Whose Jesus?

Via Jennifer Rubin, we learn that the U.S. is becoming a nation of “nones.”

CNN reports, “For the first time ‘No Religion’ has topped a survey of Americans’ religious identity, according to a new analysis by a political scientist. The non-religious edged out Catholics and evangelicals in the long-running General Social Survey.” Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, found that 23.1% of Americans identify as “No Religion.” In the survey, 23 percent say they are Catholic and 22.5 percent say they are evangelical Christians.

As recently as 1972, “nones” were only 5 percent of the population. So we’re looking at a significant cultural shift. Although I haven’t been able to find a precise breakdown of what percentage of the nones identify as atheist and what percentage are just alientated from organized religion, major reasons for converting to none include “I question religious teachings” and “I don’t like the position churches take on social/political issues.”

These days, if all you knew of Christianity was from television, including (hell, especially) the Christian Broadcast Network and Fox News, you’d probably think Christians by nature are ignorant, stupid and hateful. The young folks especially are fleeing organized religion — which is mostly Christianity — in record numbers. Rubin continues,

This and other studies have noted that the drop-off in religious identification is especially evident in the millennial generation. The American Family Survey conducted last year found, “For Millennials and even GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all. The Nones claim 44% of the 18–29 age group, and nearly that (43%) among those who are 30–44.” That is a dramatic change from other generations. “Among Americans older than 65, just 21% … say they are atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. However, even that 21% is a five-point rise from where the over-65 group was in 2015, when just 16% identified themselves this way.”

How did this happen? My explanation:

There was a time, in the mid-20th century and before, in which essays by Christian intellectuals such as C.S. Lewis and Reinhold Niebuhr showed up in daily newspapers and popular magazines. Of course, there also were characters like the infamous Father Coughlin who preached anti-semitism on the radio in the 1930s. But at least there were some highly visible examples of Christians in public life who were thoughtful, well-educated and, well, liberal about most things.

Beginning in the 1970s, mass media adopted the most backward, hateful and stupid representatives of Christianity, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, as the official spokespeople for “religion.” Much of this came about because right-wing political operatives such as Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie were forming alliances with right-wing religious figures to support the “conservative” agenda. As cable news took off in the 1980s, these same political operatives no doubt saw to it that the “right” clergymen’s phone numbers were in the rolodexes of cable news producers. So it was that from the Reagan Administration to the present day, the public faces of “religion” generally and Christianity especially are hateful and stupid.

For me, the derp came to a head during the Terri Schiavo travesty in 2005, in which mass media was swamped with characters from the hyper-conservative wing of American Christianity. No other representatives of religion, any religion, were anywhere to be seen. I remember evening cable news programs featuring banks of talking heads, all right-wing Christian clergy (and Pat Boone, who was interviewed just about everywhere), all bearing false witness against Schiavo’s husband as fast as they could move their lips. The “Christian” message they delivered was that Schiavo’s life must be continued at all cost, whether she was still “there” or not, and that those who wanted to let her go in peace were anti-God. The many Christian clergy, never mind non-Christian clergy, who spoke out against this nonsense were not invited to be on the teevee.

Now? Well, there’s Pope Francis, who is pretty conservative. But not conservative enough for some people.

Strolling through St. Peter’s Square, the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, Steve Bannon surveyed the enemy camp.

The populist political consultant has a new target in his crusade against “globalism” — Pope Francis.

Yes. The wackjob white nationalist right considers Papa Francisco the enemy.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has expressed a consistent message on the type of “America First” nationalism championed by Bannon.

Two years ago, the pope cautioned against growing populism in Europe, warning it could lead to the election of leaders like Hitler.

He has called for compassion toward migrants, saying that fearing them “makes us crazy,” as well as other marginalized groups including the poor and gay people. He has also defended diversity.

Bannon is not alone; there’s a whole movement of hyper-traditional Catholics who want to bring down Pope Francis. Many of them have criticized him over the Catholic sex abuse scandal, which he could have handled better. But does anyone really think that’s why they are attacking him? Especially since most of the abuse went on long before Francis became Pope?

Over the past few days conservative Christian America has worked itself into a snit because Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is gay and married to a husband, has been speaking out about his devotion to Christianity. And other things.

Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has provoked a backlash from conservatives in the last few days after questioning the moral authority of evangelicals like Vice President Mike Pence who remain silent about President Trump’s personal conduct yet disapprove of same-sex marriages and oppose gay rights. …

… A devoted Episcopalian who fluidly quotes Scripture and married his husband, Chasten, in a church service last year, Mr. Buttigieg is making the argument that marriage is a “moral issue.” In a speech on Sunday to the Victory Fund, a group that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender politicians, he said his relationship had made him “more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent.”

He then directly addressed Mr. Pence, as one man of faith talking to another: “And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.”

Mike “the Weasel” Pence, of course, went into Christian martyr mode and pretended Buttigieg had attacked his “Christian faith.” This from the guy whose policies as governor of Indiana caused a preventable outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C. Also, too:

Mr. Buttigieg has cited Mr. Pence’s support for legislation that made it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay couples as a reason he decided to come out publicly in 2015.

Since then, several right-wing commentators have declared that a gay man like Buttigieg couldn’t possibly be a Christian. They do this by defining Christianity, in part, as something that must be in opposition to homosexuality. If you aren’t willing to  discriminate against gays, you can’t be Christian, apparently.

Not all biblical scholars agree that the scripture calls homosexuality sinful. The idea that opposing interpretations of Christian teaching might be just as valid as theirs does not, of course, compute with righties. Note that these are the same people who scream incessantly that they and only they support “religious freedom.” But only on their terms. If they want to deny your right to follow your religion, they can simply deny it is one.

So it is that we see the noted religious scholar Erick Erickson declaring that Pete Buttigieg cannot possibly be a Christian. Erickson has also decided that the entire Episcopal tradition isn’t really Christianity, either. Apparently Episcopalianism is just a weird social club.

This divide over homosexuality and the Bible is not unlike the divide over slavery before the Civil War. Southern white Christians, reading the letter of the Bible, declared that since slavery is mentioned several times, God must condone it. Northern white Christians acknowledged that slavery was an accepted practice in the past but believed that Jesus’s teachings on caring for others made the brutality of slavery unacceptable. Same Bible, different interpretations. And the First Amendment says that government does not get to judge which interpretation is correct. But don’t expect that to stop righties from doing exactly that.

And this takes us to the highly visible support of depraved monster Donald Trump by many American evangelical leaders. This is about Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

What happened to turning the other cheek? I ask.

“You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says. “Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

Oh? Where in the Gospels does it say that? And note that Perkins has defined “Barack Obama [who is Christian] and his leftists” as being not-Christian, without offering evidence.

Anyway, if the young folks are staying away from organized religion, I hardly blame them. I just wish mass media would allow something other than the clown shoe version of religion to get some equal time now and then.