Friday, May 8, 2009


Stephen Prothero, chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University, argues that claims that the United States is a "post-Christian" nation are simply false.

He points out that the vast majority of people in this country self-identify as Christian:

What the data do not tell us is that the United States is becoming "post-Christian." If you meet a random American walking down the street, the odds are only one in 62 that he or she will self-identify as atheist or agnostic. And even if we accept the ARIS survey as gospel, the United States today has more Christians than any other country in human history. The current U.S. population is more Christian than Israel is Jewish and Utah is Mormon. Meanwhile, Christianity remains, for good or for ill, a vital political force, not just on the right but also on the left, and the Christian Bible remains the scripture of American politics, invoked thousands of times a year on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

[B]orn-again Christians,... now constitute 34% of the U.S. population. The "non-denominational Christian" category that populates U.S. megachurches has exploded from under 200,000 in 1990 to 2.5 million in 2001 to in excess of 8 million today.

The problem, though, is that whether this nation is Christian or post-Christian should not be measured by the religious sentiments of the masses. The religious status of this country is actually a function of the attitudes of its cultural elite. The university professors, artists, scientists, media personalities, the people who make our movies, our music, and write our books, politicians, professionals (doctors, lawyers, journalists, clergy) and wealthy businessmen.

The elite shape the culture and put their stamp upon it. It's their religious sentiments that matter and any attempt to determine the extent of religious influence in this country that focuses on the beliefs of the common folk is pretty much beside the point. As far as I know the cultural elite have never been subjected to the kind of analysis that would tell us definitively what their views are. Nevertheless, I think that if we look even cursorily at the products our culture is turning out it would be pretty hard to think that the U.S. is still a Christian nation.

Consider the hostility of the pop culture to anyone who on religious principle takes a stand that conflicts with progressive orthodoxies. Look at how the culture has savaged Carrie Prejean and Sarah Palin. Consider how people who embrace "traditional" values, who are pro-life, opposed to gay marriage, sympathetic to intelligent design, and who actually go to church on Sunday are depicted by the entertainment media.

There is, furthermore, reason to believe that the ground is being prepared in much of the Western world, and even here in America, to make Christian conviction an automatic disqualification for engagement in the public square.

But beyond all that, I wonder how many, even among the masses, are serious about their religious affiliation. Being a Christian is more than just being a CHINO (Christian In Name Only). Most people when asked about their affiliation will name the church they had their children baptized into, but that identity makes no real difference to them in the decisions of their everyday life. For many people, God is like a parent who lives on the other side of the country and who one gets to see maybe at Christmas and Easter but who has little input into how they manage their daily affairs.

At any rate, a survey of American religious convictions that fails to go beyond a simple affiliation question is neither informative nor useful.


Which Party Is More Ideologically Diverse?

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum has an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which he challenges the media meme that the GOP is too narrow and intolerant of diverse views to be a national party. Santorum points out some inconvenient truths:

According to the American Conservative Union, in 2008, only two of the 51 Senate Democrats had conservative ratings above 25 percent. But 21 of the 49 Republican senators had conservative ratings of 75 percent or less.

This means that the senate Republicans are much closer to the ideological center than are the Democrats. Here's further confirmation that the most ideologically rigid party is the Democrat party:

Furthermore, 12 Democrats had a conservative rating of zero, while an additional 25 scored under 10 percent. By contrast, only one Republican scored a perfect 100, and a scant seven others scored above 90 percent. (Note that Pennsylvania's other "moderate" senator has a conservative rating of 8 percent.)

I spent 12 years in the Senate. It has one doctrinaire, narrow, intolerant caucus, and Specter just joined it.

In fact, Specter's ACU rating of 44% makes him the most conservative Democrat in the senate. It's amazing that despite the obvious ideological imbalance in the Democratic party the media and others are insisting that it's the Republicans who need to become more diverse. It'd be nice if they'd check the relevant facts and figures once in a while before they write their stories.