Thursday :: Oct 6, 2005

I Said God Said It, That Settle's It, And You Believe It!

by pessimist

An extremely vocal minority of Americans are firm believers in the fallacy that America is a Christian nation. Now that some of the debate over Harriet Miers centers upon her alleged 'conversion', I'm sure that this topic will rise again. I know that the supporters of a Christian America are sincere in their beliefs, but they should be careful what they wish for - they just might get it!

To begin with, Americans don't know or understand much about the religion they profess to follow. This makes it very difficult to know about what one is asking from the Deity [a tip of the titanium tam o'shanter to commenter Rajan Varadarajan for the correction]:

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture.

In the face of such examples, is it not a fair thing to inquire if those who seek the Christianization of America even know how to apply what their Savior taught? Is it not fair to ask if they even know what His teachings were?

Asking Christians what Christ taught isn’t a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation — and, overwhelmingly, we do — it means something. When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans. And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior.

* Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers.

* Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest.

* We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners).

This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bible would seem to frown upon. Despite Jesus’ strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate — just over half — that compares poorly with the European Union’s average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult; still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent.

Teenage pregnancy? We’re at the top of the charts.

Personal self-discipline—like, say, keeping your weight under control?

Buying on credit? Running government deficits? Do you need to ask?

And as the wailing and gnashing of teeth over these social ills echo through the canyons of narow-minded religiousity, a study emerges that points out that many of these ills are enhanced by the fact that religion holds so much influence over our nation:

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems. Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies."
The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.
"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”
Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions. He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

[T]he US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from 'uniquely high' adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

And rather than deal with the causes of the problems, a progressive approach, it is so much easier to pass a law banning it altogether.

But I digress.

Gott Mit Uns? Nichts!

The study concluded that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional, Mr Paul said. “The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.” He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

“I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.
The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society. It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Trying to reach America's religious believers will prove to be an exercise in futility, as one of their own who managed to escape their mental manacles attests:

Thy Will be Done, On Earth as It is in Texas

For liberals to examine the current fundamentalist phenomenon in America is accept some hard truths. For starters, we libs are even more embattled than most of us choose to believe. Any significant liberal and progressive support is limited to a few urban pockets on each coast and along the upper edge of the Midwestern tier states. Most of the rest of the nation, the much vaunted heartland, is the dominion of the conservative and charismatic Christian.

Forget about changing their minds. These Christians do not read the same books we do, they do not get their information from anything remotely resembling reasonably balanced sources, and in fact, consider even CBS and NBC super-liberal networks of porn and the Devil's lies. They wait in spooky calmness for Jesus. They believe that, until Jesus does arrive, our "satanic humanist state and federal legal systems" should be replaced with pure 'Biblical Law'.

Given how fundamentalists see the modern world, they may as well be living in Iraq or Syria, with whom they share approximately the same Bronze Age religious tenets.

Islam exists under just such a system, known as Sharia. Pakistanis offered to allow General Mussharef to remain in power if Sharia were declared the law of the land, so there is precedent for a desire to establish religious law.

Such an establishment of Sharia would be OK with the Occupation in Iraq, even though Iraqi women haven't been too fond of that idea because their rights would be at risk, the consequences of which are best demonstrated by the case of the Nigerian woman condemned to death for adultery.

Are Americans ready to live under such a system? Methinks not, but as long as the 'law of God' is to be applied to others and not to the True Believers, who would object? But in Canada, the use of Sharia to settle domestic disputes met with great outrage even though Christian and Jewish religious tracts are currently so employed - it might have 'tained' Canadian law and allowed in legal precedents that were not viewed favorably.

Civil dispute settlement and criminal punishment aren't the only applications of religious force that are tenets of faith:

Wholely Holy War

They believe in God, Rumsfeld's Holy War and their absolute duty as God's chosen nation to kick Muslim ass up one side and down the other. These Christian conservatives believe peace cannot ever lead to The Rapture, and indeed impedes the 1,000 year Reign of Christ.
So anyone promoting peace is an enemy, a tool of Satan.
[H]ence the fundamentalist support for any and all wars Middle Eastern, in which their own kids die a death often viewed by Christian parents as a holy martyrdom of its own kind. "He (or she) died protecting this country's Christian values." One hears it over and over from parents of those killed.

Religious beliefs are often a factor in the support of terrorist activities. Do we not also hear similar comments from Muslim parents about their dead 'terrist' children? The parents of the bombers who attacked the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September 2004 'blessed their sons'. A Palestinian father praises his dead son.

I'm still waiting for some good Christian to point out to me where it shows Jesus said to kill one's neighbor if he wasn't a believer. Until then, I am inclined to agree with Gregory Paul in believing that strong religious beliefs are bad for a society due to the extreme lack of tolerance. I don't have to reach far to offer proof. I'll let Bill McKibben, author of the second linked article, make that presentation:

When Americans hunger for selfless love and are fed only love of self, they will remain hungry, and too often hungry people just come back for more of the same. Since the days of Constantine, emperors and rich men have sought to co-opt the teachings of Jesus. As in so many areas of our increasingly market-tested lives, the co-opters (the TV men, the politicians, the Christian “interest groups”) have found a way to make each of us complicit in that travesty, too.

They have invited us to subvert the church of Jesus even as we celebrate it. With their help we have made golden calves of ourselves — become a nation of terrified, self-obsessed idols.
It works, and it may well keep working for a long time to come.

Considering that there doesn't seem to be a Rational Cavalry riding over the hill to the rescue just in the nick of time, maybe we progressives are better served by heeding that discredited advice too often offered to victims of rape. To do so just might mean surviving to fight again another more favorable day, one which dawns after those affected by the Chri$tianization of America realize what they have done to themselves.

It would serve them right to receive that which they desire.

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