Atheists, agnostics, and political Christians 167

According to Penn Jillette, writing in the Los Angeles Times, non-believers may be more numerous than adherents of any particular religious sect in America:

Atheists are growing way fast, from under 2% to about 8% just in this century. If you throw in self-labeled agnostics and those who identify as not religious, you’re getting up to around 20%. Evangelicals are about 26%, Catholics about 23%, Jews, 1.7%, Mormons also 1.7% — if you start breaking Christians up into their smaller groups, nonbelievers come close to being the dominant religion, if you can call no religion a religion, like calling not collecting stamps a hobby.

We hope it is true, and we think it may be. We also suspect that a great many individuals who claim membership of this or that denomination are privately skeptical about the beliefs it teaches.

The main theme of Penn Jillette’s article is conjecture as to why politicians compulsively declare themselves generic “Christians”, preferring not to name the particular sect they belong to; with special reference to presidential candidates Bachmann and Perry:

When I was a kid, politicians wanted to avoid talking about religion if they could. John F. Kennedy couldn’t duck the issue, being Catholic and all. So how did he address it? By reminding Americans that religion shouldn’t be an issue, that he was concentrating on big things like poverty and hunger and leading the space race. When he finally got around to talking about religion, here’s what he said: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Can you imagine a presidential candidate talking that way today?

“Freethinkers,” a great book by Susan Jacoby, explained that the modern use of the word Christian was pushed to fight Roe vs. Wade. The anti-choice people wanted a big-tent word for the religious objection to abortion, and that meant they had to bring all the Protestants and Catholics together if they wanted to claim God for their team. The word Christian did that.

Since then, religion and politics have gotten ever more entwined. Jimmy Carter happily identified as born-again, and that phrase and the magic word Christian started to be used more and more. One American president who mentioned religion constantly and seemed to appear in a different church every time you blinked was Bill Clinton. Slick Willy really rammed home the idea of Christian. He was a church slut, not caring what church he appeared in as long as he was seen at a church.

And, now, we come to Bachmann and Perry.

I’ve used pornographic images, obscenity and poetry to try to make even the most doubtful blush, but I’ve never come close to Bachmann’s insult to the gentle, honest faithful when she said the suffering and casualties of natural disasters were her God’s message to wayward politicians. What she said was disgusting

And stupid.

Bachmann was a longtime member of the Salem Lutheran Church, a small denomination that has some odd teachings. But even in the broadest definition of Lutherans, there are only about 13.5 million, and that’s not enough to elect you president. Now Bachmann has moved to Eagle Brook, an evangelical church, but even if she wins all the evangelical vote, that gives her only 26.3% of the American people. With those percentages, you need to shut up about religion. …

Perry is the same deal. Perry has moved away from his Methodist background … and moved to the Lake Hills Baptist Church, which went on to drop the word Baptist to be more inclusive. When Perry did his big apolitical political rally in August, he was very careful to call it nondenominational. It was Christian. Now let’s watch Mitt Romney as he works on trying to convince Americans that his sect, with its magic underwear and its belief that the Garden of Eden was in North America, really is just another Christian offshoot.

All interesting stuff. Fatuous beliefs promoting or hampering serious political purposes.

But what we find most interesting in the article is the possible numerical predominance of atheists and agnostics*.

Most of them are likely to be on the political left, but among so many there must be a fair number of conservatives.

May they find our site!

*Agnostics: atheists wearing an intellectual condom? 

(Hat tip Frank for the link.)