A new Pew Research study found that between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of Americans self-identifying as Christian fell from 78.4 to 70.6. In a Tuesday post, Washington Monthly blogger Martin Longman speculated about causes for the dropoff, commenting that “the Republican Party’s embrace of a very conservative interpretation of Christianity” may be “undermining people’s faith.”
Longman added that it’s not solely the fault of the domestic religious right: “Islamic radicals…committing unspeakable atrocities in Allah’s name” and “Jewish radicals…standing in the way of [Israeli-Palestinian] peace negotiations” share the blame.
“Most of the war and killing that is going on in the world today is generated by disputes between or within a small handful of very well-established traditional religions,” he remarked. “If the whole world woke up tomorrow with no memory of the New Testament, the Torah, or the Koran, it’s quite possible that peace would break out in ways that seem unthinkable today.”
From Longman’s post (bolding added):
[I]t wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the Republican Party’s embrace of a very conservative interpretation of Christianity is actually undermining people’s faith and causing them to tell pollsters that they’re unaffiliated with any church or religion...
…I think politicized religion [in the U.S.] must be at least partly to blame, and there’s some support for that view in the fact that [Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations] are suffering worse losses [than evangelical Protestant denominations].
But I also think that moderate-minded people are impacted by the behavior of politicized religion in general, so when they see some Islamic radicals claiming to have established a caliphate and committing unspeakable atrocities in Allah’s name, many of them are put off of not only Islam but any organized religion. When they see Jewish radicals dominating the political process in Israel and standing in the way of peace negotiations, they can take their impatience with that and apply it to Christianity, too.
…[M]ost of the war and killing that is going on in the world today is generated by disputes between or within a small handful of very well-established traditional religions. We’re not seeing nearly as much secular ideology as we saw during the 20th Century, so people are less concerned about economic radicalism and nationalistic/racial imperialism, and more concerned about people who create tragedy in the name of God.
If the whole world woke up tomorrow with no memory of the New Testament, the Torah, or the Koran, it’s quite possible that peace would break out in ways that seem unthinkable today. So, it’s natural for people who aren’t particularly invested in any of those books to want to keep their distance from them.
…Pope Francis’s recent remarks about people invested in the defense industries not wanting peace [were] nice to hear…Francis is…a pretty political pope, however, even if he shares my politics in more respects than his immediate predecessors. And, ultimately, politics are bad for religion.
You can see that by looking at the experience of Europe where many countries had state-sanctioned churches that experienced a shocking collapse of support once those churches got tied to political scandals…
…America has [no] state-sponsored religion…This, more than anything else, explains why religion and religiosity still has a good reputation here when compared to Europe.
So, the lessons are clear. If you want to weaken religion, politicize it.
In other words, every time you hear a conservative politician talk about the importance of religious faith and (their particular) religious values, it’s safe to assume that they’re undermining their own ostensible cause.
Of course, their real cause is something different. They’re trying to get power.