By James Haught
James Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is 87-years-old and would like to help secular causes more. This series is a way of giving back.
White evangelicals put Donald Trump into the White House. They swarmed to the 2016 election in high numbers and gave an amazing 81 percent of their votes to the vulgar, obnoxious, race-baiting, gambling billionaire who favours the rich, tries to take health care away from 20 million, and brags about grabbing women by their genitals.
Although he once favoured women’s rights, Trump campaigned on a promise to appoint only pro-life Supreme Court justices – those who would jail women and doctors for ending pregnancies.
For his running mate, Trump chose an evangelical hero, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, known for fighting the theory of evolution, attacking gay equality and denouncing adultery. Pence notoriously signed an Indiana ‘religious freedom’ law letting fundamentalists discriminate against gays.
Together, Trump and Pence were a dream ticket for conservative Christians – which shows the falsity and hypocrisy of religion. Jesus said to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the suffering, embrace the poor – all the humane facets of the liberal ‘safety net.’ But today’s U.S. fundamentalists vote for the GOP, which tries to slash the safety net to give tax breaks to the rich. They contradict the teachings of Jesus – but few seem to notice.
Of course, other factors besides religion also swayed the 2016 presidential race, such as economic despair among less-educated blue-collar whites. But it’s abundantly clear: without strong born-again backing, Trump and Pence would have lost ‘bigly.’
However, there’s hope that the 2016 travesty may be a final spasm for America’s ‘religious right’ politics. The United States is creeping steadily toward a religion-free culture. Puritanical church power over the nation keeps weakening, decade after decade. I hope the retreat continues.
I grew up in Appalachia’s Bible Belt, where fundamentalist taboos ruled politics and daily life. Censorship, blue Sabbath laws, mandatory school prayer, ‘dry’ laws and other strictures prevailed. But Bible Belt thou-shalt-nots of my youth slowly slipped away – thanks to the sexual revolution, Supreme Court rulings and cultural evolution. Church taboos slowly evaporated.
A secular surge swept Europe after World War II. Church attendance plummeted. Nations that had spent centuries killing people over religion – in Crusades, Inquisitions, witch-hunts, pogroms, Reformation wars, persecutions, holy wars and massacres – decided that religion was inconsequential.
Europe’s transformation spread to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other advanced democracies.
At first it seemed that America was an exception, a place where religion remained strong. But, in recent decades, America rapidly caught up with the Western world. Religion lost its grip on the country.
Church decline started in the 1960s when tall-steeple mainline denominations began losing members, then the erosion spread to evangelicals and Catholics.
The Southern Baptist Church has lost 1 million members in the past decade. And so many white followers left Catholicism that one-tenth of U.S. adults now are ex-Catholics.
The number of Americans who say their faith is ‘none’ soared remarkably since 1990. Now ‘nones’ are America’s largest group, around one-third of the adult population – outnumbering Catholics (21 percent) and white evangelicals (16 percent).
Barack Obama was the first president to welcome skeptic groups to the White House and recognize ‘those who have no religion’ as equal citizens.
The Supreme Court ruling in favour of gay marriage was a crippling blow to hidebound Christianity.
Almost overnight, the Secular Age has hit America like a tsunami. As white evangelicals shrink to a smaller fringe, their political power surely will decline.
In his landmark book, The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute says young Americans who say their religion is “none” generally are socially liberal, supporting gay rights, universal health care, women’s right to choose, and the like. But they hardly vote. Apparently they shun politics as much as they shun religion. This gives white evangelicals – although fading – an advantage.
Jones wrote that 2016 may have signified a ‘death rattle’ for fundamentalist political power. In a New York Times commentary, he said:
“The waning number of white Christians in the country today may not have time on their side, but as the sun is slowly setting on the cultural world of white Christian America, they’ve managed, at least in this election, to rage against the dying of the light.”
Will ‘religious right’ politics recede as the Secular Age grows in America? Will fading white evangelicals lose their power to tip the presidency to far-right leaders like the Trump-Pence team?
Let’s pray that the secular tide keeps rising, to reaffirm humane values in America.
This essay appeared in the Atheist Alliance of America newsletter on June 4, 2018.
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: James Haught.