More Heartache Around the Corner for God’s Own Party in 2016

We’ve nearly put another year behind our belts and stand poised to begin another. Another year in which America will be less of what Republicans want it to be. Gallup’s 2014 Year in Review tells us that Three-Quarters of Americans Identify as Christian.

Isn’t that good news for Republicans? Not really. It is not the 90 percent frequently claimed by Republican candidates and Religious Right demagogues (the same thing really, these days), but that 75 percent still sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But in 2012 it was 77 percent and back in 1990, it was 86 percent.

It sounds like a lot until you compare it to the 1950s, you know, Golden Days of conservatism: back when J. Edgar Hoover was squeezing into women’s clothing and Joseph McCarthy was attacking Communists and “homosexuals”; back when the words “One Nation Under God” were being added to the Pledge of Allegiance (1954) and “In God We Trust” replaced the secular “Out of Many, One” as the national motto (1956); when proud Anglo-Saxon males supported their families with a house in the suburbs and a car in the driveway; Back before women and blacks got uppity; Back before the country filled up with Latinos and Asians and people from countries WASP Americans had never heard of.

Back then, “Gallup surveys showed that up to 71% of Americans identified as Protestant, and small percentages had no religious identity.” Where once three-quarters had been Protestants alone, now barely three quarters are even Christian, and the numbers continue to drop.

The last half-century has brought quite the sea change.

The Era of the WASP is behind us and falling away in the rear view mirror. Each year we become less recognizably the country that fought Hitler and then stood up to Stalin. Less the country of the Greatest Generation and more the land of the Millennials.

According to Gallup:

The proportion of Americans identifying as Protestant dropped by one percentage point from 2013 to 2014, while the Catholic and Mormon percentages stayed essentially the same.

About 6% of Americans identify with a non-Christian religion, including 2% who are Jewish, less than 1% who are Muslim and 3% who identify with other non-Christian religions. This leaves 16% who say they don’t have a religious preference, along with another 3% who don’t answer the question. This combined 19% without a formal religious identity is up one point from 2013.

The slight erosion of Americans’ identification as Protestant and concomitantly slight increase in the percentage with no religious preference exemplifies general trends in religious identity over the past decades

The problem is that conservatives are misremembering the country they say they want to take back. Yes, in the days before 1965’s Immigration Act, most Americans were either Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. But Christians of the 1950s were politically moderate. For that matter, despite Joe McCarthy, Republicans of the 1950s were politically moderate. Even though Billy Graham was popular, he had no political influence. Nobody thought about turning the Grand Old Party into God’s Own Party until Goldwater’s defeat in 1964.

David Brooks once said that Romney “seems to have walked straight out of the 1950s” and that might explain the visceral loathing felt by liberals and progressives toward a man who keeps “binders full of women.” But it is difficult to imagine our only Republican president of the 1950s coming out of the 1950s as imagined by today’s GOP.

Back then we had a Republican president who warned us about the growing power and influence of the military industrial complex. Yes, Eisenhower did agree to change the national motto, and he did use the occasion of Flag Day in 1954 to say, “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith,” but he finished that remark by saying, “and I don’t care what it is,” and his “Christmas” cards wished recipients a “fine holiday season.”

We are told that, “presidential historian William Lee Miller once noted, Eisenhower was a ‘fervent believer in a very vague religion.’ Which sounds a lot like many of the Founding Fathers, come to think of it.

No Republican would say either of those things today. Only godless Democrats talk about “holiday seasons” instead of “Christmas,” we are told (even though it is not true). For today’s Republicans, it’s their brand of Christianity (which isn’t recognizably Christian at all) or bust. Things like President Obama’s 2011 Christmas card, “From our family to yours, may your holidays shine with the light of the season,” even though it’s pretty much par for the past hundred years, just won’t do.

Photo: The Christian Post
Photo: The Christian Post

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, complains that,

Christians should learn to detect a functional account of religious belief when listening to public figures speak. Liberals tend to speak in functional terms of meaning and purpose. Conservatives tend to speak functionally in terms of social order, stability, and morality.

None of these is a substitute for authentic Christianity—a faith that is predicated on being true—not merely meaningful or helpful.

And that is the problem for conservatives today, this insistence on a monolithic truth in an increasingly diverse nation composed of an increasing plurality of religions. The 1950s are behind us, irrevocably departed into the pages of history. We can debate that decade’s events and even their meaning; we cannot bring them back.

The Tea Party can demand they get their country back but they can’t have their country back. Not only is that impossible according to the physical underpinnings of our shared reality (and even a time machine would only take them back to the 1950s, not bring the 1950s here), but the past they want is a past that never really existed.

Yes, the country is still predominantly Christian, but far less so than twenty years ago, let alone more than a half-century. This is a chasm that will grow wider in 2016, and in every year to come. Their worst enemy is not an increasingly militant Obama, but time itself.

And here is a final amusing truth: today’s Christians are not yesterday’s Christians, leaving us with the paradox of a declining number of increasingly militant “Christians” yearning for a time when America was even more of a Christian nation than today, but a nation full of moderate Christians nothing like themselves.

You can’t go home, particularly when the home you aim for is a home that never existed, and you can’t go back, because the future never, ever takes you to the past.

24 Replies to “More Heartache Around the Corner for God’s Own Party in 2016”

  1. HH,

    Insightful as always. Thanks.

    So many people yearning for the 50s, are too young to have any clue that there never was “Leave it To Beaver”.

  2. The GOP’s conception and practice of Christianity bears no greater resemblance to the Historical Jesus than does a steaming pile of horse poop to a stallion.

  3. As someone who was six when the Fifties began and sixteen when they ended, I can state that the current GOP idea of them is nothing like reality, just as the current GOP has no resemblance to Eisenhower’s party. The realities that any *sane* person misses about those days are nothing that the current GOP either would bring back if it could, or could bring back if it would. Those realities depended on a strong working class, plentiful, cheap housing, easy access to higher education, and many thriving family farms and dairies. They depended on federal highways,public schools,and ready access to medical care. They depended on tariffs and unions. They depended,in short, on the momentum of the New Deal, and on everything the current GOP has been diligently wiping out.

  4. I believe the article is correct. Not too long ago the general feeling was that being a Christian meant being fair to the average Joe. But it has changed. The age of the compassionate Christian or say, people of faith has slowed over these past few years. The conservative politicians in their plans to take over the governing in one way or another, sort of colluded with the religious higher ups who are also politicians to bring the flock to their side. However when you realize their goals and find out that their policies have nothing to do with fairness to “your fellow man”, then, faith becomes secondary and the word conservative is more like a suspect to the needs of all.

  5. I agree that their brand of Christianity isn’t recognizably Christian. At least it appears to have values that are opposite of those that the Bible shows to be those of Jesus Christ.

  6. So true. June Cleaver, the perfect wife and mother, was played by an actress who was the daughter of a divorced working mother (dad remarried). She herself was a single working mother (first marriage had ended in divorce, second she was widowed).

    None of this is meant as criticism of Barbara Billingsley. But as HH points out, the actual 1950s were not the ♪1950s♫ mythologized by the republicans.

  7. In the new testament, there is a section in which jesus is speaking. I think the reference is in the book of John, in which he tells them “to love one another,” by this people will know you are a disciple. If you do not love, you remain in death.

    In John III, John says, how can you say you love God, whom you have not seen, but hate those you do see?

    Those are powerful scriptures, and exemplify how the GOP have not a clue what true Christianity is. What they are doing is creating their own image of a God, one that caters to the needs of the 2%.
    If less people are identifying themselves as Christians, I blame the Republicans and their zombie followers. Why would anybody want to be connected such as the God they have created for their own selfish ends?

  8. Lets try to remember that ” social order, stability, and morality” are not brought about without regulation or enforcement.

    Social order means everyone knows their place and stays there. Stability comes from everyone working and morality, the favorite of the godless fundamentalists, has to come with enforcement and a forced religion

  9. American Christianity is Euro-Christianity.

    Euro-Jesus; white, blue eyed and unattached to a social order, is the icon representing deification of the white single male.

    Very handy, if you’re a white male. Otherwise, not so much….

  10. Americans tend to conflate actors with the roles they play.

    High on my ‘once I get long stretches of uninterrupted time’ list is a closer look at children’s TV 1950-60. Specifically, Rocky & Bullwinkle.

    Vicious parodies of everything from the Cold War and academe to fairy tales and Canada.
    Nothing is sacred in the catechism of Moose and Squirrel.

    I worshiped Moose & Squirrel. I was not alone…

    For every June Cleaver, there was a Fractured Fairy Tale. Mr. Peabody taught us that dogs could be smarter than boys. Nell taught us to love the horse, not the Mountie on it.

    And don’t forget, adults were writing, drawing and airing the subversive duo.

  11. “The Era of the WASP is behind us and falling away in the review mirror.”
    This sentence – one of several – hard to follow, because – in your haste – you have used the term ‘review mirror’ (a meaningless term) instead of “rear-view mirror”.
    Your essays are in general quite good, but would certainly benefit from conscientious proof-reading.

  12. A true Christian wouldn’t be any where near a Republican; they do not I repeat ,do not, love their neighbor as themselves; lots of blame and suspicion in that Grand Old Party.

  13. I can remember a few years ago when the UK allowed some stores to open on Sundays, the
    christians felt it was wrong and that people should be allowed to go to church or spend the day as a family day, although they are pretty tolerant over there about religions.
    Not so the GOP, they preach christianity but
    heaven forbid anyone should get between them and another day to make money, to them it is just another business day and to heck with letting the employees have a holiday.

  14. Europe convulsed with the effects of religious intolerance, from the days of Constantine to WWII in the forms of mass slaughter for almost 2 millennia. You can see why they are done with it.

    America is still a bragging teenager in terms of age and social maturity, fiddling around with extremism, like a neckbeard living with mother, talking a good game like those ridiculous Open Carry types.

    Hit and run actions like taking away women’s reproductive rights and suppressing voter’s rights is typical of these passive aggressive people.

    But deep down inside there are many inside and formerly inside the movement that hope that somebody will put a stop to the slow march towards fascism.

  15. And how could you not love Boris and Natasha? Plus the Aliens with their “scrooch gun”! That show radicalized a lot of us who came of age in the mid-60s! Helped along by “Mad Magazine”. Those were the days!

  16. The repub plan to take over the courts, House and Senate began 30+ years ago. The repub party sold its soul to the religious right for votes. Now many repubs are all about repub purity. Repubs are not true Christians. They do not follow the Prince of Peace. They do not follow the Sermon on the Mount. They are all about fear, hate, greed and judging others. They also know that when we don’t vote, they win. Our hope is that they overreach next month big time.

  17. A far more disturbing statistic I have heard knocked around is that a majority of Christians in the U.S. are “evangelicals.” Since this element has racist, misogynistic, and homophobic ideology based on things they hear their pastors “quote” from the Buy Bull, it means that majority of Americans (except Millenials) have theocratic leanings. And since theocracy is the polar opposite of democracy, our duty is to do all we can to stop evangelicalism. It doesn’t help much that on all three of these issues, the Roman Church is in lock step.

  18. Yes, the Catholic Church, the LDS Church, and the Churches of the Pat Robertsons, the Bryon Fischers, the Gordon Klininsh*ts, the John Hagees, the Franklin Grahams, and so, so many more. Their ideologies are no different than the religious fanatics in the Jewish & Muslim religions. Their hate is identical.

    If any one of these entities gain the Presidency & the majority in both houses, the “Holy Wars” will begin in earnest. They’ll make the various warring sects of Islam look like rank amateurs & the USA truly will be lost.

  19. I haven’t seen or spoke to a true Christian in a very long time.Even in my emails, praise God and hate your neighbor, your brother,thats CINO..

  20. Catholic Republicans don’t like Pope Francis, says he’s too much like President Obama, Conservative Republicans don’t like anybody.

  21. Those are conservative Catholics. The majority of Catholics like Pope Francis. What’s funny about those repub Catholics is that RWNJs in the south don’t consider Catholics to even be Christian. repub Catholics are being used for their votes.

  22. Dcbos, the “Republican Christian” is not any thing like a true Christian, they are however, very good Domininosts.

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