Conservatives Stumble Over God Gap

The LATimes reports that the “most rapidly growing category today is composed of those Americans who say they have no religious affiliation.” This is bad news for conservatives because the “nones” as they call themselves “have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics.”

We’ve all heard the rhetoric: God hates gays, God hates atheists, God hates secularists, God hates abortion, God hates liberals, God chooses our presidents, God chose America to be his nation to spread his word, God will do the right thing for America, America has turned away from God, America is being punished by God, God destroyed New Orleans for its sins and he will destroy America.  These aren’t church slogans; these are Republican politicians.

These young people are not atheists, though they might end up being accused of this for their troubles. Conservative purity standards are pretty tough after all, and ironically, and happily for liberals and progressives, they are the problem.

Abortion and homosexuality are major issues in conservative politics today and unsurprisingly, they are major issues for fundamentalist Christianity. The GOP tent has gotten very small and there is room for only the pure, those who are ideologically committed to a marriage of religion and politics. If you want to know how closely intertwined the two are, look at BeliefNet’s comparison of Gallup’s 2009 religion map next to the 2008 electoral map.

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Ideological purity may sound great on the drawing board, but it’s not so good when you need votes – lots of votes. Obviously, the ideas then are mutually incompatible. You can’t have the one because you won’t allow the other. The Republicans lost the 2008 presidential election because of this small tent but then cognitive dissonance set in and they came away convinced that they had won the election and that Obama had usurped the presidency. They have cemented their attachment to this particular psychosis by labeling themselves a government in exile.

Delusion is not the best answer to reality. And if you keep making excuses you never learn the lessons you need to learn.

But back to our nones. “The fraction of twentysomethings who said that homosexual relations were ‘always’ or ‘almost always’ wrong plummeted from about 75% in 1990 to about 40% in 2008.” This is the same time period in which the GOP was marrying the Religious Right and putting its stress on homosexuality. This became a problem for the twentysomethings, who, as the LATimes puts it, decided that “If being religious entailed political conservatism…religion was not for them” because they saw it as “intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental and homophobic.”

Needless to say, Evangelical Protestantism has also taken a hit. It enjoyed growth in the 70s and 80s. “Meanwhile,” as the LATimes study shows us, “the proportion of young Americans who have no religious affiliation at all rose from just over 10% as late as 1990 to its current proportion of about 27%.”

I myself was willing to vote for Republican candidates until the Republican Party because a Christian party. After that, it became impossible. I could not vote for somebody who questioned my status not only as a citizen but as a human being. No doubt there are other religious people who have moved to the middle or left as a result of unpalatable choices offered by Republican purity standards. It is well known that Republican social liberals voted for Obama in 2008. You can be sure they won’t vote for the likes of Sarah Palin in 2012, or her “approved” candidates in 2010.

The LATimes concludes that “Continuing to sound the trumpet for conservative social policy on issues such as homosexuality may or may not be the right thing to do from a theological point of view, but it is likely to mean saving fewer souls.” And garnering fewer votes.

As the LATimes says, we can’t conclude from this that American religion is dying. There will always be conservatives and there will always be people who put their religion first. There will always be fundamentalists for whom the distinction between religion and politics is blurred, or nonexistent. But the facts are there for all to see: more and more Americans are social liberals, more tolerant than their parents and grandparents, and increasingly, less religious.

The reactionary forces of religious conservatism are lashing out by becoming more insular, more judgmental, more restrictive, and more exclusive – right as young people become more inclusive in their outlook, and more accepting. This is similar to the problem faced by Tea Party candidates whose extreme political views sold well to the base during the primaries, but which may set them back or even make them unelectable in the general elections. Some of them, like Angle, have revamped their website to put on a “moderate” face (even while inexplicably continuing the wacky rhetoric) and many of them have simply begun denying they “ever said that.”

But again, the facts are there. Many voters may remain unaware of the issues and the candidates and their platforms, but those who wish to know can easily find out in our heavily digitized world. Everything that is said or done ends up on the Internet somewhere, making it a permanent archive of “wish I hadn’t said that” moments.

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