Part 2 of 2. (Read part 1…)
It’s Time to Separate Church and State, Once and for All
If you recall, anti-Catholic prejudice was once a problem for Catholic politicians in the US. John F. Kennedy went so far as to address the issue head-on in his 1960 campaign – probably because he didn’t feel he had much choice. Here’s what he told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12 of that year:
I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me.
He went on to assert his respect for the separation of church and state and vowed that Catholic officials would not dictate policy to him. As noted in part 1, the times, they have a-changed.
In 1960 it was “anti-Catholic prejudice.” In 2010 it’s “empirical evidence of improper behavior by the Roman Catholic Church.” And it’s time it stopped. Cold.
If I were a Congressman, I’d introduce a bill yesterday stripping all US operations of the Roman Catholic Church of their tax-exempt status. At the press conference announcing the move I’d also say something along these lines: “I won’t be running for re-election – what could possibly be the point? However, between now and the day I leave office, I’m going to raise hell 24/7/4ever over this issue. I know that I’ll probably never get my bill into a committee hearing, let alone get it out of committee, but if Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens can draw as much attention as they have, I feel certain that I, as a sitting member of the United States Congress, can get booked on every talk show in America. Rest assured, my fellow citizens, this is going to make for some epic television.”
Of course, I’m not Congressional material. If you want to know what Congressional material is, recognize that representatives of a foreign theocracy are inside Congress shaping policy … and not a damned one of the spineless sacred whores on Capitol Hill has uttered a fucking syllable in protest.
Did I miss something?
“America is a Christian nation.” It certainly is. Sort of. It’s a Christian nation in the same way that it’s a white nation, a heterosexual nation, a right-handed nation and a nation with brown hair. That is, “Christian” is the majority position. Boy howdy, is it the majority position, with a majority of the population saying it believes angels and demons are active in the world and 80% saying they believe in miracles. Hell, even our atheists and agnostics sound a little religious. A snapshot of American religious affiliation that I offered up back in 2007 is instructive:
- Polls show the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian ranging as high as 85% or beyond.
- The president is a Christian…
- …as is the VP.
- The Speaker of the House is Catholic…
- …and the Senate Majority Leader is Mormon.
- Well over 90% of our Congressional representatives are Christian, with a majority of the remainder being Jewish.
- The Supreme Court features seven Christians and two Jews.
- All of our major presidential candidates in both major parties.
- Almost all of our past presidents; depending on how you count Unitarians, you have to go all the way back to Lincoln (ironically enough, the founder of the GOP) to even find one to debate over;
- Hell, even sports franchises are starting to build their operations around the evangelical litmus test.
- It seems unlikely that a similar review of the legislatures and courthouses in the 50 states would reveal too much variation from this overpowering Judeo-Christian norm.
There’s no denying that we’re a Christian culture – in many ways, that’s a simple math question and it’s about as controversial as noting that whites of European descent are the racial majority. But Christian culture and Christian government aren’t the same thing, and the United States is most emphatically not a Christian state. Not yet, anyway.
Reflecting back on my “if I were a Congressman” fantasy from above, I suppose I’d spend the remainder of my time in office asking the audiences of those TV shows to think about a proposition: to wit, while most Americans are Christian, “Christian” describes a lot of different things and not one unitary thing. Dr. Sid’s “modest proposal” from a couple of months back was more about provoking than persuading, but at its core there’s an important question. If you’re a Christian, you may want to see a more Christian government. But if you’re a Baptist, do you want to see a more Catholic government? If you’re Catholic, how are you going to react when the Texas School Board is co-opted by Mormons and all of a sudden the nation’s textbooks are filled with lessons that transform the hallucinations visions of The Prophets into stone cold fact? If you’re a member of the Foursquare Bible Congregation in Smallpond, Alabama, you probably agree with the Stupakers on abortion, but how do you feel about the idea that your duly elected representatives are keeping counsel with that German eunuch in the pointy hat?
Think about it, Christian supermajority. Think hard.
Crawling Toward a More Rational Future
Evidence suggests that there may be hope in the long run.
The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.
These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), to be released today. It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990.
“More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I’m everything. I’m nothing. I believe in myself,’ ” says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.
The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) also found that a movement towards claiming no religious affiliation is “a general trend among younger white American.” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported “people not affiliated with any particular religion stand out for their relative youth compared with other religious traditions.”
The National Journal profiles a growing faction of non-religious youth – the Secular Student Alliance (SSA). Their motto is “Mobilizing Students for a New Enlightenment.” The SSA’s chapters have grown from 42 in 2003 to 129 this year and they currently have a network of over 14,000 students. Their mission is “to organize, unite, educate, and serve students and student communities that promote the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human based ethics.”
We are on the verge — within 10 years — of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
So perhaps in the 2020s and beyond the Bible-thumping Jesus Jihadi yahoo will be a thing of the past – or at least, his inexplicable influence on the course of government will be. But that’s of little comfort today. Just because the good guys win the war eventually doesn’t mean they don’t lose battles along the way, and lost battles mean casualties, measured in lasting damage to real human lives. Even if it’s just ten years until we’re free of these crusaders, understand that a lot of mischief can be done in a decade. If I might put it in more meaningful terms, remember how long George Bush was in office? Add two years to that.
Not that it will do any good, but your Senators and representatives need to hear from you that it is not acceptable for the Catholic Bishops to be meddling in the people’s business. Separation of church and state. Today.
When Jesus attacks, the proper course of action is to smack him in the nose with a crowbar. It says so, right there in the Constitution.