Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why You Can’t Kill the Christian Right Yet

As noted in a post yesterday, the number of Americans identifying as Christians  is falling and the numbers of the "nones" is soaring.  Long term, this should be welcomed news to anyone who supports the concept of separation of church and state and who recognizes that religion's main fruit is hate and division.  The bad news is that evangelical Christians remain a metastasizing cancer in the Republican Party and they are increasingly becoming dominionists who want their toxic brand of Christianity to set public policy for America and seem only too happy to have America remain involved in crusades against non-Christian "infidels," especially in the Middle East.  Adding to the problem is the fact that the Christian Right has a large number of parasites both in the leadership of "family values" organizations and in the pulpits who continue to whip up persecution complexes among the mentally challenged ranks of their followers who seemingly will believe every liar and bogus conspiracy theory (ignorance, of course, is celebrated with these folks).  A piece in Salon looks at why sadly, we cannot count the Christian Right dead - at least not yet.  Here are highlights: 

The news cycle has been busy lately, so I don’t know if left-leaning political observers have yet had time to plan their victory dance over the latest Pew Poll on religion. But you can be sure that when they notice some of these numbers, we will soon be seeing another round of “ding dong the religious right is dead,” accompanied by the usual patting on the back and self-congratulations that goes with it. After all, something quite significant has started to shift, and at first glance it doesn’t bode well for social conservatives: There has been an 8 percent decline in the number of Americans identifying themselves as “Christian” since 2007, along with a 6 percent increase in the number who call themselves “atheist, agnostic, and otherwise religiously unaffiliated,” to nearly 23 percent of all Americans.

[T]he left has good reason to see the growth of non-believers as a welcome addition to their coalition. After all, it’s highly unlikely that these people will be welcomed into the party that boasts candidates who say things like Zach Dasher (the nephew of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson), who ran for congress in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

Take presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who suggested that atheist government employees should be fired:
“Some of you are frustrated and even upset and angry about America, and I get it. And I say to you, the answer is as simple as it is that the answer to the phones in our hearts that God is ringing. When we register people to vote, when we get them to the polls to vote, when we hire the people that will take our values to this city, and when we fire the ones who refuse to hear not only our hearts, but God’s heart.”
[S]ecular voters are often more scientifically based and see an activist government as a useful tool to solve problems. They are hostile to ideas such as climate change denialism and creationism and are more tolerant of social change such as civil rights and marriage equality. There is no philosophical reason that secularists could not be conservatives — indeed, history is full of them. But the modern Republican party is so closely aligned with rigid social conservatism and so dependent upon the Christian Right as an organizing institution that most secularists are not at home in the party at all.

So this is good news, right?  Unfortunately, as Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches ably demonstrates, that’s probably not correct. While it’s true that many Catholics and mainline Protestants have apparently switched to “unaffiliated” (which could mean many things) the evangelicals haven’t missed a beat . . . 

Posner points to studies showing that they have actually evolved over many decades of political involvement into a movement based on a “narrative of Christian nationalism.” She also notes that this might be what has driven some people out of their traditional religious homes. Unfortunately, the unaffiliated don’t have a shared identity or common institutions the way the Christian conservatives do, so they may not be much of a political counterweight.

Finally, and most importantly, the difference between the unaffiliated, atheist, secularist, “nones” — whatever you want to call them — and the Christian Right is the fact that the latter are a highly organized political machine that is controlled by professional political operatives like Ralph Reed, who runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition. It gets it’s people to the polls. Posner notes the depressing numbers:

This group [of religiously non-affiliated] is simply not a coherent political faction in and of itself. And I have no idea how one might organize such a group. It may not even be possible to organize them along the lines of their religiously unaffiliated status. So perhaps it would be best to simply stow the champagne and put away the party hats for the time being, and get back to work organizing voters on political grounds. That will likely sweep up most of these folks anyway, and would be more in keeping with America’s traditional understanding of the need for separation of church and state.

Unfortunately, that happens to be one tradition conservatives have completely abandoned.

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