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.

https://imgur.com/gallery/a8Gl1

19 thoughts on “Whose Jesus?

  1. This is one your best, Maha.  Thank you.  The biggest so-called conservative Christian hypocrite is Sarah Sanders.  I smile often when I think about how surprised she is going to be when she wakes up in hell with her father and Trump. 

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  2. Yes, you definitely hit the nail on the head.

    I attended an Episcopal school for a few years, although my parents were not religious.   That gave me some understanding of the teachings of Christ, and why people followed them, which would be absent otherwise.   As I see young fundamentalists opting out, and the older ones becoming more desperate and hostile, I have to interpret that as the result of a self-inflicted wound.  I know that their beliefs were valuable to them, but, the motivations behind them were sometimes tainted or simply small minded.  Some decent and valuable wisdom will spiral down the drain with them.  "Pearls before swine" seems appropriate.

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

    Yes good old Bannon desperately trying to remain relevant to the mouth breathers, and msnbc is all to willing to give him the air-time.  When I was a kid I remember people would always say: religion and politics just don't mix. I always found that pretty good advice, I'm glad the evangelical right decided to ignore it, it will be their downfall and it can't come soon enough!

  4. David Brooks is what happens when a rightie tries to explain things gone wrong.  He’s peddling a new book where he says the cause of all our youth’s spiritual angst is… our meritocratic system.  No David.  Try to not just interview the wealthy people you hang out with, but talk with real everyday working people.  Take off your wingnut brain addlers and draw a straight line back to the way things used to be in our Christian New Deal America, where our back-then-youth had far fewer reasons to doubt the American Dream or evangelism.  And then compare with today.  Some things are different.  You should be able to determine that something has been seriously broken.  Well, somebody not wingnut brain addled should anyways.

    Meanwhile, current versions of the Bible continue to give clear instructions about growing a religious movement.  Those instructions seemed to work well for centuries.  So what does a spiritual shepherd do when his sheep have become so oblivious to his shepherding, that they're declaring the wolves to be the new shepherd? 

  5. He’s peddling a new book where he says the cause of all our youth’s spiritual angst is… our meritocratic system.

    Let me take a wild guess that his prescription does not involve banning college donation preferences and legacy admissions to make the system more truly meritocratic, but letting rich idiot scions like GW Bush run everything.

    • I don’t follow Brooks at all.  He has a bad rep around here.  But based on TV appearances he seems like a nice guy who, since his livelihood is wrapped around his expressed "center-right" political beliefs, has his opinions obfuscated by them and then winds up being wrong a lot. 

      I think writers should be forced to make predictions, for the sole purpose of having a sort of “batting average” attached to them when the predictions come true or not.  It’d be one way to gauge their abilities without having to slog through their writings.  Then they get some kind of rating (like movies and games), or warning labels (like cigarettes).

  6. You are correct in that the "Public Face" of Christianity has largely changed since I came of age in the 70s. The sources for a comment on religious issues for the local TV stations and the major metropolitan newspaper were the seminary trained pastors of the most prominent Presbyterian and Methodist churches in the area at the time.

    Now the "go to" source is a "born again" (needed to be since he was convicted of a horrible crime in his youth) graduate of a dubious Bible college who just happens to be the minister of one of the largest mega churches in the area. You know he is right-wing on every issue.

    Even the religious editor of the area's largest newspaper selects articles to write on and writes from an obvious fundamentalist evangelical perspective.

    I have to hope that Pete Buttigieg is the first of many rational followers of Christ who begin to change the narrative.

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  7. Jefferson invented what is still available online – the "Jefferson Bible". He literally did a cut and paste, saving the words of Jesus and the parables Jesus taught, leaving behind the entire books of the Bible and episodes Jefferson considered suspect. He distilled what he hoped was the true philosophy of Christ, leaving behind what had been added or corrupted by the Church over centuries.

    You won't find an account of what Jefferson did in any history book, though you will find the fable of Washington and the cherry tree. I think Jefferson's idea was more telling of what was wrong with religions in Jefferson's time and are only worse in our time.

  8. Get a load of this:

    "Michele Bachmann hails "Godly" Donald Trump: America has 'never seen a more biblical president'"

    https://www.salon.com/2019/04/16/michele-bachmann-hails-godly-donald-trump-america-has-never-seen-a-more-biblical-president/

    Biblical to wingnut republicans like Bachmann cannot be synonymous with Christian.  It just can’t when you can look at Trump and say something like that with a straight face.  The man has zero empathy or compassion, is insanely selfish.  Lies as he breathes.  Cheats on his wives and is corrupt as they come.  There are characters in the Bible like that, but they are presented more or less as examples of how not to be.

     

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  9. We don’t define sin, God does in His Word.

    Maybe Franklin Graham should spend some time reading God's word. God has a lot to say about lying. I think Jesus once called Satan the father of lies..So when Trump is breaking records in the amount of lies a person can tell in a day it make me wonder how Franklin doesn't seem to see anything wrong with that.

    I think I've read that narcissism is a sin against God also. And without seeming petty and nitpicking, I've read that adultery, fornication, backbiting, gluttony, lust, covetousness, deceitfulness …just to name a few examples where Trump falls short of the glory of God.

    Franklin is a bag of shit just like Trump.

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  10. We don’t define sin, God does in His Word.

    Maybe Franklin Graham should spend some time reading God's word. God has a lot to say about lying. I think Jesus once called Satan the father of lies..So when Trump is breaking records in the amount of lies a person can tell in a day it make me wonder how Franklin doesn't seem to see anything wrong with that.

    I think I've read that narcissism is a sin against God also. And without seeming petty and nitpicking, I've read that adultery, fornication, backbiting, gluttony, lust, covetousness, deceitfulness …just to name a few examples where Trump falls short of the glory of God.

    Franklin is a bag of shit just like Trump.

  11. I agree that it is Evangelicals who are getting all the coverage. But, I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for any significant, sustained expressed outrage against the unChristian Evangelicals from moderate folks of faith. There is the occasional protest here and there. But why aren't religious leaders constantly, publicly calling out the disgusting hypocrisy of Evangelicals who support Trump? Where are the Episcopalians, the Methodist, the Jews, the Quakers, …  

    • "I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for any significant, sustained expressed outrage against the unChristian Evangelicals from moderate folks of faith." I know many Christians who have been doing exactly that, for years. Mass media ignores them, so you don't hear them unless you go out of your way to find them. See post above about how only right-wing extremist Christians ever get on the teevee.

       

  12. Chris Hedges spent time around evangelicals. He said that when they would find out that he was an ordained minister they would stop mentioning passages from the Bible. Hedges said theyknow that they pull those passages very very selectively. So when they find themselves talking to someone who is sure to really know his way around the Bible, they get quiet.

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  13. Great piece, especially about that Terry Schiavo debacle being a bridge way too far.  A case of politicians treading in metaphysics without a proper GPS or map.  

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  14. As knowledge grows, religion loses ground to science, which is a better system in which to search for truth. After reading the Jefferson Bible try Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason. From there it's only a short hop to Bible scholars who point out parts of the Bible most people have no idea about. For example, Jesus defending old testament views on homosexuality:

    Luke 17:28-30

    28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; 29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

    Matt 5:18

    For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

    (The law as supposedly written by Moses: Lev. 20:13: If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.)

    There are several others on that subject and many others in which 'our savior' is a rather nasty fellow:

    Matthew 15:3-4 – Jesus demands putting disrespectful children to death

    Luke 19:27 – Jesus says anyone who doesn’t believe in him should be dragged in front of him and slaughtered

    All ancient gods are barbaric.

     

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