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Churchgoing in decline, like rightwing dominion?
The intrepid optimist is back, searching for shreds of good
news against the baying gloom. Well, an optimist compared to the relentless
Chris Hedges-Paul C. Roberts School of Apocalypse Now. What darkens my brow is
that waves of desolation on the left and right not only inhibit trend-setting
protests but will drive discouraged millions from politics. What movement rides
the audacity of hopelessness?
In this spirit, I cheer as organized church attendance and self-identified evangelicals go AWOL, leaving fewer to embrace outdated fallacies and, more to my point, support rightwing obstructionism. Fewer Americans believe in God, declare sectarian loyalties, admit being "very religious," or judge "the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life."
Item, with parallel implications: this year the secular organ of Old-time Religion, Fox News, hit ten year viewer lows, indeed "its worst prime time ratings in the coveted 25-54 demographic since August 2001, and its lowest total day ratings since June 2008. Item: Republican approval ratings have sunk all year, and stayed as low as 49% disapproving, the highest party putdown since 2008. A growing 47% reject the Tea Party. Just this week, on top of Rand-Christie fisticuffs, new schisms divide extremists per the Huffington Post: "Tea Party Distances Self From Republican Party Stars," presumed "sellouts" like Rubio and Scott from Florida, or Kasich from Ohio. If they be "moderates" . . . and deranged Rush Limbaugh fantasizes that true Republican Party "wants a new base." Straighten up, rogues and mavericks.
Those hot scoops explain why "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" plod on, churning bad news for the GOP circular firing squad into positive news for the world. However subterranean, however belied by passing absurd (unconstitutional) abortion bans, bizarre House votes against health care (or non-existent ACORN), a trend of conflict and lost voters signals a trend. If evangelicals desert electable Republicans (as many did Romney), withholding cash, activism, and votes, that only amplifies intact demographic party predicaments. Okay, reason and enlightenment are yet to be seen in that glass darkly, but optimists favor the long view, even the very long view.
Encase yourself in today's dismal reality, pockmarked with paralysis, and optimism evaporates faster than sweat from Mitch McConnell's quivering brow. Even I, for ten minute stretches, fear all is lost: democracy is a joke, capitalism irredeemable, the empire in its death throes (dream on), and Ted Cruz/Sarah Palin seize the 2016 White House. Then I wake up from my nightmare doze.
Clearly, for five of six national elections, the right remains tarred with minority status, and the surge in gay rights exposes fundamentalist hysteria about science, sexuality, and gender injustice. Not only are more of the Christian majority leaving congregations, but church construction is falling by 60%, literally reinforcing evangelical Pastor John Dickerson's revealing NY Times essay, "The Decline of Evangelical America:" "structural supports of evangelicalism are quivering as a result of ground-shaking changes in American culture:"
In 2012 we witnessed a collapse in American evangelicalism. The old religious right largely failed to affect the Republican primaries, much less the presidential election. Last month, Americans voted in favor of same-sex marriage in four states, while Florida voters rejected an amendment to restrict abortion . . . [from Pew Research] evangelical ministers from the United States reported a greater loss of influence than church leaders from any other country -- with some 82 percent indicating that their movement was losing ground.
Not only does is church fundamentalism wobbling but the future looks bleak: respectable evangelical pollsters "found that a majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church, and often the faith, entirely." While America adds two million annually, evangelicals lose 200,000.
So, if rightwing supremacy, however noisy in backward states on abortion, depends on departing church fundamentalists, should not everyone else, especially progressives, cheer? We will soon find out if all the Koch billions and all the king's men can offset less overall religiosity compared to 1985. What fixes remain for the right, other than momentum? What visible transcendent crusade does the right have to regain a national majority -- government austerity? abortion cutbacks? tax breaks for fat cats? immigration backpedaling? or decimating minority voting rights?
No wonder tarnished heroines like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich are beyond embarrassments, but predictable boomerangs that bolster rivals, tag lines for nasty jokes. Other than Chris Christie, no GOP base hero, the know-nothing gang stumbles along, talking only to itself. Those few TP favorites, like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, are classic, one-off, even offensive regional candidates without substantial party alliances. That nitwit Republican birthers surfaced, dripping with poisonous racism, only confirms the party of white folks (90% of the GOP) seethes with intolerance. Further, how long before Mother Nature dramatizes that fiddling on climate change denial while the earth burns is the ultimate, ruinous hoax of modern times.
Tellingly, Pundits Evoke Insanity
Like fiery meteorites, sustained obsessions in politics and religion flash before expiring. Denying the age of the earth, scorning expertise, having people ride dinosaurs, even defying the absolute medical prudence of childhood immunization, that turns wingnuts into inmates for the asylum, not Congress. Oh well.
Thus, it cheers me to hear stolid characters like Paul Krugman indict national menaces not just for distortions or stupidity but having "gone off the deep end. Right, shift the debate from issues to mental instability, declaring the "madness of the GOP" the "central issue of our time." Such glimmers suggest centrist awareness is growing, even that we're slowly crawling out of our dark ages. And yes, with a nod to doomsayers, the sky looks darkest before the end of the storm.