Do non-religious Americans have a political future?
September 10, 2022
Perhaps you, too, remember predictions a decade-plus ago that our nation's population was rejecting religion so quickly that soon atheists would make up a big portion of Americans.
Well, as this piece from Religion & Politics reports, that hasn't exactly happened.
Oh, the number of adult Americans identifying as religiously unaffiliated (called the "nones") certainly has climbed. In fact, those folks now make up almost 30 percent of the population. But far from all of them would identify as atheists. Rather, they say they're searching, between-faiths, "spiritual but not religious" and in similar categories of inexactness.
The article asks this: "What happened to America’s promised atheist political revolution?"
And its first answer comes from Jacques Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University professor who researches secularism and politics: “They were delusional.”
Well, that seems needlessly dismissive, given the rather remarkable growth of the nones. But it's also true that the United States continues to be one of the most religious nations on Earth. That, of course, is the 40,000-foot view. When you start to dig into the details, things get really complicated really quickly. There are, after all, dozens of Protestant denominations that call themselves some kind of Methodist. And one of the biggest ones, the United Methodist Church, is in the midst of a major schism.
Today, says the article to which I've linked you, "the under-resourced non-religious voting bloc seems no closer to competing with the so-called Religious Right."
True, but it's also true that the Religious Right (a term that hides more than it reveals) is itself in turmoil after the Trump presidency, which drew that group in with idolatrous promises of being close to power and of appointing Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade (mission accomplished).
One of the problems for the non-religious, the Religion & Politics piece argues, is that "the atheist movement’s legal apparatus and energy, which are often focused on local school districts and Christian cross displays, lack the ability to take on well-funded, well-connected right-wing think tanks, let alone a Supreme Court stacked with conservatives."
An obvious reason for the problem of the "nones" being not very well focused on national issues is that they're not well organized. Why? Clearly, they aren't joiners. It's hard to mobilize people who don't want to be mobilized. (You may be thinking about herding cats here, but I'm going to avoid that old cliché. D'oh.)
For a long time in American history, almost no one running for public office wanted to be identified as non-religious. At least that has changed a little. Maybe that's progress toward inclusivity.
In any case, even though the "nones" haven't done much politically yet, that may change. The article says this: "Organizations have emerged nationally to help guide, fund and support secular candidates. In 2020, the Center for Freethought Equality’s political and PAC director Ron Millar. . .co-founded the Association of Secular Elected Officials as a network for local secular elected officials around the U.S."
So maybe non-religious people in the U.S., after all, have a prayer politically.
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DEFAMING RELIGION ONCE AGAIN
Here's another reason some people walk away from institutional religion. It turns out, this RNS story reports, that "A group of New York clergy took more than a million dollars from a real estate developer who sought to turn distressed Black churches into lucrative properties, according to settlements with that state’s attorney general." Some of them are giving the money back, but the damage already has been done. Apparently even some clergy members don't practice what they preach. Friends, that's called hypocrisy. And it can be deadly.
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P.S.: This National Catholic Reporter story tells about one of the religious accomplishments of Queen Elizabeth, who died a few days ago.
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ANOTHER P.S.: Yes, this weekend marks the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S., in which some 3,000 people died, including my nephew Karleton D. B. Fyfe. My book about how that trauma affected our family and about how some people get sucked into extremism (and what we can do about it) came out last year. If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, here is its Amazon page. It's called Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. It was recently nominated for the Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award.