‘Religious Right’ are politically stronger than ever

    By Edd Doerr | 5 April 2015
    Letter, The Charleston Gazette

    James Haught’s March 22 article, “Cultural change is slow but deep,” accurately reported demographic shifts in religion in America, but that’s not the whole story. The “nones” or religiously unaffiliated may be 20 percent of our population now, but in the November 2014 elections — in which only 36 percent of eligibles bothered to vote — exit surveys showed that only 12 percent of voters were “nones.”

    Further, while very conservative churchgoers, usually labeled the “Religious Right,” are diminishing somewhat in numbers, they are politically stronger than ever. They and their political allies nationwide have:

    1. Advanced their agenda of diverting public funds to faith-based private schools through vouchers and tax credits, even though American voters between 1966 and 2014 have rejected such measures by an average 2-to-1 margin in 28 state referendum elections from coast to coast; and this is damaging the public schools serving 90 percent of our kids.

    2. Increased restrictions on women exercising their rights of conscience and religious freedom when deciding to terminate problem pregnancies for medical or other serious reasons.

    3. Denied climate change — involving carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, resource depletion, toxic waste accumulation, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and nutrient loss, rising sea levels (40 percent of world population lives in coastal areas), shrinking biodiversity, and increasing sociopolitical instability and violence, all of which is fueled by human overpopulation — thus endangering our whole planet.

    4. Increased federal and state court rulings that undermine the constitutional church-state separation that protects the religious freedom of each and every one of us.

    There is indeed a culture shift, but our country is not out of the woods by a long shot. Americans of all persuasions — Protestants, Catholics, Jews, the “nones” and others — need to work together to stop the erosion of our basic values before it is too late.

    Edd Doerr, president, Americans for Religious Liberty.

    (Note: Jim Haught is editor of the Gazette, and he and I are both columnists in Free Inquiry.)

    American cultural change is slow but deep

    By James A. Haught | 22 March 2015
    The Charleston Gazette

    America’s culture evolves constantly in many ways. Most changes are glacial and little-noticed — but they slowly add up to profound sociological effect. Here’s a major transformation:

    Churchgoing keeps dwindling in America, as it did previously in Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and other modern democracies. This trend has far-reaching implications.

    A new Gallup survey says West Virginia’s largest religious group isn’t Catholics, Baptists or Methodists — instead, it’s people who don’t go to church. Pollsters found that 34 percent of West Virginians say they attend worship weekly, and 18 percent say they go at least monthly, but the largest group is 49 percent who answer “seldom or never” or “don’t know.”

    Actually, West Virginia is more religious than most states. In Vermont, only 17 percent say they attend weekly. Churchgoing is stronger in the Deep South. Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas all report attendance in the 40 percent range.

    Many studies find that the most rapid shift in America is an increase in people who say their religion is “none,” a segment that has surged since 1990. This group has climbed to around 50 million. It includes one-third of adults under 30. This secular trend is rising.

    Mainline Protestant “tall steeple” faiths have suffered the worst loss, dropping millions of members. In 1965, half of America’s population belonged to the top seven mainline bodies, but today, it’s 10 percent. Scholar Joseph Bottum lamented: “The Great Church of America has come to an end.”

    Meanwhile, around 20 million have drifted from Catholicism — so one-tenth of U.S. adults are ex-Catholics. And evangelicals likewise are shrinking.

    The Barna religious polling service says secularism has increased so much that “about 156 million U.S. adults and children are churchless.” That’s half of the population. Only 18 percent of Americans actually attend church on a typical Sunday, researcher David Olson says — and he expects the ratio to slip below 15 percent by 2020.

    The cultural shift can be seen in disappearance of church-backed laws. A half-century ago, it was a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath — or for an unwed couple to share a bedroom — or for anyone to buy a cocktail or lottery ticket, or look at the equivalent of a Playboy magazine — or for couples to practice birth control in some states. Gay sex was a felony. And it was a felony for a desperate girl to end a pregnancy. Now all those moral laws are gone.

    The rise of “nones” has political implications. Those who don’t attend church generally are more tolerant of gays, more welcoming of blacks and Hispanics, more supportive of women’s right to choose, more approving of the public safety net. In other words, they tend to back compassionate progressive values — and they have become the largest single group in the Democratic Party base.

    Sociologist Ruy Teixeira predicts they will boost Democratic politics in coming decades and turn America more liberal. But they’re somewhat less inclined to vote. A couple of years ago, Dr. Teixeira wrote about America:

    “In 1944, 80 percent of adults were white Christians. But things have changed a lot since then. Today, only about 52 percent of adults are white Christians. By 2024, that figure will be down to 45 percent. That means that by the election of 2016, the United States will have ceased to be a white Christian nation. Looking even farther down the road, by 2040 white Christians will be only around 35 percent of the population and conservative white Christians, who have been such a critical part of the GOP base, only about a third of that — a minority within a minority.”

    Part of this shift is caused by the steady rise of Hispanics, Asians, blacks and other minorities, which gradually will reduce traditional European whites to less than half of the U.S. population.

    London’s Guardian reported last fall:

    “So-called millennials (Americans born between 1982 and 2000) are far more diverse, educated and tolerant than their predecessors. They’re also the least-religious generation in American history — they’re even getting less religious as they age, which is unprecedented — and the majority of them identify Christianity as synonymous with harsh political conservatism.”

    As the huge millennial generation slowly replaces old conservatives, power of the Republican “religious right” will dwindle, it said.

    It’s fascinating to watch the culture shift — and to guess where America is heading.

    James A. Haught, the Gazette’s editor, can be reached by phone at 304-348-5199 or e-mail at haught@wvgazette.com.

    Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers (2015)

    Professor Paul Ehrlich: Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?

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