The Growth of Non-believers?

It is the time that the world took note of the hypocrisy in American politics. While the U.S. is becoming less enamored with religion, the religious-right is becoming more powerful in our political arena. But first some background.

The Pew Research Center, along with PBS’ Religion & Ethics News Weekly, conducts an annual study concerning American religiosity, with the 2012 survey conducted in June and July. When asking about religious affiliation, choices of response include atheist, agnostic, and none. The problem, acknowledged by Pew, is that “none” is not quite defined. This may include one who is a devout Christian, yet believes that organized religion in the United States is not honoring Jesus or the scriptures, and those who attend or are affiliated with one of the 200 recognized Christian denominations are being exploited.

It is question 53 that I believe is most important, “Do you believe in God or a universal spirit, or not?” The five-year trend suggests that those who believe in a god, gods or and entity greater than the human spirit can imagine has dropped from 94 percent to 91 percent.  That three percent is found under “No, do not believe in God.” This answer is more important than affiliation. Why?

By providing an answer as “none,” those who are affiliated with the new evangelical churches which have no allegiance to the various Protestant and Baptist organizations, which deem themselves independent, can answer “none” with a clear conscience.

The same problem is found in question 72, “Earlier you mentioned that you don’t currently belong to any religion in particular. Would you say you are you looking for a religion that would be right for you, or are you not doing this?”

Though 88 percent indicate that are not looking, there is no indication how many of those are of the Christian, Muslim or Jewish faiths or are agnostic or atheist.

National City Christian Church
Washington, DC

All-in-all, the report does say one thing; traditional religion, complete with its bibles, hymnals, homilies, pews and structures, is losing traction. Those who marked atheist, agnostic or none has increased from 16 percent in 2008 to 20 percent in 2012 and atheists from four percent to seven percent.  What the report does not say is how the religious-right is dealing with this demographic change.

The religion orthodox and religious-right perceive this trend to be a threat to religion. It is being countered by a greater political activism by those whose belief in the mythologies has not wavered – in fact, has strengthened. Case in point is Missouri’s senatorial race and Todd Akin.

On October 11, 2012, the Washington Post wrote about Mr. Akin and his Christian political connections and support. Here the shadow of the non-profit designation restrictions under IRS code 501(c)(3) come alive. From the Internal Revenue Service;

“…organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

However, a 501(c)(3) religious organization may conduct;

“…certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.” (Underscore added)

Christian organizations appear to have a heavy hand in this elections cycle. Maybe too heavy. The “Renewal Project” (not to be confused with “Project Renewal,” a 501(c)(3) assisting New York City’s homeless), American Family Association and other Christian non-profits have taken up Akin’s cause, supporting his Christian based values.  

While American Family Association (not to be confused with American Family Insurance), organizers of the Renewal Project, does not mention Akin or other candidates by name, they do encourage political action which is good. They do post a political party comparison on their Web site, which speaks to four of the religious based issues; abortion, Gay marriage, Israel and God. This skirts but does not cross the IRS 501 (c)(3) line in the sand.

The other method of interference is to create a separate political arm. The Family Research Council, a 501(c)(3), has its lobbying arm, FRC Action, a 501(c)(4) which is permitted to provide election education and lobbying as non-profit organization. There are some restrictions, but they mostly deal with donations. (c)(4) organizations can and often do support an issue or candidate. Many secular non-profits take the same course, but not with the same vigor.

We know religion and government do not mix very well; that religion invariably takes control. Bouazza Ben Aouazza and Paul Schemm of the Associate Press reported that the post-Arab Spring Tunisian government may be moving towards stronger Islamic law. Prior to the American Revolution, Europe’s Christian based governments yielded to the various churches when considering law. For 65 years the ultra-orthodox and Zionist movements have had the Israeli democracy in a strangle hold.

This lean towards the political religious-right and demanding that religion be part of the American Constitution and law is alienating the 26 percent of Republicans who classified themselves “none of the above.” This lean is alienating the religious moderates. This lean is alienating the a-theistic communities.

The First Amendment does not guarantee the freedom of or from religion. It prevents the government in interfering in religion.  That “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This protects the new nation from a political takeover by those of religion, more specifically the Christian religion. The founders knew full well that such a move would inevitably lead to a theocratic based government as England and France were in the late 1700s, as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and other religious based democracies are today.

Is this what we really want? And please refrain from answering that we are a Christian nation, therefore cannot do what is being done by today’s Islamic governments. European-Christian history, from the time of Constantine forward, has proven you wrong.

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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