Has the religious right fostered less religious identification?

People of faith do wonderful things. They feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and demonstrate a compassion often lacking in the secular world.

Unfortunately, so-called people of faith are also hypocritical, judgmental and determined to impose their beliefs on those who see things differently.

Most people don’t identify with the latter group, which has come to represent religion, namely Christianity, in America for three decades now. The result:

In “American Religion: Contemporary Trends,” author Mark Chaves argues that over the last generation or so, religious belief in the U.S. has experienced a “softening” that effects everything from whether people go to worship services regularly to whom they marry. Far more people are willing to say they don’t belong to any religious tradition today than in the past, and signs of religious vitality may be camouflaging stagnation or decline.

“Reasonable people can disagree over whether the big picture story is one of essential stability or whether it’s one of slow decline,” said Chaves. “Unambiguously, though, there’s no increase.”

Science + Religion Today notes that this has been a trend since the 1950s but the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has accelerated greatly since 1990.

Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, sociologists at the University of California, Berkeley, claim—and I think they are basically right— that it is part of the reaction to the religious right’s rising visibility in the 1980s. That is, before 1990, people who were raised, say, Catholic or Baptist, but were socially and politically liberal and already religiously inactive, would still be comfortable enough with their religious background to tell a pollster they were Catholic or Baptist. And then they saw all this conservative politics happening in the name of religion, in the name of their own religion maybe, and said, “You know what, I’m not that.”

The Rapture and me

Despite accepting the “invitation to receive Christ” on more than one occasion, I wasn’t convinced of my salvation. I was only 11, after all — unprepared to handle the implications of eternal damnation.

My family’s 1981 summer vacation was preceded by a Southern Baptist revival. For those of you lucky enough not to be raised Southern Baptist, revivals feature out-of-town pastors imported to scare the hell out of congregants. I remember a ruddy-faced man with fat cheeks and a bad toupee painting a vivid portrait of life on Earth following the Rapture. I would’ve gone forward again had my parents not stopped me.

It was nearing sunset on Seagrove Beach when I experienced what I thought was the Rapture, complete with swarms of locusts descending from a fiery sky. Or so it seemed to my vivid imagination, which veered into overdrive when I couldn’t find my parents. I went down to the beach. Nothing. I called their names inside and outside the house. Nothing. After about five minutes my worst fears were realized. They’d been “raptured” while I was left behind to deal with the Apocalypse.

Naturally, I went into hysterics, circling the perimeter of the house repeatedly, my arms flailing, screaming for mommy and daddy. Neighbors ventured outside to watch, unsure of how to handle an 11-year-old raving lunatic. They kept their distance.

Finally, my parents emerged from the basement I didn’t know existed. They were clearly disturbed but I couldn’t tell them what had caused my nervous breakdown. I can’t recall my story but know that I’ve always been a gifted liar.

That evening they took me to Panama City to see “Cannonball Run.” I welcomed the distraction though I couldn’t help but wonder: would Burt Reynolds be left behind like me?

And you thought the pedophile priest scandal was bad

I hear the Episcopals are accepting new members.

Jesus: 'I was crucified for this!?!'

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The party of Bachmann

The takeover is complete in Minnesota, of all places.

The most recent GOP nominee for governor, Tom Emmer, backed a “Tenther” bill that would require a two-thirds state legislative vote to ratify any federal legislation and supported a state constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Emmer got into some trouble when it was found that he appeared with a local “heavy metal ministry”—after it became known that its pastor said it was “moral” to execute homosexuals.

The 2010 party’s nominee for secretary of state nominee, Dan Severson, playing Protestant mullah, said, “There is no such thing [as separation of church and state] … I mean it just does not exist, and it does not exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation.”

Among the excommunicated is the former two-term Republican Governor Arne Carlson. “The Republican Party—both nationally and in Minnesota—has drifted away from balancing the budget to enlarge the role of social issues,” Carlson said in a phone call, pointing out that Pawlenty left his successor a $6 billion deficit.

Yes, but Pawlenty supports reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” so many so-called conservatives will happily look the other way.

Megachurch pastor takes on his own


Platt’s first target is the megachurch itself. Americans have built themselves multimillion-dollar worship palaces, he argues. These have become like corporations, competing for market share by offering social centers, child-care programs, first-class entertainment and comfortable, consumer Christianity.

Jesus, Platt notes, made it hard on his followers. He created a minichurch, not a mega one. Today, however, building budgets dwarf charitable budgets, and Jesus is portrayed as a genial suburban dude. “When we gather in our church building to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead, we may be worshipping ourselves.”