Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Society in Transition - from Religious America to a Post-Religious America?

Last week was a bummer for Conservatives.  Including today’s ruling by Colorado’s Supreme Court allowing citizen committees the delegated power to set voting districts (thus setting the stage for more battles over gerrymandering), the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) led the parade by granting petitioners’ suit for the right for gays to wed, on top of the ruling that saved the Affordable Care Act, as well as upholding a critical piece of the Fair Housing Act.

Any one of these would have been enough to set conservative teeth to grinding, but it was the victory over gay marriage that set off the fireworks.

First in the lineup is Rick Santorum, who says Supreme Court judges should face retention elections every few years.

Tim Brooks: Here is the only thing that will satisfy this agenda, and it's very clear — participation. We want you to come out of your house and participate with us. Now as I read this story, Lot was not forcing his lifestyle on them. Lot never tried to force his lifestyle on them, he never even brought that up. They are trying to force their lifestyle on him.
Rick Green: And so that goes even beyond "you have to celebrate with us. You have to actually participate with us."
Tim Barton: Yes, come out and have sex with us — have to participate. They're going to force participation and that's what we're seeing around the country.
It's unsafe in a city where the homosexual agenda has control.

Or on, of all places, Time, Inc., where Rod Dreher opined (in my favorite of the selection):

Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order.

We live in interesting times.

I’m assuming he meant that in the sense of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

No, that ruling doesn’t mean the decline and fall of the “traditional” American orders he mentioned, but it certainly does mean the decline and fall of the “Conservative” orders of both social and political influence as they’ve enjoyed them in the past.  

It has been well documented for some time now that the demographics of the American population is dictating at least two things conservatives loathe:

A growing number/percentage of young Americans are moving away from and actively rejecting the conservative set of ideals.

A similarly large percentage and number of young Americans are moving away from and rejecting religion.

Both of these herald the decline and fall of conservatism as we know it today.  It won’t happen before this next election, probably not within the next five years, but certainly in the next ten years, many conservative institutions now seen as bastions of conservative thought will fall, losing sufficient financial support to keep them going.   As the numbers of Americans willing to donate their hard earned dollars to the cause diminish, so will the institutions they now support.  Eventually even the wealthiest of conservative supporters will realize that throwing good money after bad is not a good investment as the numbers of politicians willing to pay homage to their money falls to unsustainable levels.

On what do I base these predictions?  Well, numbers help.  The US Census is part pof it, the PEW polls of recent weeks are there too, and I’ve posted this link before, which is a slide show from a site that is trying hard to alert American Christians to the dire future their religion has unless they take desperate measures.

Much like Mr. Dreher, above.

He tries to sound reasonable.  He uses a calm, collected tone, yet asserts the most ridiculous claims.

“One can certainly understand the joy that LGBT Americans and their supporters feel today. But orthodox Christians must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us. We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution. And we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, to build resilient communities.”

Of course, what he is talking about is the loss of the “traditional” privileges Christianity and its adherents have enjoyed in this country.

You know, the ability to know that every elected official is Christian.
That every legislative session is opened with a Christian prayer.
That every school day was begun with a Christian prayer.
That (as he mentions) Christian churches enjoy a decided economic advantage through their tax exempt status, even for their profit making entities.
That every hamlet, town, city and State can erect Christmas displays with Christian themes at the public’s expense.
That our currency reflects a Christian themed motto, which is emblazoned in every courthouse in the country, even in the Supreme Court.
That every one of our 44 Presidents have been (at least publicly) Christian.

There’s more, but I should link to a few sites that have extensive lists:

Here’s one on Tumblr:  

Whew!  That’s a lot!  Sure, quite a few are repeated in one way or another from site to site, but still, the list is extensive.

My problem with Mr. Dreher’s article is that once you look at a list like these, you realize that many of these aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  It ill take a major shift in social norms before many of these fade into the woodwork so that being Christian isn’t so normal any longer.

Now, it IS true that the major ones which I listed first are likely to be the first to disappear, since they depend upon the ubiquitousness of Conservatives in government to maintain them, and a few elections going the other way will easily allow Progressives to turn those corners.  In fact, several of those items have already come under fire, and at times fairly effectively, too, through rulings by the SCOTUS.  School prayer and publicly funded Christmas displays, for instance.

But, given these things, how likely is it that Christians will see his dire predictions come about?

Some will, some are clearly bogus.  The claims of future persecution, for instance are pure unadulterated bunk.  Obviously, he is conflating a loss of privilege with persecution.  A common scare tactic.

His claim that, “Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”  is obvious bullshit, as the First Amendment will protect pure religious practice.

Now, to be fair, it is true that those who insist on discriminating openly against gays will eventually (and to an extent will now) be shunned by more progressive folk.  But that is a cultural consequence, which the Constitution does not guarantee you any protections from, and is something a lot of folk from groups who have been badly treated by Christians in the past can hardly be blamed for participating in.

This brings up, “For another, LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives. The Supreme Court has now, in constitutional doctrine, said that homosexuality is equivalent to race. The next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions. The more immediate goal will be the shunning and persecution of dissenters within civil society. After today, all religious conservatives are Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla who was chased out of that company for supporting California’s Proposition 8.”

Again, his warning is probably a good one here.  There is already a movement to eliminate the tax exempt status of churches, but that would apply to ALL religions, not just Christianity.  Shunning and persecuting?  Well, the shunning we’ll hardly have to worry about needing to do, given his suggestion for how they should deal with all this, but I’ll get to that.   Persecution?  Again, we’ll not go down that rabbit hole.  This is till, despite his protestations, America, and the Constitutional protections of religion will still remain in affect, though folks like him will consider having to live by the same rules as everybody else as persecution.

The reference to Mr. Eich is an example of the kind of social shunning and negative affects that non-Christians have been suffering for years.  Let an atheist in many parts of the country let that be known, and they’ll lose their jobs faster than you can say “lickety-split”.

It’s kinda tough to feel sorry for folks facing the realization that such things are no longer something they’re protected from, although I would bet that a future progressive society will prevent such things from happening.  It is, after all, unfair.

His third complaint about the future as he sees it, “Third, the Court majority wrote that gays and lesbians do not want to change the institution of marriage, but rather want to benefit from it. This is hard to believe, given more recent writing from gay activists like Dan Savage expressing a desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy in all marriages. Besides, if marriage can be redefined according to what we desire — that is, if there is no essential nature to marriage, or to gender — then there are no boundaries on marriage. Marriage inevitably loses its power.”

Again, I see this as something else he is probably right about.  There is a growing movement in this country for something called Polyamory, which has as a central theme the freedom of avery person to love and be loved by multiple people at once, and specifically teaches about marriage under such conditions.  Others do push the idea of marriages with multiple partners, either male of female, with strong protections against underage abuse and coerced conditions.

I don’t see this, myself as a problem, since my moral outlook is a bit more liberal than his.  I do envision definite legal changes to our system to account for new types of marriage for the protection of minors and to protect against scams.  But this is a problem only to those whose moral ideals cling to the one-man-one-woman theme.  To those with newer ideas, these complaints fall on deaf ears, and even may elicit cries of joy.

Will marriage lose its power?  Of course not.  Marriage, by definition, as it is known today, is a legal state joining two people for the purposes of simplifying the legal, financial, inheritance, and property affairs which may arise in the course of their lives together and any eventual ending of the marriage, either by divorce or death.  The change of the allowed sex of the parties or the addition of more numbers to the marriage don’t make it “lose its power’, but actually continues to enhance society’s ability to order the affairs of its citizens.

Which, of course, was its initial purpose for becoming a legal state of affairs in the first place.

So, are we beginning a period of Post-Chrisitanity?  Is Derher right?

Yes, and no.  Yes, we are entering a period in which more and more folks are challenging Christian privilege.  More and more folks are jumping ship in favor of more open and inclusive values, rejecting the intolerance and the false teachings Christianity offers.  The support which marriage equality gained in the last ten years is a good marker for how quickly the country is shifting gears and becoming more progressive.

The Religioustoerance.org website from the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, has a page on How Many North Americans Go Regularly to Church.  On that page, they conclude, among other things:

How many people lie about going to religious services? 

Various studies in recent years have cast a grave doubt on the 40% value. 
Public opinion polls generally do not report real opinions and events. They report only the information that the individuals choose to tell the pollsters. Quite often, their answers will be distorted by a phenomenon called "social desirability bias." Pollees answer questions according to what they think they should be doing, rather than what they are doing. For example, a poll by Barna Research showed that 17% of American adults say that they tithe -- i.e. they give 10 to 13% of their income to their church. Only 3% actually do.  

The gap between what they do and what they say they do is closer in the case of religious attendance. It is "only" about 2 to 1.

Gallup has been telling us for 60 years that upwards of 80% of Americans are Christian.  In light of these results, I would conclude that we are closer to that post-Christian culture than we might think.

All this seems to indicate that the days of political and social influence of the religious right in this country are close to being numbered.  For the sake of the disadvantaged and minority groups, I sincerely hope that is true.

But when I look at the long lists of Christian privilege I linked to earlier, I have my doubts about who long it may be able to hang in there.

But, on the other hand, Dreher’s solution is quite different from what other Conservatives are bleating over.

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.

I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.

Sounds like his solution is for Christians to come together and for their own little enclaves, like the Quakers or the Amish, both of whom have survived for a very long time as small close-knit groups within American culture.

Could that work?  Can what are literally thousands of denominations of Christianity within the US ever come together to form such a group?  Could they resolve their dogmatic differences for the sake of saving the faith?  Or would a few be able to get together, forsaking the others and letting the rest die out?

I’m not a sociologist, nor a political scientist.  Nor am I a seer with the power to peer into the future.  (If I did, I wouldn’t be working for a living.)

What I do know is that a growing number of Americans (and indeed people around the world) are leaving both religion and conservatism behind.  A greater percentage of the newest generation are also, and that trend shows no signs of stopping or slowing down.  This does seem to be part of a transition, or at least the beginnings of one.  Christianity isn’t dead yet, nor has it given up its overly large share of political power.

But the wrestling of that power from the grasp of religion, in the US at least, begun so long ago in Europe with the Enlightening, is bearing fruit today.  Rod Dreher, despite his alarmist rhetoric and his over the top predictions, at least has that much right.

Someday, we may see Christians living in their own little enclave, selling handmade furniture and doilies.

I think I’ll pass.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ssshhh!! It’s a Secret…

It’s a hard thing to do, exposing people’s secrets.  It’s rude, tasteless, obnoxious, and utterly necessary.

In this case, the secret at hand is the answer to a question many folks I know on the left side of the political divide are asking themselves:  Why is it that otherwise respectable, educated and intelligent people are spouting the most extreme, batshit crazy opinions in increasingly painful amounts?  What could they possibly get from it?  Could they really believe it?

Of course they don’t.  Don’t be silly.  (Before going any further, read this.)

The secret is this:  All that batshit crazy nonsense does one thing, it keeps the racial, political and religious tension in this country at a fever pitch.  It keeps the extremist right wingers at a constant high pitch of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD).

FUD is useful stuff.  It keeps the faithful (this is NOT a slap at Christians - this one is about right wing crazy fundies) in the fold, ready and willing to donate their money and their political votes to the right wing “in” crowd.

The inner ingredients to the secret include one essential element - their sacred persecution complex.

Right wing Evangelists consider themselves to be the only “true” Christians.  All the others are either “watered down” Christians, or affected in varying degrees by Satan or one of his subordinate demons.  (Yes, really)  This results in the numbers of “true” Christians being down to an alarming (to them) 15% or so of the population.  Think about that for a moment.  This is why they talk so much about persecution, and “taking back” this country.  When you think the percentage of “real” Christians has shrunk from a majority of over 80% to less than 15%, you are talking about a truly alarming and horrifying trend of the country away from what they see as “the arms of God.”  In their little fantasy world, God cares about these things, and acts to destroy a country that He thinks has “turned away” from His true path.  The very idea frightens them to no end.

But, never mind, the Bible has a solution!

Fundamentalist Christianity has as a central element the idea that when a Christian is persecuted for his/her faith and does not waver, admission to heaven is almost guaranteed.  You become one of the favored few Christ will admit in the final days.

So, in order for them to be admitted to heaven in spite of their sinful ways, it is required for them to be persecuted so that their many shortcomings (which they are painfully aware of) can be overlooked.  Being a big fish in a very small pond is much better than being a small fish in a considerably bigger pond.

So, it is necessary to keep things going inside their own little echo chamber, where nobody dissents, everybody admires them for their strength in opposing the heathen, and are willing to donate money and votes to keep things rolling right along.  For somebody like Dylann Roof to suddenly come along and take their words seriously is a tremendous threat, believe it or not.

Remember, to themselves, they are good decent people.  They are (my generation of conservatives) living in a safe secure world where, in reality, they have little fear of personal violence, which is why their tactic of FUD is so effective.  When someone like Roof blows nine people away (after spending an hour talking to them) they are, once they wake up to the rest of society’s responses to it, quite horrified.  Not because of the violence done to innocents, but to the possibility that the violence will wake up the rest of the very liberal population, which might then take action conservatives do not have the will or power to prevent.

The possibility of being made personally responsible for the consequences of their own words is horrifying, not because it is consequential to themselves, but because it would end this neat little political gravy train they are riding.  The tension keeps the country off balance and prevents us from seeing the Conservatives’ lack of answers and inability to fix the country’s problems.  It keeps the faithful donating and voting them into office, and distracts the rest of us.  Remember, they LIKE having the rest of us so liberal, because it gives them a legitimate reason to claim persecution.  But we have to be distracted, so their fan base is able to gain the traction to get them elected to office.  Since they have no real solutions to the problems they would face, the prospect of actually being in charge and expected to perform is frightening.  Being a minority and persecuted is much better.

That’s the entire secret.  Obfuscation, distraction, projection all are tools of the Conservative mindset.  But don’t you dare upset the neat little scheme, the money is rolling in as planned…

Saturday, June 13, 2015

What is at the heart of religion's harmfulness to society?

I’ve written a lot about the harm I feel religion causes in society.  And, to be clear, there is a lot, familial strains and breakups, rejected children over LBGTQ issues, laws reflecting specific religious practices that not all citizens agree with, forced chipping away of the rights of certain classes of folks over biblically prohibited things of one type or another, especially sex, and a hundred other things.

But, in the end, I think there is one over-riding element of religion that makes all the other stuff happen.  One thing it does to us all, regardless of the specific religion, that creates the canvas upon which all the other harm is painted.

You see, Christian preachers proudly tell their congregations that all they need to believe, and thus be saved for, is to have faith.  Faith is the rock upon which belief is founded, or so they will say.

In reality, what is faith?  Some will say that it is the proclivity to believe something without evidence.  And, to en extent, so it is.

But really?

Faith is the training you receive from childhood that teaches you to believe whatever you are told by some authority is the truth.  No questions, no skepticism, just faith.  Shear, unadulterated gullibility, in other words.  From your childhood, you are taught that these authorities know what in truth, it is impossible to know, or so common sense would tell you.  But you are trained to ignore common sense.  You are taught that you cannot question these things.  They are simply taken as truth, by faith.

This allows those authorities to replace your own worldview with one of their choosing.  Like wiping a hard drive clean and replacing it with a flawed image of a brand new operating system - but one which includes some special programing.  Programming which allows you to live your life thinking you are doing good, even when you are not.  Programming which tells you that up is down, right is left, good is bad, and bad is good.

It is, in short, the programming that will allow a good person to do bad things, thinking that all of it is, instead, quite good.

Things like rejecting a family member, like a child, because they are gay.

Things like supporting a foreign war because god told the President to invade an otherwise innocent country.  Or so he said.

Or things like curbing the reproductive rights of women because god says women should be under the authority of men.

I could go on.  I could go on because this learning of faith is the basis for what society otherwise calls gullibility.  It allows you to believe all kinds of things without evidence, things like astrology.  Or ghosts, or ancient aliens.  Conspiracy theories like how Jews are supposed to have control over the world using some secret cabal.  Or the Illuminati.

Instead of children being taught to think for themselves, we are teaching them WHAT to think.  Not how, not how to be skeptical or to ask the proper questions, not how to verify something someone tells them.

Think of how much different our political system would be if we taught our kids to be skeptical of what they hear!  If we taught them how to verify things they’ve been told.  If we taught them how to use the Internet to scan the things politicians tell them to check for lies and prevarications.

How much different would our system work?  How different our elections would be!

That is the harm religion is doing to us.  It is teaching us to be gullible, to believe nonsense on faith.  To accept the authority of those preachers, to leave our kids in the tender care of clergy who often goes on to hurt them and sexually molest them.  To surrender the responsibility we have as adult human beings to examine the world around us to those who would instead harm us by teaching us harmful things, untrue things.

And, in the end, it teaches us to pass that harmful lesson on to our kids, keeping alive for one more generation the lesson of gullibility.

We don’t have to be gullible to be good.  We can let life teach us to be kind to others, to share our good fortune with those who have suffered the unkind hand of fate.  There are thousands, millions of good people whose examples serve to urge us to follow their good works with our own.

We don’t need superstition and fantasy tales to do that.

Let’s teach our kids to think for themselves.  Teach them to be skeptical.  Teach them how to ask questions and how to determine the right questions to ask.  Teach them that every claim of truth needs to be verified, then teach them how to verify those claims on their own.

In other words, let’s stop teaching our kids to be gullible, and teach them how to be strong and independent.

I think the world would be a better place for it.