Surveys have shown that religious belief is declining in the US, especially among younger cohorts of our population, but it seems like religious influence in politics is on the upswing. Legislatures in the red states are passing laws that grant special privileges to religious believers who claim they are “oppressed” when they must obey secular laws. At the same time, they pass laws that oppress women, by severely restricting access to abortion, and even contraception. Of course, they do not consider that oppression.
Is religious faith being replaced by political “faith” that is even more dogmatic and confrontational than the religious belief it replaces? Certainly, the Trump phenomenon demonstrates that political belief can become as fanatical as the devout belief of evangelical Christians. But those folks, who support Trump have not abandoned Jesus. Now, they have a doppelganger to worship…except that Jesus, as he is portrayed at least, was not fat, florid and foolish.
A hundred years ago, three quarters of Americans identified themselves as Christians. That percentage remained constant until nearly the end of the twentieth century. Since then, it has declined to fifty percent. The fastest growing cohort is the “nones,” mostly young people who do not identify with any organized religion. As that segment of our society continues to grow, one would think that the self-righteous dogmatism of religious belief would decline, and our politics would become less confrontational. Anyone who has observed the intensity of the discord in the past five years, culminating in the attack on our Capitol on January 6th knows that such expectations are wishful thinking. Instead, the ideological divides have grown wider and more confrontational, with each side demonizing the other. Our government is now almost completely dysfunctional, in virtual gridlock, with the two parties, evenly divided, each concentrating on how to stymie anything their opponents propose. Partisanship has always been a factor in our politics, but now it has reached toxic levels that threaten the very existence of our nation.
Organized religion may be declining in numbers in the US, but the remaining adherents have become much more politically active. They fear the growing numbers of people who reject faith-based beliefs, and respect scientific findings. That is why our society has become confrontational. Fifty years ago, when most people were Christians, nonbelievers kept their heads down, and rarely challenged religious beliefs openly. Times have certainly changed. The havoc is likely to continue until one side or the other becomes dominant. I know which side I am rooting for.