Today through Saturday, when Republicans and conservatives gather in Washington for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, will they face up to the biggest obstacle preventing them from connecting with voters? Their "secular problem."So what did the Pew data show?
Lots of ink has been spilled about how Democrats and liberals suffer from a "religion problem" -- a perceived hostility towards Christianity and religion in general.
But Pew Research Center exit poll data from the 2006 midterm elections shows the opposite.
Democrats crushed Republicans among secular voters, broadly defined as those who attend church seldom (favoring Democrats 60% to 38%) or never (67% to 30%). Republicans retained strong support among those who attend church more than weekly. But among those who only go weekly -- the larger portion of the religious vote -- the Republican lead shrunk from 15 points to 7.
In short, Republicans failed to be competitive among secular voters, while Democrats were at least competitive among regular churchgoers. And since the secular vote is roughly equal to the regular churchgoing vote, according to the last several national election exit polls, that means Republicans and their conservative base have a far bigger secular problem than their rivals have a religion problem.
History would seem to indicate that Calvinistic movements like the current Evangelical Christian Right only last for about a generation. Digby points us to this from the Barna Group;
Number of Unchurched Adults Has Nearly Doubled Since 1991
Since 1991, the adult population in the United States has grown by 15%. During that same period the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled, rising from 39 million to 75 million - a 92% increase!The fastest growing church in the United States in no church at all. The report points out that this does not mean they don't have religion.
These startling statistics come from the most recent tracking study of religious behavior conducted by The Barna Group, a company that follows trends related to faith, culture and leadership in America. The latest study shows that the percentage of adults that is unchurched - defined as not having attended a Christian church service, other than for a holiday service, such as Christmas or Easter, or for special events such as a wedding or funeral, at any time in the past six months - has risen from 21% in 1991 to 34% today.
In a typical week, unchurched people are less likely than all adults to read the Bible (19% compared to 44%) and to pray (63% versus 83%), and they are less likely to have embraced Jesus Christ as their savior. One of the more surprising outcomes, however, is that while about half of the churched population has accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, one out of every six unchurched adults (17%) has done so, as well.Now this is significant for the Republicans because much of their electoral success has been a result of politics from the pulpit.
Next we have this from the Washington Post, Blind Faith, a review of the book RELIGIOUS LITERACY, Stephen Prothero.
The United States is the most religious nation in the developed world, if religiosity is measured by belief in all things supernatural -- from God and the Virgin Birth to the humbler workings of angels and demons. Americans are also the most religiously ignorant people in the Western world. Fewer than half of us can identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and only one third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.This religious illiteracy should come as no surprise since it has been encouraged by the Christian Church through most of it's history. One of the things that got Martin Luther into so much trouble with the Roman Church was his distribution of bibles in German rather than the sacred and magic Latin. One of the things that gave the high priests of the church their power was a monopoly on the scriptures. As you might guess Prothero's solution is:
These are just two of the depressing statistics in Stephen Prothero's provocative and timely Religious Literacy. The author of American Jesus (2003) and the chair of the religion department at Boston University, Prothero sees America's religious illiteracy as even more dangerous than general cultural illiteracy "because religion is the most volatile constituent of culture, because religion has been, in addition to one of the greatest forces for good in world history, one of the greatest forces for evil."
The weakest part of this otherwise excellent book is Prothero's proposed remedy: high school and college courses dealing with the historical and cultural role of religion. As the author rightly notes, teaching about religion -- as distinct from preaching religion -- is not prohibited by the First Amendment's ban on "an establishment of religion." But given the failure of so many schools to inculcate the most elementary facts about American history, it is hard to imagine that most teachers would be up to the task of explaining, say, the subtleties of biblical arguments for and against slavery. Furthermore, a curriculum that would meet with the approval of Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and nonreligious parents would probably be a worthless set of platitudes.And of course the schools are currently unable to do an adequate job of teaching what is needed, including an alternative to magic.