I just read an interesting article from Pew research on American religion. Since 2007 Americans are 4% less likely to attend religious services, 7% less likely to associate themselves with a particular religion, and 3% less likely to believe in God. This may not seem like big numbers, but each percentage point represents more than 3 million people.
My question is this. A small segment of Christians are extremely vocal and extremely fundamental. This group of Christians seems to have been embraced by the GOP, particularly since Pres. Obama's election. In the process, we've seen the Republicans shift so far right, and cater to ultraconservative denominations.
Are religious conservatives and political conservatives destroying each other?
Many people, including myself, have left the Republican Party because of their determination to eliminate the separation of church and state. We left because they've thrown science under a bus, bolstering the distrust of science of creationists. (You can believe in a Creator and in the value of scientific discovery. Many do.)
The most extreme among the Republican presidential candidates are often embracing the values of the most extreme Christian groups.
- fear of Islam
- rejection of evolution
Furthermore, far right political beliefs are now becoming embraced by conservative Christians, even though many of them conflict with core Christian beliefs.
- rejection of welfare
- rejection of immigrants
- embracing military action
- perception of persecution
- fear of terrorism
- a national defense three times the size of the second largest standing army.
- defense spending larger than the rest of the world combined.
- a pro-gun lobby that generates more gun sales than automobiles and the highest gun related violence in the world
- rejection of social policies that reduce health care spending
- rejection of energy policies that reduce the dependence on fossil fuels
The Republican Party has condoned these extreme politicians because the voter base is loyal. They know they are causing apathy among voters, however, the apathy is taking place in the wide center, and extreme Republicans outnumber extreme Liberals. They win elections by reducing turn out, not through persuasion.
Not only does this relationship create apathy toward politics, but now, it seems, it may be creating apathy toward religion.
Most Christians are very centric in their political beliefs and many see caring for others as a Christian responsibility as well as a government responsibility.
A very vocal minority creates the perception that religious and political extremists are commonplace and tightly tied together, I believe that apathy and distrust toward politicians has spread to apathy and distrust for the deep roots that faith has built in this country.
At no point was this more clear as when the new Pope visited America. The Catholic Church has traditionally been more conservative than most Protestant Churches. However, politicians and extreme Evangelical Christians spoke out against the Pope because he is perceived as more tolerant of diversity and beliefs, embracing of science including climate change, and a proponent of reducing violence particularly between religious sects.
Correlation does not equal causation!
Naturally, extreme conservatives are going to draw the correlation between the time table of the Obama presidency and the fall in religious value.
While apathy in politics is increasing, and apathy in religion is increasing the most logical potential causation is where the two intersect. There is no doubt that extreme Christianity and extreme political conservatism distinctly overlap.
This doesn't equate to direct causation either. It's simply more likely.
The sad conclusion...
While the Republican Party and the Christian faith are closely tied and both experiencing attrition, this attrition actually helps Republicans.
Fewer voters increases the likelihood of Republican success. Apathy helps the Republicans.
Few Christians however, can lead to overall declines in the importance of faith to our society and our nation. Apathy hinders the Churches.
I believe in God. I believe that most Christians are good people dedicated to the betterment of our communities and society. Those Christians are being dis-empowered unwittingly by a relationship with a group of politicos driven by thirst for power, greed and pride.