Monday, April 06, 2009

Culture Wars, We Has Them

I don't think it means what they'll think it means. Some copy editor decided he needed to cause a stir and sell a few magazines, so there are a whole lot of folks who are going to read a certain article today and get the wrong idea.

Despite the terribly unfortunate (and incorrect, and provocative) name, "The End of Christian America" is a fantastic and informative article. You have to make it through the first several paragraphs until things really start to pick up:

Let's be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian. A third of Americans say they are born again; this figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to liberal mainline Protestants, led the ARIS authors to note that "these trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more 'evangelical' outlook among Christians." With rising numbers of Hispanic immigrants bolstering the Roman Catholic Church in America, and given the popularity of Pentecostalism, a rapidly growing Christian milieu in the United States and globally, there is no doubt that the nation remains vibrantly religious—far more so, for instance, than Europe.

Yes, let's be clear. Though the percentage of "self-identified Christians" apparently "fell" from 86% to 76%, that ain't a huge cultural shift - it just means they called more college students during this round of surveys or talked to folks too busy reading facebook to understand the question.

Seventy - six percent is not a minority number. But watch for the reactions: culture warriors on the right will feel validated in their "we're turning into a God-less society" mythology to keep whipping those flocks into frenzies.

Our problem has never been a lack of fervent belief. Our problem is generally a surplus of fervent belief coupled with a lack of religious literacy. Heck, my RSD students last year claimed they all went to church & read the Bible, tried to tell me what the Bible said about people like me, and overwhelmingly failed to name the first 5 books of the Old Testament or the 4 Gospels.

And there is no "Book of Gonzales," no matter how many 8th graders believe it.

You can tell me my beliefs will land me in Hell all you want, but if you get Noah and Moses mixed up, and somehow end up with only 6 commandments, up you may lack the credibility and fire and brimstone you had intended.

But the article reminded me of the most important book I read in 2008, Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero, which is a must read for anyone interested in American religious history and education.

Or anyone interested in telling culture warriors on all sides to go to Hell.



Charlotte aka TM said...

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deutoronomy.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

What is "people like me"? Just curious.

Baptists have always and will always think this country is going to hell.
I grew up in it, was "born again" as a teen, and have rejected it as an adult. My belief is Christianity is a way of life and a way of "being" that has nothing to do with religion.

Just some stray thoughts. Not necessarily coherent ones. :)

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Had you been in my class, you would have earned an entire box of Pop-Tarts, which trades more valuable than gold in Middle-School Culture.

As for "people like me," the definition was broad and changed from day to day. It was kind of like the ubiquitous "they" used in propaganda, generally because the term was employed to express general dipleasure or threats.

For example: "Mr. Armstrong, people like you be tweakin'" or "Mr. Armstrong, you know what I do to people like you?," and "I pray for people like you, Mr. Armstrong."

And that was just my science class.

Dante said...

Given that mankind can only be saved through the grace of God, I always thought it ironic when one person would claim how badly another was doing in that department. That's kind of like a kid pointing to their parent's car and bragging about how much better it is than your car.

I went to one of those Baptist Mega-Churches one time with a few friends of mine. I'm no Baptist but I'm always interested in how different churches worship. At no point was a Bible opened or even referenced. There were a few songs, a political endorsement or two, and a ten minute "sermon" that was another thinly disguised political endorsement.

If that's indicative of the current state of churches, I could see how people might not know much about the Bible but have strong ideas on who to vote for. I'm generally disgusted by a church overtly endorsing a political candidate in the first place. Doing it three times in one sitting while completely ignoring the Bible was a little unsettling. I felt like I was watching a community theater production of Meet the Press.

patsbrother said...

Personally, I'm rather happy with a religion that presupposes illiteracy as a matter of tradition.