Who Thinks Atheists are Immoral?

Other atheists. That's according to a new study co-authored by psychologist Will Gervais. Says Gervais:

I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms. Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular, people still seem to intuitively hold on to the believe that religion is a moral safeguard.

-Will Gervais, PhD

The scope of the study was international and according to the write up in The Guardian "Only in Finland and New Zealand … did the experiment not yield conclusive evidence of anti-atheist prejudice…"

From an American perspective this finding doesn't surprise me. I've met plenty of atheists who sort of believe that most religious leaders are closet atheists conning people out of their money. That kind of thinking reached fever pitch this year when Michael Shermer gloated about [white] evangelicals getting duped by immoral atheist Trump (I write why I think he's wrong here).

Some other circumstantial evidence comes from PRRI's 2013 American Values Survey. They found that the nones reported a score of 77 (out of 100) in a cold-warm scale. But that number dropped to 71 for atheists. Sample size limitations don't allow for an analysis of Atheists' responses.

Read the full Gervais et al. study at Nature Human Behavior.

The Benito Juárez Experience #16: Trinity Lutheran

This week Luciano and I discuss the recently decided SCOTUS case Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. We debate the merits of the case, discuss the nuanced differences in opinion between justices, and wonder what's next in church-state jurisprudence with Utica College political science professor Daniel Tagliarina.

Links

The Benito Juárez Experience #16: Trinity Lutheran

Trinity Lutheran v. Comer Opinion

A Major Church-State Ruling That Shouldn't Have Happened (Garrett Epstein, The Atlantic)

Written by Professor Tagliarina

Free Exercise on the Playground

How Roberts Blurs Church and State in Trinity Lutheran Case

Various Interpretations of First Amendment in Trinity Lutheran Case

Theology Over Politics

Daniel Schultz has a very good piece in Religion Dispatches on the main weakness of the so-called religious left. As Schultz puts it:

[Rev. Dr. William] Barber wants Christians to decide which side they’re on: that of the rich and powerful, or the poor, in whose corner God stands. This sort of appeal to the authority of scripture is well-used by both the religious left and right. It’s what Christians think they should do when sorting through options: Come, let us reason together by interpreting the word of God.

But as he further argues, this strategy doesn't work for two reasons. First, it requires "a shared understanding of the Christian responsibility to the poor." Second, because it also requires "a shared identity as Christians."

This understanding of Christianity is problematic, particularly for someone in the religious left. Contrary to the religious right, that is essentially a Christian movement with some conservative Jews in the mix, the religious left is a multi-faith coalition. Sure, the vast majority of those are Christian, but minority religions are better represented than in their right-wing counterpart. If the concern for the poor is primarily a Christian thing, then where does that leave their fellow travelers in the movement who don't happen to be Christian.

Their diversity makes for a shaky coalition, something that Mark Silk has argued before, because they are unwilling to use the tools of partisanship to achieve political victories. Luciano Gonzalez and I expand on why this phobia of partisanship is the major weakness of the religious left in episode 12 of The Benito Juárez Experience. In his Religion Dispatches piece Schultz further argues that

When liberals appeal to a shared religious identity to guide policy decisions, then, the argument becomes about the faith, not the policy. Jim Wallis has been talking about all the scripture passages concerning the poor for like 40 years, and it hasn’t changed much of anything, because conservatives don’t understand the priorities the same way.

He is right, right-wing religious leaders baptize policies as Christian after the fact, not the other way around. If you debate how a Christian policy would look like you could keep arguing forever with nothing to show as an outcome. Bragging about holding the high moral ground may be nice but doesn't change the desperate situation many Americans live in. Holding power and the ability to change that reality is much better, but to many on the left -particularly religious figures- power is something to fear rather than embrace.

Homophobia and the Secular Boom

Phil Zuckerman discusses a new study of college freshmen and their views on same-sex relationships as an explanation for their increasing secularism.

Simply put: Younger Americans are the least homophobic generation in our nation’s history, with a clear majority of millennials being accepting and affirming of homosexuality. And what do they see? That most major religions condemn homosexuality as sinful and wrong. Given this situation, these anti-gay and anti-lesbian religions are losing members in record numbers. Younger Americans are simply walking away from beliefs and institutions that they see as intolerant, unloving, and immoral.

There's some truth to this. In 2014, PRRI released "A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues" and the poll found that…

Among Americans who left their childhood religion and are now religiously unaffiliated, about one-quarter say negative teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people was a somewhat important (14%) or very important (10%) factor in their decision to disaffiliate. More than 7-in-10 Americans who have disaffiliated from their childhood religion report that was not too important (17%) or not at all important as a factor (54%).

However, I think that religion-based homophobia is just a gateway to secularism. It is the way in which many young people start questioning the tenets of their religion when they encounter LGBTQ individuals and realize they are (GASP!) human. From there, I think there's a snowballing process of questioning other teachings and, ultimately, abandoning identification. This is why membership among liberal religious groups is not blossoming despite increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Young people realize that they don't need religion, no matter how hip and abstract you want to make it.

Evangelical Demographics and Trump Support

In the Financial Times, Gary Silverman explores why Evangelical Protestants in the Bible Belt “lost God and found Trump.” He rightly points out that

Trump was backed by 81 per cent of white voters who identified themselves as evangelical Christians, more than recent Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain, according to the Pew Research Center, and more even than George W Bush, whose strategist Karl Rove made wooing them a priority of the campaign. 

Silverman interviews various evangelical figures in his quest for a satisfactory answer but he’s missing two of the most important variables in the equation: age and partisanship. Evangelicals didn’t support Trump because they “lost God.” They are as devout as they’ve always been. But their politics have become more conservative. They are the Republican base.

They’re Older

A comparison of white evangelical Protestants in the 2007 and 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Surveys shows that overall the cohort has become much older in the near decade between the surveys.

In 2007 a majority of white evangelicals were under the age of 50 but in 2014 a majority were older than 50 years of age. This has made them a prime Fox News constituency (white and old).

They’re more Republican and conservative 

As they have gotten older, they here also become more conservative. Their ideology has become slightly more conservative (60 percent In 2014 vs. 55 percent in 2007). The movement is the result of a decline of moderates


Their conservative shift was accompanied by an even stronger shift toward the Republican Party as it relates to partisan preference. A 9-percentage point gain to be exact. In 2007 a majority (56 percent) said they were Republicans but in 2014, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said so.

On the Democratic side there was an identical 9-percentage point loss. Thus, the GOP party ID advantage increased from +26 to +44. An incredible 18-point gap in just under a decade. These political changes in identification have policy consequences. 

White evangelical’s attitudes toward government have soured accordingly. In 2007 a little over one-third (36 percent ) of evangelicals preferred a bigger government with more services while a majority (53 percent) prefund a smaller government.

The 17-point gap in preference for small government became a whopping 50-point gap in 2014. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of white evangelicals prefer a smaller government. Just about 1-in-5 (22 percent) went a bigger government.

Still worship the same God 

Contrary to Silverman’s assessment, evangelicals haven’t lost God. If there’s one area where this cohort is consistent it’s on their views on God and the Bible. Nearly 8 in 10 consider religion to be “very important” in their lives.


Other aspects of religious life have also remained constant. They report praying at least daily at similar rates in both surveys. They also report nearly identical rates of participation in prayer services.


Moreover , in both surveys evangelicals report identical weekly church attendance rates (57 percent). Considering what we know about over reporting of church attendance this means they’re very good at lying.

Unfortunately, Silverman omits any discussion about race. The evidence that Trump’s support was driven by racism has moved from the anecdotal to the empirical. Not all evangelicals supported Trump as such high rates, only white ones.

This primarily old, white, and Southern cohort wanted  America to be “great” again. That included harking back to the days of segregation and a less “politically correct” time when attacks on racial minorities were extralegal. It is not surprising then, that white evangelicals are the most likely to want to turn the clock back to 1950. Until we admit the fact that politically white evangelicals are driven by bigotry and prejudice , we will continue seeing these “deep” analyses that say a lot and not too much simultaneously.

Evangelicals never lost God. With Barack Obama in the White House, the yearning for a glorious age when black Americans knew their place and the only brown men theyknew was Ricky Ricardo became stronger. Trump promised restoration. He may be an unlikely Messiah, butif  you know their politics, you know the piety is just for show.

Trump Returns Evangelicals the Favor

Over the weekend Donald Trump addressed the graduating class at Liberty University, the fundamentalist college founded by the late Jerry Falwell and now led by his son Jerry Jr. It was Trump’s first commencement speech and the venue indicated that he was there to pay a favor. White evangelical Protestants supported Trump like the had not supported other GOP candidates in recorded history. His speech should concerns all of us who cares about the secular state and maintaining the growth that the secular population has enjoyed in the last decade.

David Niose and Rob Boston, two of the best and most experienced voices on issues of church-state separation have very gloomy reactions to the speech. While there’s some overlap in their assessments, they highlight some separate issues.

Niose highlights the transactional nature of the Religious Right and how Trump, an expert in trasactional relationships, brags about the “deal.”

In speaking to his Christian audience, Trump was brazen in his you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours rhetoric, reminding evangelicals that their policy goals are his. “I am so proud as your president to have helped you along over the past short period of time,” he said, referring to last week’s controversial executive order instructing the IRS to do everything possible to allow churches and religious groups to participate in politics. Turning to his host Jerry Falwell, Jr. (son of the college’s founder), he bragged, “I said I was going to do it, and Jerry, I did it. And a lot of people are very happy with what’s taken place. . . We did some very important signings.”

Of course, here Trump refers to his infamous executive order on religious freedom. As Mark Silk notes, the EO really amounts to not a lot in practice. This doesn’t mean that we should take our guard down. The Religious Right has the Johnson Amendment on the cutting board and Republicans hold power in all three branches of the federal government.

The Benito Juarez Experience discusses the Johnson Amendment (Part 1; Part 2)

 

 

Boston focused his concerns on Trump’s view of the role of God in America, and in American history.

“America has always been the land of dreams because America is a nation of true believers,” Trump declared. “When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth they prayed. When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked our creator four times, because in America we don’t worship government, we worship God. That is why our elected officials put their hands on the Bible and say, ‘So help me God,’ as they take the oath of office. It is why our currency proudly declares, ‘In God we trust,’ and it’s why we proudly proclaim that we are one nation under God every time we say the Pledge of Allegiance. The story of America is the story of an adventure that began with deep faith, big dreams and humble beginnings.”

He’s right to be concerned. With the Religious Right-led GOP in power many issues of church-state separation are already coming up and will continue to come up. It is possible that we will get into a social and political environment where people on the fence, such as many nones, will stop identifying as such and return to their old religious labels. This could happen because people may fear the social, economic, and political consequences of not identifying as or been seen as religious.

We are in for a wild ride in the 3 3/4 years we have left in this mess. Trump may not be an evangelical, but he knows they got him elected. More important, they know it.

This Year Race Trumps Religion

My good friend and old colleague Dr. Mark Silk calls the end of religious identity politics a couple of weeks after declaring the Religious Right dead. Personally, I think race is trumping (no pun intended) religion this year, but as the natural progression (regression?) of an ideology rooted in white Christian supremacy. He writes:

In a crazy political year, perhaps we have one thing to applaud: the evident end of religious identity politics. Evangelicals have been decidedly lukewarm toward preacher’s kid Ted Cruz and fellow-traveler Rubio, and they showed no interest whatsoever in Mike Huckabee this time around. Jews, so far as we can tell, are not particularly feeling the Bern. And Catholics barely gave Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum the time of day.

I’m not so sure this end is a reason to applaud. The Republican Party is a Christian Party -or a party for certain types of Christians. All the candidates openly praised god, the Christian version of it. While it is true that some candidates were more a part of the Christian/Religious Right than others, at this point in history every potential GOP candidate knows what religious buttons to push.

Since all of them love Jesus, they have to differentiate each other by expressing who they hate the most. The foreign policy proposals of all the GOP candidates are about blowing up anything that is outside of our borders. Only Trump stands out by viciously (and explicitly) attacking and threatening violence against their domestic others: religious minorities, black, brown, red, and yellow, independent women. That’s why Trump is so appealing. And that’s no reason to applaud.

Photo credit: Donald Trump at 2015 CPAC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A Latino Deconversion Story

Diego Kal-El Martinez at Medium writes the story of leaving Catholicism and becoming an atheist. My favorite quote may be this one, that encapsulates what I think is a very common experience of people who were raised religious and are now nones.

The thing about my story though is I don’t think I can pinpoint an exact moment I became an Atheist. It was all just one long progression from Catholic to Atheist. Sure I can say that now with great conviction but there was never that, “Ah-Ha” moment when I said to myself, “I am an Atheist”. Oh and that missing piece in my life, well I never found it.

I loved how he phrased that progression from religious to none. Moreover, I think it is a very common experience, especially among Latinos. Most people probably start doubting a tenet of the religion, a teaching, or just the authority of the religious leaders. Which is why I think a focus on science education as the sole route to atheism is misguided because it scares people into thinking that a particular knowledge set is a litmus test to become an atheist. Go and read the whole thing.