Does God Use Natural Disasters to Guide American Politics?

In recent weeks, I have written about my discomfort with people aligning religion with a particular party and the costs that it might impose. Today I examine what I view as an unhelpful instance of a bringing religion into a political debate.  I use this not to critique the candidate who said it, but rather to examine its underlying logic.

In August, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann told an audience in Florida that God had sent deadly tornadoes and earthquakes in recent weeks to indicate his displeasure with the high levels of federal spending. She said:

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet, and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

(Bachmann later claimed that she was joking, but having listened to her statement a couple of times, I’m not so sure.)

Whereas most religion-politics linkages take the form of “we’re on God’s side”, this takes it one step further and says “God is on our side.”

I’m quite comfortable with the idea of God communicating directly with people, but as I understand scripture [Read more...]

Why pastors should plagiarize in their sermons

I’ve been thinking about the differences between classroom teaching and pulpit preaching.

When I teach, I use the work of many scholars to help students understand the material, with proper citation of course.  Yes, I give my own ideas and analyses (and probably more than I need), but the the core of my material is the work of others.  If I had to present *only* my own ideas, the class would be about an hour or two long, and then I’d have to call it for the semester.

In contrast, there seems to be a norm among pastors that all sermons have to be original in idea and expression. The problem is that this is very hard to do; I know I couldn’t produce an original, useful 20-30 talk every week.  So, a lot of sermons aren’t really that good.

This leads me to wonder why pastors do not [Read more...]

Religious affiliation in the United States since 1910: The long, steady decline of Mainline Protestantism

On Thursday, I referenced the dramatic decline in Mainline Protestantism over the past century.  Here’s some data from the General Social Survey that illustrate this change.  I took the question asking respondents in which religious tradition they were raised, calculated in which decade they were 16 years old, and estimated American affiliation rates at that time.  Note, this presents the religious affiliation of young people, not adults, and they are not the same since family size varies by religious tradition.

Did the Religious Right Lose 10 Million Christians?

In the 1990s, a seismic shift occurred in religious America. During that period, the percentage of Americans who did not affiliate with any religion more than doubled. In the 1980s, about 7% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated, and by 2000, this was up to 14% (and has since increased to about 17%). To be clear, many of these religiously unaffiliated still believe in God, but they don’t associate with any particular religion or denomination.

What happened, and why did it happen in the 1990s? Micheal Hout and Claude Fischer, sociologists at Berkeley, published a study that links part of this substantial drop of religious affiliation to politics. They examined what type of people left religion in the 1990s, and they found it closely tied to political beliefs. Unaffiliation among liberals increased 11 percentile points; among political moderates it increased 5-6 points; and among political conservatives it increased an insignificant 1.7 points.

So, why would liberal or moderate politics move people away from Christianity in the 1990s? Well, that was a time in which [Read more...]