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“The Religious Fundamentalists Are Losing”: Overall, The World’s Faithful Are Becoming More Open-Minded And Liberal, Not Less

This past weekend, over 2,500 Mormons showed up en masse outside the Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, to submit their resignations to the church. They were protesting a new decree excluding wedded same-sex couples from the church and granting baptism to the children of gay couples only if the children disavow their parents. As one devout Mormon put it in expressing her disappointment with the policy: “I feel like we are going backward when I thought we were moving forward slowly.”

Her statement encapsulates the current paradox of religious extremism: How is it that as humanity as a whole seems to be evolving to be more inclusive and less dogmatic in general, certain religious strains are doubling in their extremism? It’s possible to conceive of kernels of extremism as intrinsic within particular faith traditions. But it’s also possible to understand the current rise of extremism as a reactionary backlash against the overall liberalization of faith.

“We live in a world where every single person is challenging everything, where every single person has a voice” Amanullah De Sondy told me. De Sondy is a senior lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork (Ireland) and author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

“The extremists want conformity and detest plurality and differences. Being different, being an individual who states that it is their individual relationship with the divine is a huge challenge to those who want the strict order of organizing society.”

Put another way, strict religious ideology requires strict conformity, and people aren’t confirming anymore.

Between 2007 and 2014 in the United States alone, the portion of the population that identified itself as Christian declined by 7.8 percent. During the same period, the percent who consider themselves Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or some other non-Christian faith increased by 1.2 percent—still not enough to keep pace with the overall population growth of 7.9 percent during the same period.

The most significant shift came from the increase in those who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or otherwise unaffiliated (an overall increase of 6.7 percent). Within this shifting landscape, the United States reached its lowest level of religiosity since 1952.

The phenomenon is similar in Europe. According to data culled by the Islam in Europe blog:

The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there [is] also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they’ve lived in their new homeland for some time.

So how is it that in the face of declining religiosity, we nonetheless find ourselves swept up in almost unprecedented magnitudes of religious struggle—from the brutality of Daesh (as ISIS hates being called) in Paris and throughout the Middle East, or the far less extreme yet still perpetual hostility of Christian fundamentalists toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?

“The three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have groups that espouse some type of eschatology, or belief about the end of time,” says Valerie C. Cooper, associate professor of Black Church Studies at the Duke Divinity School. “Among these groups, eschatological fears that the end times are near may be stoked by perceptions that the group is being persecuted.”

That sense of persecution can come from the fact of declining religiosity. Or, say, a war being launched against an entire religion—whether it’s the supposed “War on Christmas” or a kind of “War on Islam” that some on the far right call for.

In this context, it’s reasonable to interpret any surge in fundamentalism within a given denomination as a reactionary backlash to the overall trend of liberalization. In Islam, for instance, “Many believers continue to believe in God but not in the place of worship,” says De Sondy. “Even if they don’t go and tender a resignation letter, they attend the Mosque and listen but at some level have checked out and do something different outside.”

De Sondy cites as an example the increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Muslims outside formal religious structures—akin to the demonstration made by rank and file Mormons. These shifting beliefs seriously challenge the orthodox structures and ideas of the faiths, says De Sondy.

And so, unable to propagate their narrow view through ideological cohesion alone, dogma resorts to force—in mild forms like pro-discrimination laws against LGBT people pushed by Christian extremists in the United States, or murderous forms like the brutality of Daesh, which is disproportionately used to punish other “unfaithful” Muslims.

In fact, like other fundamentalist religious groups in this era, Daesh is overreacting to a shifting global climate in which its ideas are increasingly marginalized. The trick to defeating Deash is to see for what it is—a desperate backlash by a declining ideology.

 

By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, November 20, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Mormons, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Gradual De-Christianization Of This Country”: America Is Becoming Exceptional Religiously, Not Exceptionally Religious

It’s always good for Americans to be reminded that the rest of the world is a great big place that isn’t always congruent with our own assumptions about the way things should be. So a new Pew survey on global religious affiliations, projected to 2050, is interesting in no small part because the United States is a bit of an outlier–or if you prefer, “exceptional.”

Here are the big toplines about what the world is expected to look like in 2050:

* The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

* Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.

* The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.

* In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.

* India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.

* In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

* Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Those who have been excited about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated in America–particularly among young people–may be pleased at the projections about the gradual de-Christianization of this country. But it’s not a global trend. And the unaffiliated are projected to have the smallest percentage growth of children in their ranks between now and 2050 of any religious category, so the growth vectors will depend entirely on rising net “conversions” from conventional religions. One reason that’s not a lively prospect is that the Asian heartland of non-belief–especially China and Japan–has very low population growth projections, and the latter country is a big future target for the religious groups denied access to the Chinese under communism.

The Pew study most definitely represents bad news for Islamophobes, given the continued growth of that faith community via high fertility rates and a strong base in developing countries where large families remain the norm (that’s partially true of Christianity, at least in its new sub-Saharan hot spots).

In any event, while the United States is likely to remain the most religiously observant of advanced western democracies, its “exceptional” nature will also reflect a growing gap with a more religiously observant planet. Go figure.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 2, 2015

April 5, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Islamophobia, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Politics Of The Nones”: The Demographic That Should Keep Rove Awake At Night

Imagine a demographic that has doubled its share of the population over the past two decades, is up by 25 percent over the past four years, and now accounts for as many as one in five Americans. Imagine that this demographic votes disproportionately for one political party—to the tune of 70 percent for Obama versus 26 percent for Romney in the 2012 election. Sounds like a demographic that ought to be of interest to politicians, journalists, and activists, right?

That demographic consists of people who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated—the “nones,” as they’re sometimes called. And it hasn’t attracted anywhere near the attention it deserves in the postgame analysis of the 2012 election.

A quick Google search turns up 64,000 results concerning the GOP’s “Latino problem” that became evident in exit poll data on Election Day. Latinos represented around 10 percent of the electorate in 2011, up from nine percent in 2008, and they voted for Obama at a rate of 71 percent. But it’s the nones that should be keeping Karl Rove up at night. Pew put them at 12 percent of the electorate in its exit poll data, and at 19.6 percent in its earlier general survey. (The difference appears to have more to do with polling methodology than with voting habits.)

The Public Religion Research Institute, in a study published on November 15, pegs the religiously unaffiliated at 16 percent of the electorate—and they figure that 78 percent of the category went for Obama. Crucially, like Latinos, the nones are young. One in three Americans under 30 are religiously unaffiliated—four times the rate for the over-65 cohort that keeps Rove in business. This isn’t a trickle, it’s a tsunami.

Google also shows that there’s no shortage of interest in the Republican Party’s “white problem.” The white electorate, long the bread-and-butter of Republican victories, has declined from 81 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2012. But if you look under the hood, the Republicans’ white problem is worse than these numbers suggest. For one thing, Romney’s white majority mostly came from racking up huge margins among Southern and rural whites, while Obama actually captured majorities of whites in many blue states and blue urban areas.

The most interesting way to divide whites in America, however, may not be by region, but by religion—or lack thereof. White evangelicals, according to Pew, were as red in 2012 as they’ve ever been. They went 78 percent for Romney, up from 74 percent for McCain. The bad news for the Republicans is that, according to Pew, the evangelical share of the population continues to erode—from 21 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2012—while the number of the religiously unaffiliated is rising—from 16 percent to 20 percent over the same period. In other words, “nones” and evangelicals are equivalent in numbers.

One explanation for this change in America’s religious complexion is that white Christians are aging: 72 percent of voters over 65 are white Christians, compared to only 26 percent of voters under 30. Pew also tells us that most of the unaffiliated are white—and that much of their growth has come from the white population. That said, lack of religious affiliation is also common among Asian Americans: while 42 percent of Asian Americans identify as Christian, 26 percent report themselves as religiously unaffiliated, in a significant increase over the general population, and 73 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama.

Like any group of this size, the religiously unaffiliated aren’t monolithic. About a third self-identify as atheists, while the rest say they are agnostic, “spiritual but not religious,” or simply uninterested in religion. They are spread fairly evenly across education and income levels. And they’re politically diverse when it comes to economic ideas. But they do seem to largely agree on one thing: that mixing religion with politics is a bad idea.

Which brings me back to the recent election. If the statistical data seem unreliable, just think back on the extraordinary nature of the debate in 2012. Never before have the culture wars been fought so forcefully on both sides. While the spectacle of Republicans declaring holy war has become old hat, this was the first election in which one of the parties explicitly endorsed same-sex marriage; this was the first election in which one party defended a woman’s right to reproductive freedom without apology or hesitation; and this season also saw the passage of a number of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives, as well as the election of the nation’s first openly lesbian senator.

Some on the right could scarcely believe that this is what America really wants. “Millions of Americans looked evil in the eye and adopted it,” wrote Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver in his post-election commentary. He has a point—except that, for the majority of Americans, the “evil” they looked in the eye was the one they rejected on November 6. Others on the right, like the Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, did get it: “It’s not that our message—we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong—didn’t get out. It did get out… It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed. An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”

So why haven’t the “nones” gotten the political respect they deserve? Part of the answer is that discrimination against nonbelievers—a large portion of the unaffiliated—remains an acceptable form of bigotry. More than half of Americans continue to say that they would never vote for an atheist for president—many more than will cop to being unwilling to vote for a black or gay person. Politicians are reluctant to associate themselves with such a seemingly toxic group.

The other part of the problem has more to do with a failure of the imagination on both sides of the religious divide. “Nones” (as that unfortunate label suggests) are typically represented by what they are not. They—or at least many of them—do not believe in God, they are charged with lacking “values,” and are suspected of not really being American. But this is nonsense. The unaffiliated do have beliefs, just not necessarily about theistic entities; they have just as many “values” as any other group; and their presence is firmly rooted in American history in helping create the world’s first secular republic.

Although the unaffiliated should not be conflated with atheists, it’s worth concentrating on them as they’re clearly the most feared subcategory. When atheists support same-sex marriage, for example, it’s not because they don’t believe in marriage, it’s because they believe in love and commitment. When they insist on removing creationism from public school curricula, it’s because they believe in the power of science and reason to improve the human condition. And if one should really need proof that atheists are as moral as any other group, they can call in some studies, or look at the growing body of research suggesting that humans’ sense of morality is hardwired and innate.

The politics of the nones in America remains to be written. This diverse group seems united primarily in its members’ opposition to the toxic blurring of religion and government. But if trends continue, perhaps we can look forward to the day when the word “values” is no longer used in political campaigns as a code word for bigotry.

 

By: Katherine Stewart, Religion Dispatches, November 26, 2012

November 28, 2012 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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