I've just ordered a new pair of glasses, in a style that match almost exactly the glasses I wore in the first grade. Of course, to people my daughter's age, this is the "new style" and all the rage. I hate to tell them it isn't new at all, that while I like them, I'm glad all my elementary school pictures are safely locked away from public view. All I need now is the crew cut I sported then.....
I mention that because I don't disagree with this Amanda Marcotte post
as much as I thought I did
, now that I've read it. But I don't think it's all that insightful, either.
For one thing, church attendance has been falling for 50 years, if not longer. It peaked at an abnormal height in the post-war era, at least among Protestants, and it's been going down since. To notice it now and claim you've discovered something new under the sun, is simply false. Which doesn't mean fundamentalists aren't reacting to a decline in their stature; except that stature only really stretches back as far as Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority.
You want to really see the fundamentalist/evangelical crowd lose its political punch, look to the candidacy of Pat Robertson, if you're old enough to remember it. We don't even call Robertson a "former Presidential candidate" anymore, though he was for one brief, silly season. And he got about as far as John Connolly (if you remember his bid) or Rudy Giuliani. It seems his popularity and notoriety made him about as electable as Bill O'Reilly would be; or as Rick Perry proved to be.
Falwell actually persuaded fundamentalists and evangelicals that they should engage the world, rather than stand apart from it (you could look it up; and frankly, Marcotte should have). Maybe the roots of that rage are in the anti-school prayer decisions, or in the grassroots turn against abortion (many on-line articles have noted lately that being against abortion was a Roman Catholic concern long before Protestants evangelicals and fundamentalists decided it was part of what we know call the "culture wars." Again, you could look it up.) But the rage didn't provoke any response until Ronald Reagan was replaced by George W. Bush (even though Reagan hardly darkened the door of a church, unlike Sunday School teacher Jimmy Carter), and then Bill Clinton was elected and tout le monde
of the American right wing went mad.
Not that they hadn't gone made before, but the last time, it was personal. As Karen Armstrong has noted
, the Scopes monkey trial so embarrassed and humiliated fundamentalists (thanks, Mencken!), although the trial wasn't really about them, that they reacted by turning on the world they had been happy to leave alone up to that time. When the movie version of the play threw kerosene on the fire (completely falsely), it only got worse. JFK, a Catholic, winning the presidency, was about as popular in some sections of the country as Barack Obama is today, and for similar reasons. But again, Reagan's marriage of sunny optimism with a 1950's throwback attitude ("Morning in America" was all about starting the day over in Ozzie and Harriet land) prompted TV evangelicals who were enjoying a hey-day (soon to end) on TV, to decide they should remake the country in their own image.
And so began the "Moral Majority," a reference to Nixon's "Silent Majority," and in both cases, a matter of false advertising and mislabeling.
And now, unsurprisingly, some of the reaction to changes in culture (a black family in the White House; gay marriages, the declining attendance at churches across the spectrum, although a small Catholic church near me seems to be growing enough to double the size of its worship space) are prompting rabid reactions from pockets of the country (the districts that elect Louie Gohmert, Michelle Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn) fearful of change because they are either white, or old (both being groups who see themselves as diminishing in political/social power), or both. This, too, was entirely predictable, and the people pointing out the coming demographic changes (which are no longer coming, but are here) predicted this situation a few decades ago.
I'm guessing, but my guess is Ms. Marcotte was too young to be aware of that at the time.
I don't agree with Marcotte's dichotomy: that some grow more fundamentalist as others grow more secular. For one thing, pastors have spoken for decades of pews filled with "baptized heathens," people are claim affiliation to a church, but agree with almost nothing the church actually preaches. And I don't think many people actually agree with Gretchen Carlson that secularism is destroying our religious practices. Most of what Carlson cites in her complaint are secular matters anyway: Christmas trees are not Christian, any more than Santa Claus is. A creche may be Christian, but there are more than a few Christians who consider such items idolatrous, rather than a special exception to Protestant rejection of plaster images of religious figures. I agree with Marcotte that such items have no real place in the public square, and would point out they weren't really common until the '50's, which means they are hardly rooted in 1st Amendment jurisprudence back to the early 19th century.
To take one more example, Marcotte says:
Take, for instance, the way that weddings have quietly changed in this country. It used to be that you had a wedding in a church, and only people who were eloping got married by someone other than a minister. Now, outside of very religious circles, it’s more common to see weddings on beaches or at country clubs, and very often officiated by friends of the couple rather than clergy.
Except my parents, both church goers who raised me in a church, got married in the '40's in my aunt's living room. That was quite common, especially since Protestants about 500 years ago decided the state should marry people (license the marriage), and the church need say nothing about it. The purpose was largely to reject the Catholic notion of marriage as a sacrament, but it became so ingrained in America that church weddings again only became common in the '50's, and nowadays I've been to several "church weddings" (and conducted more than a few when I was in parish ministry) where the church was used for the photos and the ambience, not for the religious significance (if any) of it.
Everything old is new again.
But I reject the idea of a dichotomy because this isn't an either/or of fundamentalist bible-thumpers v. radical bible burners, with "liberal" Christians somewhere in the middle futilely wringing their hands. Marcotte says: And caught in between are a group of liberal Christians that are culturally aligned with secularists and are increasingly and dismayingly seeing the concept of “faith” aligned with a narrow and conservative political worldview." I wonder if she's ever heard of the UCC, or knows their office for press relations, or even remembers them from the infamous "ejector seat" ads of a few years back. Every mainline denomination has a press office which releases information on what the denomination is doing; and every news outlet, down to Alternet, ignores those releases and focusses on who has a radio program or a TV show. Jim Wallis gets more attention than the entire UCC because he works the media better; that doesn't mean Jim Wallis speaks for anyone other than Jim Wallis. And he may or may not be concerned about the concept of faith being aligned with a particular political view, but I don't know too many Christians in the pews who give a wet snap what Bryan Fischer said last week.
This isn't really a split over religion v. secularism; it's a power struggle. That's why most Christians in most church pews don't pay attention to the fight, and really just don't care. They aren't interested in the power struggle, either as citizens, or as Christians. Christianity, as I've said over and over, is about powerlessness
, not about power.
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. I Corinthians 1:20-25
I don't like dropping scriptures in like some kind of quote bomb,
but I use Paul's words here to support my thesis on the power of powerlessness, and for no other reason. While there are certainly groups who use religion to assert a right to power, I reject the legitimacy of such claims in general, and in the name of Christ, specifically. Power is not the end of a Christian life; love is. And the latter is much harder to attain than the former.
Which is as it should be.