Sunday, April 18, 2021

Politics and the Destruction of Faith

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

—2 Peter 2:1–3


Conservative Christians are engaged in a desperate political effort to keep America the religious and traditional nation they believe it was decades ago. These very efforts are what are actually accelerating the changes that they are fighting against. Their divisive and hateful politics are driving people away from religion. According to a recent poll from Gallup, the proportion of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue, or mosque has dropped below 50 percent. It is the first time the number has fallen below 50 percent since Gallup first asked the question in 1937 when church membership was 73 percent.


In recent years, research data has shown a profound shift in the U.S. population away from religious institutions and toward general disaffiliation, a trend that analysts say could have significant implications for politics, business, and how Americans group themselves. In 2020, 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque. The polling firm also found that the number of people who said religion was very important to them has fallen to 48 percent, a new low point in the polling since 2000. For some Americans, religious membership is seen as a relic of an older generation. Gallup’s data finds that church membership is strongly correlated with age: 66 percent of American adults born before 1946 belong to a church, compared with 58 percent of Baby Boomers, 50 percent of Generation X, and 36 percent of Millennials.


Tara Isabella Burton, author of Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, attributes the national decline in religious affiliation to two major trends among younger Americans. First, she points to broader shifts suggesting a greater distrust of institutions, including police and pharmaceutical companies. Some Americans are disillusioned by the behavior of religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal and the strong White evangelical alignment with the former twice impeached president. The other major trend Burton describes is how people are mixing and matching various religious traditions to create their own. Many people who don’t identify with a particular religious institution still say they believe in God, pray, or do things that tend to be associated with faith. Burton said younger generations that grew up with the Internet have a different kind of relationship with information, texts, and hierarchy.


Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued in a recent essay for the Atlantic that what was once religious belief has been replaced by political belief in many communities. On the political right, conservative Christians focus on Trump as a political savior rather than focusing on traditional questions of morality. Christians in the Republican Party are being less defined by their faith than by a set of more narrow concerns. In a new book Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics, political scientists David Campbell and Geoffrey Layman of the University of Notre Dame and John C. Green of the University of Akron argue that the religious right’s tight embrace of politics is essentially driving people away from religious affiliation into the arms of secularism.


Over the past several decades, Americans are increasingly likely to identify as having no particular religion. Pollsters call these people “nones,” and they have been growing at a phenomenal rate. According to the Pew Forum, more than a quarter of American adults say they have no religious affiliation. Thirty years ago, that number was about five percent. The trend seems to be for the “nones” to keep growing. The number of white evangelicals is also shrinking. The Pew Forum puts their size at about 16 percent of the population, down from 19 percent a decade ago, which seems to be the reason why white evangelicals were so enamored of Donald Trump. They felt he was protecting them from being overwhelmed by modern life. From their perspective, Trump being a bully was a feature, not a problem.


Campbell and Layman tested the thesis that the right’s willingness to conflate religion and politics was driving people away from faith in general. After asking people about their religious identity, they presented them with a single story where religion and politics were closely linked. Republicans had no problem with talking about God and politics in the same breath. But for Democrats, it was a major issue. When asked again about their religious affiliation, they were found to be 13 percentage points more likely to say they had no religious affiliation. In short, the very people who are pushing religion in politics the most are ensuring that more people are hostile toward religion. That’s a high price to pay for getting three Supreme Court justices.


The Republican Party and Evangelical Christians are choosing a form of Christianity that does not follow the teachings of Christ. They have wholly rejected the characteristics of a Christian that Jesus laid out for us in the Beatitudes. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” but Republicans and Evangelical Christians have repeatedly rejected social welfare programs to help the poor (the Gospel of Matthew refers to the downtrodden, while the Gospel of Matthew refers to those in poverty). Jesus also declared, “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.” Yet, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have denied the reality of the virus and therefore have dismissed those who mourned the loss of over half a million Americans. They have derided those who wore masks and advocated for measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, rejecting Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” 

Republicans and Evangelicals embraced a bully for president, disregarding Jesus’ teaching that, “Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.” They have rejected time and again assistance to those in need, denying them Jesus’ promise, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” The religious right rejects those who believe in the actual teachings of Jesus that honor love and acceptance. Look at the comments on any progressive Christian's TikTok, and you’ll the hatred of those who advocate love, who Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” Republicans and Evangelicals preach divisiveness, ignoring the warnings of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” They feel that they are the persecuted when they are the persecutors, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


Jesus warns us against people like the Republican Party and Evangelical Christians who teach hate disguised as religion. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15–20), Jesus warns of false prophets:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

The Gospels address the same point of a false prophet predicting correctly the rise of people who will use religion against others. Jesus predicted the future appearance of false Christs and false prophets, affirming that they can perform great signs and miracles, for example, in the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:5–7, 13:21–23) given on the Mount of Olives:

And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet…Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, He is there!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.

Many Democrats have been driven away from religion because of how conservatives have used against them. However, an aversion to religion is not solely a positive thing for Democrats. A significant block of Democratic voters, especially Black Democrats, are much more likely to be religious than white Democrats, 40 percent of whom are “nones.” If secular Democrats disparage religion generally, they also risk alienating believers who otherwise agree with them. There are Democrats well positioned to handle that problem. Chief among them is President Biden, a Catholic who attends Mass weekly. Another is Pete Buttigieg, who has made a point of talking about his faith. Biden and Buttigieg prove that progressives don’t have to cede religion to the Republican Party. However, we must remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 2:1–3:

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

For many Americans, right-wing Christians have given Christianity a bad name, enough to drive them from religion altogether. A strong counterbalance from progressive believers would show that the right doesn’t own religion enough to destroy it. We must follow what John said in the First Epistle of John. In 1 John 4:1–3, John warns those of the Christian faith to test every spirit because of these false prophets:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 

We cannot allow the religious right to destroy Christ’s teachings. We must fight to reclaim Christianity as it was in the earliest days of the religion. The earliest Christians believed in fellowship and equality among all members. I will always believe that Jesus would have and probably did accept people of the LGBTQ+ community. Many parts of the Bible never made it into the version we see today, and through many translations, the Bible has been used as a tool of hatred and not love. This has driven so many away from their faith when the teachings of Christ should draw people into the faith, not be used to exclude those who don’t fit the narrowminded beliefs of those who use the Bible as a weapon instead of a tool.


There has always been a battle between good and evil, but Republicans, Evangelicals, and the religious right are blurring those lines. I believe that the battle today is a battle between love and hate, between acceptance and rejection, between inclusion and exclusion, and between equality and inequality. Let us fight for LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, INCLUSION, and EQUALITY of all. It is the only way to reclaim religion for God and keep it away from politicians and those who wish us harm.


JiEL said...

Very interesting and well define as for what is happening in USA since decades and more.
Mixing a «false religious ideology» to policitics is just making this a kind of «hate club» and as you mentioned, not in phase with the real Jesus' lessons in the Gospels.

I always told you here that USA should take religion out of any politic spheres and let priests and preachers remain in their churches.

Here in Province of Quebec, the Catholic Church was the main religion all over.
There were on the English population side some Anglicans and Protestans too.

As soon as in 1960, there was a «Quiet Revolution» when religion, mainly Catholic one, was no more in the schools and saw its politic influence erased from any politics as it was before.
Even then, I can say that our governments had put in place many helping politics that are in accord with Jesus's lessons as our Universal Health Care, free public education system, universal social security etc...

Just looking how in Islamic countries rule by their religious laws is an bad example of religion supremacy and outrageous bad ruling over human rights, specially for women and LGBTQ.

Sometimes I see USA are almost in the same pace in some states where Retrumplicons are in majority with laws and bills that are not respecting Jesus' Gospel.

I'm a Catholic in faith but not an active one.
But I try in my life to apply what Jesus said so well.

Peace and Love

Anonymous said...

This may be your most important blog entry so far, Joe. Perhaps you should consider submitting articles to a progressive Christian publication such as Christian Century.

I am one of the 58% of Baby Boomers who is a life-long church member. I belong to a main line Protestant denomination. I am fortunate to be a member pf a congregation that practices love and acceptance of everyone, (including LGBT+,

But here is the sad truth: After not going to church during the pandemic year, I have no desire to go back. I am close to declaring myself a none.* Lately, if anyone asks, I tell them that my religion is separation of church and state. I am disgusted by the way the far right has co-opted Christianity and made it into some sort of American civic religion.

I thought that things were going to get better when Biden was elected and Mayor Pete was appointed to the Cabinet. But since January 6th, I have felt paralyzed. I expected an outcry against those who broke into the Capitol with their crosses and guns. Instead we are getting revisionist history and a complete stonewalling of Biden’s efforts to provide help and compassion to those who need it.

I have not lost my faith. I am still a follower of Jesus. But I am one of the people who has become repelled from anything related to organized religion. You wrote my story today,

I must say that you are a beacon to me, Joe. Thank you for your posts on Sundays — and every day. I wish i were more like you. I admire your deep faith, especially after all you endured at your home church and from your family. Your positive messages about love and acceptance, equality and inclusion are inspiring. You are a gifted teacher.

Charles of Durham

* A none. Not a nun! Spell check tried to change the word!

Joe said...

Charles, thank you for your kind words. I really wish the religious right would have an epiphany that their hateful version of Christianity is destroying the religion. All of the sex scandals, both Catholic and Protestant, don't help either. We hear more about the Catholic scandals and less about the Protestant ones, but they are no less prevalent in the Protestant churches. They are just better at covering them up because none of these people seem to have a problem with lying.

What so many religious leaders are doing these days from denying COVID, to discouraging their parishioners to not take the COVID vaccine, to their hatefulness towards the LGBTQ+ community, and many other non-Christlike acts, they are destroying the religion they say they are trying to protect and preserve. It's no different from the racism that occurred in the US in response to African Americans trying to gain the right to vote or any other form of equality.

I do believe that a lot of the hatefulness is in the minority, but they are so vocal until it turns people away from religion altogether. I don't know how many other people feel this way, but I know when I see someone who his openly religious, I am afraid to tell them that I am gay. I don't know how they will react, and I often find that when I do, they react negatively even if it's in small ways.

My deep faith comes from not being able to imagine a universe without God, whatever form he takes who different people. There is so much perfection and beauty in this universe (most of which we will never see), that I cannot believe that it was all an accident. I believe it was all guided by the Creator. I have had people call me weak-minded for believing this, and some have even ask "How can someone so seemingly intelligent believe in such drivel?" My response is, "How can I not? How can I look around me and say 'All of this is a freak accident.'"

My faith is simple and my religious philosophy is simple: do what is right, do what will help someone else, do what will make the world a better place. For me, that means LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, INCLUSION, and EQUALITY for EVERYONE.

P.S. A quick joke for you: Why do nuns always travel in pairs? So that one nun makes sure the other nun don't get none.
LOL. Have a great day!