Religion and our divided society

From 1937 to 1998 church membership in the US remained relatively constant, hovering at about 70%. But over the past two decades, that percentage has dropped to less than 50%, the sharpest recorded decline in American history. Meanwhile the atheists, agnostics and those claiming no religion, have grown to represent a quarter of the population.

But if secularists hoped that declining religiosity would make for more rational politics, they are being disappointed. As Christianity’s hold has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation has risen. Now, what was once religious belief has turned into political belief, and political debate has morphed into political belief. Religion without religion.

Since the end of the Obama period debates over what it means to be American have become suffused with a fervor that would have been unimaginable in debates about what it meant to be Swedish or Belgian. “UnAmerican”is a common slur from both Right and Left, a charge akin to religious heresy. All strongly held ideologies are effectively faith-based; no human being can survive long without some ultimate loyalty, and if that loyalty doesn’t derive from traditional religion, it finds expression through secular commitment to nationalism, socialism or liberalism. Conservatives believe they are faithful to the American idea and that liberals are betraying it. Liberals believe exactly the opposite. Without an outside threat mutual antipathy grows.

My comment: Kindness, thoughtfulness, tolerance, consideration for others, honesty, integrity, good manners, generosity and a sense of humour – these are the hallmarks of of the lady and gentleman. They seem to be growing more rare by the day. Maybe church used to take the rough edges off the grumpy who believe all opponents are wicked? But maybe it really depends on upbringing and education.

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