I don’t really much care how many people self-identify as Christian or religious, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the Republican Party’s embrace of a very conservative interpretation of Christianity is actually undermining people’s faith and causing them to tell pollsters that they’re unaffiliated with any church or religion.
Whatever the cause, that’s what is happening. I think politicized religion here at home must be at least partly to blame, and there’s some support for that view in the fact that less conservative sects are suffering worse losses.
But I also think that moderate-minded people are impacted by the behavior of politicized religion in general, so when they see some Islamic radicals claiming to have established a caliphate and committing unspeakable atrocities in Allah’s name, many of them are put off of not only Islam but any organized religion. When they see Jewish radicals dominating the political process in Israel and standing in the way of peace negotiations, they can take their impatience with that and apply it to Christianity, too.
Let’s face it, most of the war and killing that is going on in the world today is generated by disputes between or within a small handful of very well-established traditional religions. We’re not seeing nearly as much secular ideology as we saw during the 20th Century, so people are less concerned about economic radicalism and nationalistic/racial imperialism, and more concerned about people who create tragedy in the name of God.
If the whole world woke up tomorrow with no memory of the New Testament, the Torah, or the Koran, it’s quite possible that peace would break out in ways that seem unthinkable today. So, it’s natural for people who aren’t particularly invested in any of those books to want to keep their distance from them.
Of course, there are still millions who are content to keep these books (or one of them) close to their heart, but who don’t like to see private religious beliefs used in a political or military way. I wrote yesterday about Pope Francis’s recent remarks about people invested in the defense industries not wanting peace. It’s nice to hear that from a leader of one of the Abrahamic faiths, and it’s a different take on the problem that has a lot of merit. Francis is still a pretty political pope, however, even if he shares my politics in more respects than his immediate predecessors. And, ultimately, politics are bad for religion.
You can see that by looking at the experience of Europe where many countries had state-sanctioned churches that experienced a shocking collapse of support once those churches got tied to political scandals. My understanding is that the pedophilia scandal in Ireland was so intertwined between the church and state that it changed the whole nature of the religious culture overnight.
From its beginning as a political union, America has operated without a state-sponsored religion, and the states eventually followed suit. This, more than anything else, explains why religion and religiosity still has a good reputation here when compared to Europe.
So, the lessons are clear. If you want to weaken religion, politicize it.
In other words, every time you hear a conservative politician talk about the importance of religious faith and (their particular) religious values, it’s safe to assume that they’re undermining their own ostensible cause.
Of course, their real cause is something different. They’re trying to get power.
[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]