Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The New Religious Landscape

The 2012 Presidential Election has shown us that the religious landscape of America appears to have changed dramatically and perhaps irrevocably. White Christians overwhelmingly desired Mitt Romney to be the President of the United States, but discovered—much to their surprise—that they lacked the political clout necessary to achieve this goal.

Evangelicals, in particular, seemed shocked that they had so little power to affect the course of the election. In the election of 2000, Evangelical support helped George W. Bush win the White House and win re-election in 2004. In 2012, their overwhelming support for Mitt Romney was almost futile.

The country is changing rapidly and the changes that are occurring don’t bode well for the future of religious conservatives in general. For example:
  • One-fifth of Americans now claim no religious affiliation at all (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2012). 
  • One-third of Americans ages 18 to 22 self-identify as atheists, agnostics, or claim no religious attachments at all. 
  • These younger Americans, furthermore, are more likely to have a liberal outlook (70% of those who had no religious affiliation voted Democratic in the 2012 presidential election). They are also more likely to have tolerant views on abortion and same sex marriage and to take environmental concerns, like climate change, very seriously. 
In short, conservative manifestations of religious belief definitely seem to be on the wane throughout the United States and one could image a time in the not-too-distant future when the United States will look more like Europe: people might still identify themselves culturally with a particular religion and participate in services to celebrate significant transitional periods in their lives (marriage, childbirth, death, etc.), but they’ll keep organized religion at a distance and all but ignore the political and moral exhortations of religious leaders completely.

If one looks at the Catholic Church, for example, one can see this sort of change already occurring. The Church continues to rail against abortion, contraception, gay marriage and pre-martial sex. But its message is all but ignored by its members. When it comes to contraception in particular, Catholics clearly like their condoms and birth control pills and are not likely to give them up, no matter what the bishops—or the Pope for that matter—have to say on the subject.

What impact will these religious changes have on the politics of the United States? For one thing, I think that it is going to be very difficult for the Republican Party to win over younger Americans in the future if it continues to identify itself so closely with old white angry Evangelicals. The party might regain some influence if it could move beyond social issues, like abortion, and focus on its more traditional “small government, lower taxes” message. If it can’t do this, the Republican Party will increasingly become politically irrelevant—a party of fringe wackos who have nothing practical to offer the American people.

On a more positive note, I think that the death of religious conservatives and religious fundamentalism will ultimately be a good thing for the country. For the past decade the country has been held hostage by a group of religious extremists who really do believe that the end of the world is coming almost immediately, and that, therefore, it’s a waste of time to try to solve long-term problems like climate change. Once these extremists go the way of the dinosaur, perhaps we can begin to take a more long-term view of what’s ailing our country and our planet and actually create rational policies to address the issues that face us.

At the very least, it will definitely be a very good thing to be in a country in which the next generation actually begins to take its responsibilities to our planet more seriously and are not fixated on teotwawki (the end of the world as we know it). I might actually enjoy living in a world like that!

1 comment:

  1. If your looking for an enemy, we have found them: they are us.