Sunday, September 18, 2011

Is theism on the rise in America?

Today over on Ayloo, a new social site that encourages conversations centered on specific topics raised by its members, I was asked if I thought theism was on the rise in America, on the decline or unchanged from years past. Here's the reply I posted there.

I perceive theism as being on the rise here in the U.S., but not a compassionate theism or even a primarily religious theism. By that I mean that the theism that I see becoming more popular these days is more political than spiritual. Theists are embracing conservative political values and infusing them with their theological beliefs, creating a conservative movement that unashamedly defers to the Bible as the basis for deciding national and foreign policy. It's ironic that George Bush was lambasted for saying that part of the reason he went to war in the Middle East was because he thought god told him to and now we have candidates openly calling for prayer to end the drought in Texas and the teaching of creationism in schools as an "alternative" to evolution, and the press and public seem unconcerned.

It's been said for years that an atheist would have no chance to be elected to the presidency, or any public office for that matter, but now we have evangelical Christians running for office that don't accept or endorse the notion first put forth by Thomas Jefferson that there ought to be a wall of separation between religion and the government. I'm amazed that Perry, Bachmann and their fellow conservative Christians have convinced their followers that the economy and crime will both be straightened out if only America becomes a more Christian nation in light of the fact that America has always been a primarily Christian nation. Considering their percentage of the population it's reasonable to conclude that the economy was wrecked by people who call themselves Christians and most crime is committed by people who would describe themselves as Christians. Bars and sex shops would have gone bankrupt long ago if their only patrons were non-believers. The state that consumes the largest amount of Internet porn is Utah, home to some of the most conservative Christians there are, many of whom must have had to dip into their porn allowance to send money to their church in opposition of California's Proposition 8. It appears this massive hypocrisy not only doesn't bother American Christians but is completely ignored by them. Despite all evidence to the contrary they think that if only they can get a conservative Christian candidate elected president the nation will somehow be blessed by god and everything will get better.

The theism I see on the rise is a form of fundamental Biblicalism combined with a devotion to profit and a deference to the wealthy. This is understandable in the case of politicians, they follow the money. But it would be hard to explain in the case of the average citizen. I think this is why religious belief is being emphasized so much. Religious citizens naturally follow strong religious leaders. It's a part of their training. Perry and Bachmann, even Palin, are attempting to portray themselves as religious leaders as much as political leaders.

The primarily religious theism that is increasing is in reaction to the perception that civilization is going to hell at an increasing rate and that end-time predictions are coming true. People unfamiliar with history can easily be fooled into thinking that times like these have never occurred before. Plato credited Socrates with complaining "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers." Nothing we see today is new or unique to our age. But once again, as they have many times before, Christians have decided that these must be the end times and many quasi-religious people, worried that they may be among the "left behind", are becoming more committed to the claim that they are religious. Not that they are attending church any more often or have increased their caring for the poor among us. They are less interested in following the dictates of Jesus than they are interested in avoiding hell. It's a convenient Christianity, and in my opinion a useless one. Another minor factor in the increase of theism is as a reaction to the perceived increase in the number of Muslims in the U.S. The "Us or Them" mentality of the Middle East has waded ashore here.
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