Monday, June 11, 2007

From the "be careful what you wish for" file

Back in April I asked whether the newfound religiosity of Democrat candidates on the stump was not so much a bullish sign for religion in politics but more of a topping action, known in stock trading circles as a "bear capitulation". For you non-traders, it's a term to indicate when the last bearish holdouts in a bull market throw in their lot with the other bulls. Otherwise known as the "biggest idiot" theory of finance.

Whether the fat lady has sung on this market in public religiosity isn't known at this time, but it sure is spoiling the fun of many a commentator on the Religious Right. Exhibit A is this lament from Cal Thomas:
The top three Democratic presidential candidates participated in a forum Monday on the connection between their religious faith and political positions. The unusual gathering, broadcast live by CNN, was co-hosted by Sojourners, a Christian social justice network.

Rev. Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, and an organizer of the forum, has been telling Democrats not to cede religion to Republicans. He has spoken at several Democratic Party retreats, teaching Democrats how to speak about faith.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama mentioned faith in a generic way, baptizing their liberal politics and suggesting that God favors their positions more than those of the Republicans'. Republicans behave similarly, but they've been at it longer and perform better on the religious stage than Democrats.
The forum was interesting as political theater, but the leading Democratic presidential contenders gave no indication that if their faith ever conflicted with their political point of view they would choose what their faith taught them over what focus groups tell them. And that's what makes this exercise - as noble as Jim Wallis and others might see it - rather futile.
Most of this God-talk by politicians is irrelevant. We're not electing a theologian, but a president. There are many moral and godly people in my church who I would trust with my wife, but with possibly one exception, not the country. Competence, not ideology or religiosity, should be primary in this election.

It sure sounds like someone trying to re-balance his political portfolio if you ask me. And what's with the question of whether their political views are in conflict with their faith? People bring their political and moral views to the table when they interpret the holy writ of their religion. Does he imagine that Democrats believe they are really going against the grain of the Bible with their political values, but Republicans objectively know that their political views are in perfect lockstep? As the wise man said: "Puhllleeeaaaassseee!" The religious mind is a rationalizing mind. As are all minds, for that matter.

Here's another demonstration of righteous angst from the Right:

Once she wrested control of the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works Committee from conservative stalwart Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) was expected to aggressively pursue legislation to combat global warming. What wasn’t expected was that she would do it with blessings from the Church.

Last Thursday, Boxer held a hearing that highlighted the growing role of religion in liberal political campaigns--particularly in the name of “environmental justice.” There, a coalition of 35 religious denominations called for an 80 percent reduction in global warming emissions by the year 2050, and bill S.309, sponsored by Boxer and avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.-Vt.), calls for the same.

“Evangelical Christians, Catholics, African Methodist Episcopals, Jews, mainline Protestant Christians, and many other people of faith see the need for action on global warming as a moral, ethical and scriptural mandate,” Boxer said.

She explained, “People of faith contacted us recognizing that science says global warming’s effects will fall most heavily on poor people. All we have to do is look at what happened during [Hurricane] Katrina, even in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.”

There was even discussion of a religious program that sells carbon offsets. The Evangelical Climate Initiative, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), offers tax-deductible carbon offsets for $99 per year through a program called “Cooling Creation.” Their website states that 93 percent of the carbon offset “donations” submitted “goes directly to offsets, climate change education and outreach.”

Historian David Burton, summoned to the panel by Sen. Inhofe and named one of the “Twenty-five Most Influential Evangelicals in America” by Time Magazine, commented on these various campaigns: “The next time we see Jesus, He will be driving neither a Hummer nor a Hybrid.”

Burton suggested that Boxer was exaggerating the religious community’s support for liberal environmentalism. “The Scriptures teach conservation, not preservation,” he said. “Man was the steward of nature and environment, and while man definitely is to tend and guard it, it is to serve him, not vice versa. From the beginning, God warned about elevating nature and the environment over man and his Creator.”

You can just see the beads of sweat on Ms. Carpenter's brow as she tries to spin this story in a way to make the Religious Left out to be a few cards short of the real deal.

Their bluff has been called. I can just hear the panicky voices on the Focus on the Family weekly conference call with the White House: "Who thought they'd actually find Jesus? This just won't do! Do you guys have any other bright ideas?"

Another sign that secular futures are dirt cheap - "Why the Gods are not winning"
A myth is gaining ground. The myth seems plausible enough. The proposition is that after God died in the secular 20th century, He is back in a big way as people around the world again find faith. In 2006 Foreign Policy ran two articles that made similar, yet distinctive claims. In the spring Phillip Longman's "The Return of the Patriarchy" contended that secular folk are reproducing themselves, or failing to reproduce themselves, out of existence as the believers swiftly reproduce via a "process similar to survival of the fittest." In the summer FP followed up with "Why God is Winning" by Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft, who pronounced that the Big Three— Christianity, Islam and Hinduism—are back on the global march as secularism fades into irrelevance. In the fall Foreign Affairs joined the chorus when Walter Russell Mead's God's Country? gave the impression that conservative theism continues to rise in a United States jolted back to the spiritual by 9/11. In American Fascists Chris Hedges warns that hard-core Dominionists are accumulating the power to convert the nation into a fundamentalist theocracy.

Shah and Toft cite the World Christian Encyclopedia as supporting a planetary revival because its shows that "at the beginning of the 21st century, a greater portion of the world's population adhered to [Christianity, Islam and Hinduism] in 2000 than a century earlier." They point to a table in the WCE that shows that the largest Christian and largest nonChristian faiths, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and Hinduism, rose from half to nearly two thirds of the world in the 1900s. But that it is a peculiar choice of sects. If every Mohammedan and Hindu sect large and small is tallied, shouldn't every Orthodox, Coptic and so on be too? Another look at the WCE table shows that all Christians, Muslims and Hindus combined edging up a much more modest 60 to 66% (but see below correction) since the reign of Queen Victoria.
What scheme of thought did soar in the 20th century? Although Shah and Toft cite the WCE when it appears to aid their thesis, they seem to have missed key passages near the beginning of the work. The evangelical authors of the WCE lament that no Christian "in 1900 expected the massive defections from Christianity that subsequently took place in Western Europe due to secularism…. and in the Americas due to materialism…. The number of nonreligionists…. throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900, to 697 million in 1970, and on to 918 million in AD 2000…. Equally startling has been the meteoritic growth of secularism…. Two immense quasi-religious systems have emerged at the expense of the world's religions: agnosticism…. and atheism…. From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe, these systems…. are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon. A large percentage of their members are the children, grandchildren or the great-great-grandchildren of persons who in their lifetimes were practicing Christians"

Dirt cheap, I tell ya!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean you guys are winning? Duck, how can you do this to Harry?

June 12, 2007 6:03 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Gregory Paul & Phil Zuckerman, authors of WHY THE GODS ARE NOT WINNING, write that it is a myth that religions are gaining new momentum going into the 21st century.

They cite the World Christian Encyclopedia, which states that "the number of nonreligionists... [is] likely to reach one billion adherents [sic] soon." Paul & Zuckerman add that "the WCE probably understates today's nonreligious. They have Christians constituting 68-94% of nations where surveys indicate that a quarter to half or more are not religious, and they may overestimate Chinese Christians by a factor of two. In that case the nonreligious probably soared past the billion mark already..."

But is that growth in overt nonreligiousness sustainable ?

For starters, it's probably not so much growth in nonreligion, as it is just growth in declared nonreligion, as the social benefits of churchgoing, and the social disapprobation of disassociating from religion, both wane.

So people who used to be disbelievers, but who pretended to belief for social reasons, are now free to be openly disbelieving.

Paul & Zuckerman make a similar point when they note that "one Great Faith has risen from one eighth to one fifth of the globe in a hundred years, and is projected to rise to one quarter by 2050. Islam... [But not due to] many infidels converting to Allah. [...] Islam is growing because Muslims are literally having lots of unprotected sex."

So when the Arab nations, and Persia, become impoverished and unable to support their populations around the middle of this century, we might expect to see the official number of adherents to Islam begin to shrink, due to the mass deaths of existing Muslims, and a lowering of birthrates.

But both of those changes are one-time events, not a continuing dynamic. Once people in the advanced world feel free to declare their nonreligiousness, and once the number of "officially Muslim" (regardless of their personal feelings about religion or Islam) people reach their nadir, then we'll have really just laid bare the truth about people's religious affiliation, not necessarily having discovered a trend.

Once the initial realignment is over, then we can see if people continue to fall away from religion, or if religious feeling remains constant, or even grows.

For instance, Paul & Zuckerman write that "it is well documented that Christianity has withered dramatically in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. [...] Those who disbelieve in deities typically make up large portions of the population; according to some surveys they make up the majority of citizens in Scandinavia, France and Japan."

They also write that "in 2006 Foreign Policy ran [...] Phillip Longman's [article] 'The Return of the Patriarchy', [which] contended that secular folk are reproducing themselves, or failing to reproduce themselves, out of existence as the believers swiftly reproduce via a 'process similar to survival of the fittest.'"

(As an aside, that's not a process "similar" to "survival of the fittest", it IS that dynamic).

So, putting together Paul & Zuckerman and Longman, what is the most important long-term fact that we know about Europe and Japan, which might have an impact on their future contributions to world nonreligiousness ?

It's probably that NO nation in Europe, nor does Japan, have a fertility rate above replacement level.

In fact, according to Wolfgang Lutz via Po Bronson, 0.72 is estimated to be the lowest the fertility rate can go, absent catastrophic circumstances. 24 European nations have fertility rates of 1.5 - 1.1, pretty smashing near the estimated normal minimum. In 24 European countries, one generation will be replaced by only two-thirds as many people - or even fewer.

And Japan's population is already in decline.

So, given that Europe and Japan have contributed mightily to the counts of "those who disbelieve in deities", and also that large numbers of those nations' citizens have decided that they're losers who ought not reproduce, for the sake of the world at large and America in particular, it seems likely that the ratio of believers:nonbelievers will increase, as nonbelievers and their cultures voluntarily die off.

June 13, 2007 12:04 AM  
Blogger David said...

Is there anything more pathetic than the plaintive wail that the election should be about competence, not ideology?

June 15, 2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes, the wail that the president should be a uniter, not a divider.

June 15, 2007 2:46 PM  

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