Are the Bible Thumpers Losing Their Grip on Our Politics?

AlterNet [1] / By Amanda Marcotte [2]  June 20, 2013

Excerpt

Is the religious right, which has been the electoral backbone of the Republican Party since the creation of the Moral Majority in the ’70s and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, in trouble? …the religious right…still wholly owns the Republican Party…Evangelical writer and pastor John S. Dickerson certainly seems to think so. In a piece published for the New York Times in December 2012, Dickerson bluntly declared [4] that evangelical Christians have become a tiny minority in America… research… found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans….Of course, if you were gauging by the behavior of Republican politicians, you’d think that evangelical Christianity was not only growing in popularity but growing in conservatism… This change was the direct result of many years of liberals highlighting, protesting, and fighting the Christian right’s abuses of power. To make sure this change takes, it’s important for liberals to keep up the fight.

Full text

Is the religious right, which has been the electoral backbone of the Republican Party since the creation of the Moral Majority in the ’70s and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, in trouble? The strongly right-wing Washington Times reports rather dimly on the conference for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group founded by religious right luminary Ralph Reed, because it couldn’t even gather 400 audience members, despite having a deep bench of fundamentalist-beloved politicians and celebrities like Pat Robertson, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and Scott Walker. The Times contrasted the small conference with its ’80s and ’90s counterpart, the Christian Coalition’s Road to the White House conventions, which drew thousands of participants every year.

If such a right-wing publication as the Washington Times is willing to hint at it, maybe it’s really time to ask the question: Is the Christian right beginning to lose its numbers, its mojo, and even its power? While it’s definitely too early to count them out—after all, the religious right, weird fantasies about masturbating fetuses [3] and all—still wholly owns the Republican Party at this point. Still, is there some hope on the horizon that their once-mighty numbers and power are beginning to dwindle?

Evangelical writer and pastor John S. Dickerson certainly seems to think so. In a piece published for the New York Times in December 2012, Dickerson bluntly declared [4] that evangelical Christians have become a tiny minority in America:

In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans. (Other research has reported that some 25 percent of Americans belong to evangelical denominations, though they may not, in fact, consider themselves evangelicals.) Dr. Smith’s findings are derived from a three-year national study of evangelical identity and influence, financed by the Pew Research Center. They suggest that American evangelicals now number around 20 million, about the population of New York State.

One major reason is strictly demographic: Older fundamentalists are dying off and not being replaced by younger ones. Research by the Christian Barna Group shows that the 43% of young people raised as evangelicals [5] stop going to church once they grow up. The reasons that young people get disillusioned [6] with the church track nicely to the reasons the religious right is such a danger to American democracy and freedom: They disagree with the homophobic and sexually judgmental teachings. They disapprove of the church’s attacks on science. They find conservative Christianity intolerant and stifling.

Evangelical leaders themselves certainly believe they’re seeing a decline in influence in the United States. In a 2011 Pew Forum poll of evangelical leaders around the world, 82 percent of American evangelical leaders [7] said that evangelical Christianity was losing influence. Compare this to evangelical leaders in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia, 58 percent who said that their faith was gaining influence. Which, sadly for the people of those countries, means more gay-bashing, more attacks on women’s rights, and more scientific illiteracy, though presumably the evangelical leaders see all these effects as good things.

Of course, if you were gauging by the behavior of Republican politicians, you’d think that evangelical Christianity was not only growing in popularity but growing in conservatism. The past few years have seen a dramatic escalation in the attacks on women’s rights [8], which politically can only be a bid for the fundamentalist votes, as most people outside the world of conservative Christianity are either pro-choice or don’t care enough about the issue to vote on it. (Yes, there are also Catholics, but despite their leadership, the majority of Catholics are pro-choice [9].) Not only that, but Republicans seem to have grown bolder in portraying themselves as religious extremists to pander to the religious right, often embracing absolutist approaches to abortion, opening up the war on choice to attacks on contraception, and sharing the bizarre, anti-science attitudes towards rape and pregnancy they pick up in their churches. While the majority of Americans turn toward favoring marriage equality for gays and straights, Republicans attack like the country still views the issue the way a megachurch pastor would, even going so far as to hire separate lawyers to defend DOMA when the Obama administration refused to do it.

All of this, as Todd Akin can attest, hurts you in the polls, and yet Republicans keep at it like they’re facing a country on the verge of having an evangelical majority, when in fact the exact opposite is happening. What gives?

Part of the problem is that while politicians have a reputation for being able to change their views on a dime, the reality is that they’re often thrown off by change and struggle to adapt. Many, possible most, Republican politicians are fundamentalist Christians themselves, and they started out in politics during the multi-decade heyday when being a Bible thumper was a sure path to power. It’s hard for them to accept that things have changed that quickly.

Akin is a classic example. Since 1988, Akin’s schtick as a wild-eyed anti-choice lunatic spouting every fundamentalist conspiracy theory [10] under the sun helped him win one office after another, usually annihilating his competition at the polls. When he made the move to run for Senate, it’s not surprising he thought the same strategy would work. After all, he’s tight with Paul Ryan [11], whom Republicans think of as their “mainstream” offering. They even authored anti-choice legislation together. Indeed, it’s easy to see how Akin would have easily won a few election cycles ago, “legitimate rape” comment and all. Back in the Bush era, being a dim-witted Bible thumper didn’t even block you from the presidency, so a Senate seat from highly religious Missouri should have been a breeze. The change has been happening so fast it’s no surprise Akin didn’t see it. Really, who could have?

Of course, as things can swiftly change for the better, they can just easily take a turn for the worse, so liberals shouldn’t sit on their laurels, confident that this decline in fundamentalism will last. This change was the direct result of many years of liberals highlighting, protesting, and fighting the Christian right’s abuses of power. To make sure this change takes, it’s important for liberals to keep up the fight.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/belief/christian-right-0

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/amanda-marcotte
[3] http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/06/18/rep_mike_burgess_of_texas_suggests_banning_abortion_because_fetuses_masturbate.html
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/the-decline-of-evangelical-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[5] http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/16/opinion/stepp-millennials-church
[6] http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church
[7] http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Evangelical-Protestant-Churches/Global-Survey-of-Evangelical-Protestant-Leaders.aspx
[8] http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/06/16/conservatives-double-down-on-the-war-on-women/
[9] http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/topics/catholicsandchoice/documents/BRSCatholic.pdf
[10] http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2012/10/03/akin-in-2008-doctors-give-abortions-to-patients-who-arent-pregnant/
[11] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/08/20/712501/paul-ryan-and-todd-akin-partnered-on-radical-personhood-bill-outlawing-abortion-and-many-birth-control-pills/
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christian-right
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bible
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-0
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

A Dismayed Democrat Reads the Bible

By Candace Chellew-Hodge, Religion Dispatches, December 27, 201

Talking to theologian Marcus Borg about biblical errancy, the spiritual body, and the scandal in American Christianity

Marcus Borg has a formidable reputation in the world of Jesus scholarship, but if you ask him to describe himself he’s more likely to say he is “a dismayed Democrat”—the result of years of surveying the militaristic, individualistic attitudes of so many of his fellow American Christians.

Borg, a professor at Oregon State until his retirement in 2007, has written twenty books, mainly aimed at debunking fundamentalist ideas about Jesus and God. His newest book Evolution of the Word, is a chronological reading of the New Testament. When read in historical order, Borg argues, the Bible reveals itself as having been shaped by the community that engendered it, rather than the other way around.

I had a chance to speak with Borg recently about his book, and its provocative thesis.

RD: Not many people take the time to read the New Testament in the order it’s laid out in the Bible. What can we glean from reading those texts in their chronological order?

Marcus Borg: In the New Testament, among the things we learn by reading it in chronological order is, in a sense, the obvious: mainly that there were vibrant Christian communities. I call them ‘Christ communities’ since there was not a separate religion called ‘Christianity’ in the first century. There were vibrant Christ communities spread out around the Mediterranean world before any of the documents were written, so the documents give us glimpses, or windows, into what those Christ communities were like.

And they make clear that the New Testament as a whole, including the gospels, are the product of those communities, written to those communities, and in many cases written within those communities. So, we learn that it’s not that the gospels created early Christianity but early Christianity produces the gospels as well as the other documents.

The book of Revelation, which of course comes at the end of the familiar New Testament, is almost in the middle—number 14 of 27 documents. When the book of Revelation comes at the end of the New Testament, it makes the whole of the New Testament sound as if we’re still looking forward to the second coming of Jesus and what is popularly called ‘the end of the world.’ When the book of Revelation appears more or less in the middle, we see it, hear it and understand it as a document produced in a particular time and place that tells us about what that Christ community, and the author, John of Patmos, thought would happen soon, in their time—rather than it being ‘Oh, this is still about the future from our point in time.’

Picking up on Revelation—you say that Paul’s understanding of the second coming had nothing to do with anything like Rapture theology…

Paul thought that the second coming of Jesus might very well happen while he was still alive. This is clearest in the early letters of Paul, like 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, and near the end of chapter 15 [in 1 Corinthians] he speaks as if this might happen while he is still alive.

One big difference is he thought it was very, very soon from his point in time. Also, there is no reference to what Christians in our time refer to as ‘The Rapture,’ the notion that seven years before the second coming of Jesus, true-believing Christians will be taken up into heaven to be spared the suffering and tribulations of the final seven years. There’s nothing like that in Paul at all. Indeed, there is nothing like that in the New Testament.

The notion of the Rapture is roughly 160 years old, invented in the middle of the 1800s by a British evangelist named John Nelson Darby. Things like the Rapture—or even the notion that the Book of Revelation or Paul, for that matter, are speaking about things still to happen in our future—disappears when we understand this is what they thought in their time.

This reveals something I wish every Christian knew, and I say this as a deeply committed Christian myself: sometimes the Bible is wrong. It not only tells us about the wisdom and insights and experiences of our spiritual ancestors, but also contains their limited vision, their acceptance of things like slavery and the subordination of women. That’s not uniform, of course. There are also texts that proclaim the equality of men and women and forbid a Christian from having a Christian slave and so forth, but it’s all there, including mistaken notions about how the second coming will be soon.

We would escape a whole bunch of problems if only we all knew that and weren’t alarmed by it. The whole Genesis versus evolution controversy. For me, it’s not that the first chapters of Genesis are wrong, but they’re not meant to be taken literally. So, also the issue of whether women are supposed to be subordinate to men. That issue disappears if people are willing to say, “sometimes the Bible is wrong.”

So also with the texts that are quoted in opposition to same-sex behavior. Those passages, and there aren’t many, tell us what some of our spiritual ancestors thought and clearly they were wrong about that. So many conflicts in the church could be either resolved or handled in a very different way if only we didn’t have this uncritical reverence for the Bible.

Another point of contention is over the idea of literal, bodily resurrection. But you say Paul doesn’t talk about it this way?

In addition to Paul saying it’s not the physical body that is raised, he goes on to speak about a spiritual body. And as he tries to explain what a spiritual body is, he uses images of continuity that are at the same time image of radical discontinuity. So, the physical body is like a seed. The spiritual body is like a full-grown plant. Obviously, there is continuity, but the difference in appearance is enormous between a tree and an acorn. He does say there is continuity, but it terms of what they are like they are enormously different.

I don’t have any idea, myself, what a spiritual body is like. I don’t think it means just that our bodies more or less look the same but are made of spirit instead of flesh. I think that would be a rather silly way to understand it. For Paul, the resurrected body of Jesus is one that can still be experienced. Paul, himself, as he writes in his letters, had more than one experience of the risen Christ. His experience of the risen Christ was not of a physical body. The Damascus road story is what we would call a vision—and the people that are with Paul do not see or experience exactly what he does.

In addition to that, when Paul provides a list in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 of the people to whom Jesus appeared he not only uses the word ‘appeared’ four times, which is standard for a vision, he includes himself in that list. Paul sees the experiences that the other followers of Jesus had of Jesus after his death as belonging in the same category as his own.

Finally, for me the question isn’t whether or not the resurrection happened. It’s obvious to me that many of his followers continued to experience him after his death. But, to confuse that with the revitalization of a flesh and blood body is to misunderstand what Easter is about in the New Testament.

Easter is really about two things: Jesus continues to be known and God has vindicated Jesus. By which I mean, God has said ‘Yes!’ to Jesus and ‘No!’ to the powers that killed him. Those are the central truths of Easter, as I see it. To turn the question of Easter into a conflict about whether the tomb was really empty is an enormous distraction.

Getting back to what you said earlier about the community creating the Bible—what would it mean if people came to think this way about this sacred text?

It would be very difficult to believe in biblical inerrancy or infallibility. I think it’s difficult to believe in that in any case. I often say that if you read the Bible carefully and attentively you could no longer believe in biblical inerrancy.

But the whole notion of biblical inerrancy is grounded in the conviction that God directed the people writing these documents in such a way that everything in them has the authority and truth of God. Once we realize, ‘Oh, these are the products of people living within early Christian communities,’ that whole question changes. Nobody would say ‘well, these communities were inerrant and infallible.’ To me, that’s not destructive of the Bible’s authority, rather it’s a foundation for understanding what this collection of documents is about.

In much of your writing, you talk about something called “the domination system” in which the rich rule over the poor. How do you see that working in our society?

The pre-modern domination system was ruled over by the top one to two percent of the population. We’ll call these people the ‘elites of power and wealth’—and they would include the monarchy, the aristocracy, and their extended families. Ordinary people had no voice in how the society was put together.

The post-modern domination system is in one respect quite different. To use the United States as an example, ordinary people, of course, have the opportunity to vote. But the power of the very wealthy to shape the systems of our society remains. It’s not only that the wealthiest one to two percent receive a quarter of our national income every year, but they own about 40 percent of the total wealth of the United States. Wealth in a democratic society creates enormous political power.

In 1976, the wealthiest one percent of Americans received about seven percent of the nation’s annual income. By 2007, that figure had gone up to twenty-four percent going to the wealthiest one percent. How did that happen? Is it because the wealthiest worked really hard from 1976 to 2007 while the rest of us kind of slacked off? No. The obvious answer is because of tax, regulatory, and economic policies and so forth. And the wealthy are able to shape those policies in their own interest.

How do you see the role of religion in this, especially when it is so often used to justify the attitudes of the wealthy? And what about the (bad) theological view that poor people are sinners, reasoning that if they were more moral people, they’d be rich.

The scandal of American Christianity today is that it is deeply divided not only about issues like biblical inerrancy and evolution, but it’s deeply divided between a conservative vision of Christianity that emphasizes that what really matters morally is personal morality, the behavior of individuals. Much of that is focused on what I call the ‘loin issues,’ the issues of gender and sexuality. Social values are about individual righteousness.

On the other side of the great divide in American Christianity are progressive Christians for whom moral behavior does matter, but moral questions extend to economic issues, to social justice, war and peace.

This orientation flows from seeing the political passion of the Bible and the God of the Bible and the political passion of Jesus himself. The Bible is one massive protest against the ancient domination system, which makes it a very political document.

And we need to remember that Jesus didn’t simply die, he was executed by the domination system that ruled his world. He was executed because he had become a radical critic of the way that world was put together and he was beginning to attract a following. To be very blunt, it’s difficult for me to imagine how anybody who has seen what the Bible and Jesus are about could vote for policies that actually maintain or increase the wealth of those at the top in our day.

So, I don’t have to ask how you vote.

Well, I often refer to myself as a ‘dismayed Democrat.’ I wish the Democratic party had more political courage. I admire the president a great deal, but sometimes I wish he’d channel his inner Harry Truman a bit more.

Of course, both parties have been criticized for being in the pocket of the elites.

Yes, that’s true because both parties have to appeal to wealthy supporters to run their campaigns and this does limit, to some extent, the populist voice in American politics.

Is there any room, then, for those of us ordinary religious folk who want to make real social change? 

I began by emphasizing that even within our system it does matter how we vote. And I would go on to say that, at least for Christians, a major task is consciousness raising within our own congregations about the Bible. Not only about what it is, but also about the idea that God is passionate about our liberation from oppressive systems.

Part of the scandal of American Christianity is that statistically the U.S. is the most Christian country in the world, and yet as a country we have the greatest income inequality in the world. And as a country we are uncritically committed, not simply to being the most powerful nation in the world militarily, but to being as militarily powerful as the rest of the world combined.

We Christians live in a tradition that is passionate about issues of economic justice and peace and yet at least half of American Christians, probably even more, think it’s really important that we be as powerful as the rest of the world put together.

Would reading the Bible be something you would recommend?

People need help in reading the Bible because if we read it on our own, chances are we will hear what it says within the framework of what we’ve already been taught. If the Bible really is about how to get to heaven and ‘Jesus is the savior who died to pay for sins so we can be forgiven’ we’ll be primarily struck by those passages that talk about God’s judgment and sin.

So, consciousness raising about the what the Bible is and how to read it is very important.

Do you think Paul or Jesus would recognize what we call Christianity today?

I don’t think they would, but I also don’t know that they would condemn it. I think they would be surprised, even amazed. It’s helpful to remember, for example, that the Christ communities that Paul created were very small, intimate, intentional communities, maybe 15 to 20 people in each, meeting in a shop, not so much in houses, in the cities of the Roman world.

Mammoth church buildings, paid professional clergy, a country that claims to be Christian—all this would amaze them and I think they would be very curious. I think, in many cases, they’d be a bit dismayed with values that they see many Christians proclaiming.

They might be dismayed Democrats as well?

Oh, I think so!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)

http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/atheologies/6733/a_dismayed_democrat_reads_the_bible_

Christian Right Failed to Sway Voters on Issues

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN, New York Times, November 9, 2012

Excerpt

Christian conservatives, for more than two decades a pivotal force in American politics, are grappling with Election Day results that repudiated their influence and suggested that the cultural tide — especially on gay issues — has shifted against them…

“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he [R. Albert Mohler Jr] said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”…

The election results are just one indication of larger trends in American religion that Christian conservatives are still digesting, political analysts say. Americans who have no religious affiliation — pollsters call them the “nones” — are now about one-fifth of the population over all…

The evangelical share of the population is both declining and grayingthe Republican constituency is going to be shrinking on the religious end as well as the ethnic end…religious liberals are gradually becoming more visible….

Full text

Christian conservatives, for more than two decades a pivotal force in American politics, are grappling with Election Day results that repudiated their influence and suggested that the cultural tide — especially on gay issues — has shifted against them.

They are reeling not only from the loss of the presidency, but from what many of them see as a rejection of their agenda. They lost fights against same-sex marriage in all four states where it was on the ballot, and saw anti-abortion-rights Senate candidates defeated and two states vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

It is not as though they did not put up a fight; they went all out as never before: The Rev. Billy Graham dropped any pretense of nonpartisanship and all but endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Roman Catholic bishops denounced President Obama’s policies as a threat to life, religious liberty and the traditional nuclear family. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition distributed more voter guides in churches and contacted more homes by mail and phone than ever before.

“Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.

“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

Conservative Christian leaders said that they would intensify their efforts to make their case, but were just beginning to discuss how to proceed. “We’re not going away, we just need to recalibrate,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive of The Family Leader, an evangelical organization in Iowa.

The election results are just one indication of larger trends in American religion that Christian conservatives are still digesting, political analysts say. Americans who have no religious affiliation — pollsters call them the “nones” — are now about one-fifth of the population over all, according to a study released last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The younger generation is even less religious: about one-third of Americans ages 18 to 22 say they are either atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular. Americans who are secular are far more likely to vote for liberal candidates and for same-sex marriage. Seventy percent of those who said they had no religion voted for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.

“This election signaled the last where a white Christian strategy is workable,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization based in Washington.

“Barack Obama’s coalition was less than 4 in 10 white Christian,” Dr. Jones said. “He made up for that with not only overwhelming support from the African-American and Latino community, but also with the support of the religiously unaffiliated.”

In interviews, conservative Christian leaders pointed to other factors that may have blunted their impact in this election: they were outspent by gay rights advocates in the states where marriage was on the ballot; comments on rape by the Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard E. Mourdock in Indiana were ridiculed nationwide and alienated women; and they never trusted Mr. Romney as a reliably conservative voice on social issues.

However, they acknowledge that they are losing ground. The evangelical share of the population is both declining and graying, studies show. Large churches like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God, which have provided an organizing base for the Christian right, are losing members.

“In the long run, this means that the Republican constituency is going to be shrinking on the religious end as well as the ethnic end,” said James L. Guth, a professor of political science at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

Meanwhile, religious liberals are gradually becoming more visible. Liberal clergy members spoke out in support of same-sex marriage, and one group ran ads praising Mr. Obama’s health care plan for insuring the poor and the sick. In a development that highlighted the diversity within the Catholic Church, the “Nuns on the Bus” drove through the Midwest warning that the budget proposed by Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, would cut the social safety net.

For the Christian right in this election, fervor and turnout were not the problem, many organizers said in interviews. White evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate — 3 percent more than in 2004, when they helped to propel President George W. Bush to re-election. During the Republican primaries, some commentators said that Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith would drive away evangelicals, many of whom consider his church a heretical cult.

And yet, in the end, evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Romney — even matching the presidential vote of Mormons: 78 percent for Mr. Romney and 21 percent for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls by Edison Research.

“We did our job,” said Mr. Reed, who helped pioneer religious voter mobilization with the Christian Coalition in the 1980s and ’90s, and is now founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He said that his organization outdid itself this year, putting out 30 million voter guides in 117,000 churches, 24 million mailings to voters in battleground states and 26 million phone calls.

“Those voters turned out, and they voted overwhelmingly against Obama,” Mr. Reed said. “But you can’t be driving in the front of the boat and leaking in the back of the boat, and win the election.

“You can’t just overperform among voters of faith,” he continued. “There’s got to be a strategy for younger voters, unmarried voters, women voters — especially single women — and minorities.”

The Christian right should have a natural inroad with Hispanics. The vast majority of Hispanics are evangelical or Catholic, and many of those are religious conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion. And yet, the pressing issue of immigration trumped religion, and Mr. Obama won the Hispanic vote by 44 percentage points.

“Latino Protestants were almost as inclined to vote for Mr. Obama as their Catholic brethren were,” said Dr. Guth, at Furman, “and that’s certainly a big change, and going the wrong direction as far as Republicans are concerned.”

The election outcome was also sobering news for Catholic bishops, who this year spoke out on politics more forcefully and more explicitly than ever before, some experts said. The bishops and Catholic conservative groups helped lead the fight against same-sex marriage in the four states where that issue was on the ballot. Nationwide, they undertook a campaign that accused Mr. Obama of undermining religious liberty, redoubling their efforts when a provision in the health care overhaul required most employers to provide coverage for contraception.

Despite this, Mr. Obama retained the Catholic vote, 50 to 48 percent, according to exit polls, although his support slipped from four years ago. Also, solid majorities of Catholics supported same-sex marriage, said Dr. Jones, the pollster.

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, who serves on the bishops’ domestic policy committee, said that the bishops spoke out on many issues, including immigration and poverty, but got news media attention only when they talked about abortion, same-sex marriage and religious liberty. Voters who identify as Catholic but do not attend Mass on Sunday may not have been listening, he said, but Catholics who attend Mass probably “weigh what the church has to say.”

“I think good Catholics can be found across the political spectrum,” Bishop Soto said, “but I do think they wrestle with what the church teaches.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/10/us/politics/christian-conservatives-failed-to-sway-voters.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121110

How the Religious Right Is Fueling Climate Change Denial

The Guardian [1] / By Katherine Stewart [2] posted on Alternet, November 5, 2012

Excerpt

why do so many people in America refuse to take climate science seriously?… how is it possible for anyone to think that thousands of scientists around the world are engaged in an elaborate hoax?

Climate science denial needs disinformation to survive, but it has its feet firmly planted in a part of American culture. That culture draws on lots of different sources. But if you want to understand it, you need to understand something about America’s religious landscape.

Take a look at some of the most recent initiatives in the climate science denial wars… the ultimate purpose is to produce a young generation of “skeptics” whose views on climate science will happily coincide with those of the fossil fuel industry.

Who is behind these programs of de-education?

The group writing much of the legislation is the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) [6], a “nonpartisan” consortium of state legislators and business interests that gets plenty of money from the usual suspects. But the legislation has also received vital support from groups associated with the religious right….

What does religion [9] have to do with climate science? Radical religious activists promote the anti-science bills, in part, because they also seek to undermine the teaching of evolution [10] – another issue that supposedly has “two sides”, so schools should “teach the controversy”.…It also tells us – on the firm foundation of Holy Scriptures – that policies intended to slow the pace of climate change represent a “dangerous expansion of government control over private life”. It also alerts us that the environmental movement is “un-Biblical” – indeed, a new and false religion…

Now, this isn’t the theology of every religion in America, or of every strain of Christianity [13]; not by a long stretch. Most Christians accept climate science and believe in protecting the environment, and many of them do so for religious as well as scientific reasons. But theirs is not the theology that holds sway in the upper reaches of the Republican party,…Why does this theology of science denial have such power? For one thing, it gives its adherents something to throw back in the face of all those obnoxious “elites”, which they think are telling them what to do with their lives. There’s no need to master the facts if all you need is to learn a few words of scripture.…  to disguise the extraordinary selfishness of his position in a cloak of sanctimony.

There is a choice. And even if you don’t think it matters, your grandkids will.

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Now that Sandy has exacted a steep toll in lives and property, the question is unavoidable: why do so many people in America refuse to take climate science seriously?

I am not assuming that Sandy was the direct consequence of human-caused climate change [3]. But with this fresh evidence of the impact of climate issues on real people, how is it possible for anyone to think that thousands of scientists around the world are engaged in an elaborate hoax?

The standard reply is that some powerful organizations – above all, in the fossil fuel industry – think that they can benefit from misleading the public, and have funded a successful disinformation campaign. There is a lot of truth to this answer, but it isn’t the whole truth.

For the average climate science denier in the street (and there are a lot of them on some streets), there is often little correlation between the vehemence of their denials and the so-called “facts” at their disposal. The average Chuck is like Chuck Norris, who has claimed that climate science is a “trick” [4]. Not an innocent mistake, not a systemic bias, but a premeditated fraud.

Climate science denial needs disinformation to survive, but it has its feet firmly planted in a part of American culture. That culture draws on lots of different sources. But if you want to understand it, you need to understand something about America’s religious landscape.

Take a look at some of the most recent initiatives in the climate science denial wars. In Louisiana, Tennessee, New Hampshire and other states, legislatures have either passed or put forward bills intended to disinform secondary-school students about climate science. Sure, they paper over the assault on education with claims that they only want to teach “both sides” of the issue and encourage “critical thinking”. But, as leaked documents made clear in at least one instance [5], the ultimate purpose is to produce a young generation of “skeptics” whose views on climate science will happily coincide with those of the fossil fuel industry.

Who is behind these programs of de-education?

The group writing much of the legislation is the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) [6], a “nonpartisan” consortium of state legislators and business interests that gets plenty of money from the usual suspects. But the legislation has also received vital support from groups associated with the religious right. For example, the perversely named Louisiana Science Education Act, which opens the door to climate science denial in the classroom, was co-authored by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based creationist thinktank. That act also received crucial support from the Alliance Defending Freedom [7], the well-funded Christian legal advocacy group that has described itself as “a servant organization that provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel”, and which promotes a radical religious agenda in public schools [8].

What does religion [9] have to do with climate science? Radical religious activists promote the anti-science bills, in part, because they also seek to undermine the teaching of evolution [10] – another issue that supposedly has “two sides”, so schools should “teach the controversy”. Now, you don’t have to believe that Earth was created in six hectic days in order to be skeptical about climate science, but a large number of climate science deniers also happen to be evolution deniers.

What exactly is the theology of climate science denial? The Cornwall Alliance [11] – a coalition whose list of signatories could double as a directory of major players in the religious right – has a produced a declaration asserting [12], as a matter of theology, that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.”

It also tells us – on the firm foundation of Holy Scriptures – that policies intended to slow the pace of climate change represent a “dangerous expansion of government control over private life”. It also alerts us that the environmental movement is “un-Biblical” – indeed, a new and false religion. If the Cornwall Declaration seems like a tough read, you can get what you need from the organization’s DVD series: “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day.”

Now, this isn’t the theology of every religion in America, or of every strain of Christianity [13]; not by a long stretch. Most Christians accept climate science and believe in protecting the environment, and many of them do so for religious as well as scientific reasons. But theirs is not the theology that holds sway in the upper reaches of the Republican party, or moves your average climate science denier Chuck. As Rick Santorum explained at an energy summit in Colorado [14]:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth … for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.”

Why does this theology of science denial have such power? For one thing, it gives its adherents something to throw back in the face of all those obnoxious “elites”, which they think are telling them what to do with their lives. There’s no need to master the facts if all you need is to learn a few words of scripture.

But, perhaps, more to the point is that this kind of religion works for Chuck because it allows him to disguise the extraordinary selfishness of his position in a cloak of sanctimony. Translated into the kind of language that you can take to the shopping mall, it says that God wants you to squeeze whatever you can out of the earth – and to hell with the grandkids.

I hear plenty of cynicism about the choice facing people this Tuesday, 6 November. Some say that it really doesn’t matter who gets elected. It is true that Obama has largely kept climate change out of the campaign. But it is delusional to imagine that Obama is just the same as Romney and the Republican party on this issue. Paul Ryan [15] is on record as a world-class climate science denier [16]. Mitt Romney’s press secretary [17] has been a shill for oil companies.

Romney’s proposals on energy policy and climate issues, so far as they can be discerned, are indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. And anyone who thinks that Republican party policies won’t be informed by some of that old-time religion simply hasn’t been listening to what its candidates have to say about women, reproductive rights, and what they speciously call “religious liberty”.

There is a choice. And even if you don’t think it matters, your grandkids will.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/environment/how-religious-right-fueling-climate-change-denial

Links:
[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/katherine-stewart
[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climate-change
[4] http://townhall.com/columnists/chucknorris/2009/12/08/chestnuts_roasting_on_a_copenhagen_fire/page/full/
[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/feb/15/leaked-heartland-institute-documents-climate-scepticism
[6] http://www.alec.org/
[7] http://lasciencecoalition.org/2012/01/05/gutting-bese-policy-untold-story/
[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/schools
[9] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/religion
[10] http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/evolution
[11] http://www.cornwallalliance.org/
[12] http://www.cornwallalliance.org/articles/read/an-evangelical-declaration-on-global-warming/
[13] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/christianity
[14] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/rick-santorum-global-warming-hoax_n_1260168.html
[15] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/paul-ryan
[16] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/08/11/677051/meet-paul-ryan-climate-denier-conspiracy-theorist-koch-acolyte/
[17] http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/10/31/romney-aide-andrea-saul-denies-climate-connection-hurricane-katrina-sandy-next
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/climate-change
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/religion-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/science-0
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/education-0
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/evolution
[23] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B