By James Haught
In the classic movie “Citizen Kane,” a ruthless newspaper tycoon runs for high political office. In advance, his publishing chain prepares two possible alternative headlines for the morning after the election. One crows: “Kane Wins.” But if that won’t work, the other says: “Fraud at the Polls.”
Well, I have two possible headlines ready for after Tuesday’s election. My hoped-for one says: “White Evangelicals Flop” (in Trump defeat). But if the dismal alternative happens, the other says: “Stupidity Prevails.”
I fervently wish that the era of born-again whites tipping elections to Republicans finally is ending. Religion is collapsing rapidly in America. Southern Baptists have lost two million members since 2005. Overall church membership has fallen 20 percent in two decades, according to Gallup. In a forthcoming book, researcher Ronald Inglehart says supernatural faith is dropping faster in America than in any other western democracy. Both Barna and LifeWay surveys find that two-thirds of youths raised in church drop out in their twenties.
In contrast, there’s a rising flood of educated young adults who say their religion is “none” — and they tend to hold compassionate political views, making them a bulwark of the Democratic Party. They began surging in the 1990s, then soared. The Cooperative Congressional Election Study, released Oct. 4 by Harvard University, says “nones” grew three percent more in 2019, becoming one-third of the adult population. They’re larger than any specific church.
“Nones” vote at low rates, but I hope their general support for progressive values — approval of women’s right to choose, backing for gay marriage, endorsement of free college, support for universal health care, etc. — will swing America leftward. Maybe exit polls will show how much they affect Tuesday’s outcome.
Actually, the well-known white evangelical embrace of the GOP contradicts the founder of their faith. Jesus was a liberal who taught: help the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, aid the underdog. That mirrors the public “safety net” supported by Democrats. Yet born-again fundamentalists strongly back Republicans, who want to slash the safety net to give the rich a tax break. In a sense, such believers betray Jesus.
President Trump has sought to make born-again white religion a political machine for the GOP. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne says he has “weaponized religion in a very aggressive way” — choosing an evangelical vice president , filling his cabinet with fundamentalists, constantly catering to Bible-thumping preachers as linchpins of his base.
But that base is shrinking. And this year’s pandemic hindered the ability of churches to meet and pursue politics.
Of course, many other factors besides religion sway an election — but religion is a big one.
Keep your fingers crossed and wait to see which headline works after Tuesday’s election.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
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 AgnósticoséééBrazilian 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.
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Image Credit: James Haught.