renegades.
If religion is declining in America, but its influence in each party is increasing... what does that even mean?
The New York Times talks about an apparent shift in voting data among the religious crowd and on the Pew Forum, this seemed a popular topic among news sources, but the statistics still show that a majority of Christians were voting to the Right.
After all that, I still find myself left with the question: Is religion or is religion not growing as an ideological force in American culture today?
I love you, Google!
And via a series of links I don't feel like recounting for you guys, I found some article from the associated press saying:
Americans are far more likely to consider religion central to their lives and to support giving clergy a say in public policy than people in nine countries that are close U.S. allies, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.
Nearly all U.S. respondents said faith was important to them, and only 2 percent said they did not believe in God, according to the polling, conducted for the AP by Ipsos.
Almost 40 percent in this country said religious leaders should try to sway policymakers, notably higher than in other countries that the poll covered.
As purely anecdotal evidence, I have encountered many people who claim not to be religious, but are, in fact, Christian, in that they believe in God and they subscribe to the Judeo-Christian formulation of morality, salvation, etc. It's like "Christian" is a bad word to them, so they dissemble about it.
I'm kind of surprised by what I found, really, but the question still seems unclear to me.
Fewer people are willing to SAY they're religious, but religion seems to be extremely popular from an economic perspective.
Anywhoodles, I thought this was interesting enough to blog all about it.
November 07, 2006
If you're interested to see what church was like for me as a child, go see the new Borat movie. Therein, Borat attends a revival church service of a Pentecostal church.
Note: the Pentecostals are not exactly the same as the Charismatics, which are the ones who handle snakes, although when they name their churches, there tends to be some overlap.
The term "evangelical" is a general term that subsumes several Protestant denominations such as the Pentecostals, Baptists, and Methodists. So-called evangelicals don't typically call themselves "fundamentalist" but that's what they are.
The term really just refers to Christians who focus on teaching the gospels (Books of the New Testament), proseltyzing, and adhering to typically conservative interpretations of the Bible.
1. Also, e‧van‧gel‧ic. pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings.
2. belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, esp. of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ.
3. designating Christians, esp. of the late 1970s, eschewing the designation of fundamentalist but holding to a conservative interpretation of the Bible.
4. pertaining to certain movements in the Protestant churches in the 18th and 19th centuries that stressed the importance of personal experience of guilt for sin, and of reconciliation to God through Christ.
5. marked by ardent or zealous enthusiasm for a cause.
6. an adherent of evangelical doctrines or a person who belongs to an evangelical church or party.
In general, evangelicals say they're against the gay sex (and hypocrisy, in general), but as the news will tell you, practice tends to reveal some dissent in some dark, sweaty corners of the evangelical movement.
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