Friday, June 24, 2011

Evangelicals See Declining Influence In U.S.

From the Religion News Service via the Huffington Post:

Randall Balmer, a historian of American evangelicals at Barnard College, said leaders of the religious right -- from the late Rev. Jerry Falwell to broadcaster Pat Robertson -- promoted a "cult of victimization among evangelicals" that may have worked at the voting booth but hurt them in the larger culture.

"I think there is some waning of cultural influence," he said, pointing to the politicizing of the movement as the reason for both greater visibility but also cultural decline.

"Like it or not, when you become politically active, you become associated with the politicians you support," Balmer said, alluding to many evangelicals' embrace of the GOP. "Once you begin to covet political power and influence, you lose the prophetic voice."

Researchers found that just 18 percent of U.S. Lausanne representatives surveyed said religious leaders should stay out of political issues, compared to 78 percent who said they should express their political views.

More here.

In ancient Rome, once the ruling elite had embraced Christianity, it was all over for the religion having any real social meaning. That is, for a given society, the moment it becomes socially, politically, and economically advantageous to become a Christian, any sort of sincerity associated Christianity becomes moot: people do it because there are great secular rewards for doing so, rewards that have absolutely nothing to do with spirituality, and everything to do with getting ahead. So the Church became corrupt, and has been so ever since.

Indeed, we've been past that threshold since the dawn of the republic. Politicians all have to pay lip service, at the very least, to Christian ideals and symbols whether they actually believe it or not. They do this eagerly because it helps them get into and gain office. And it's safe to say that, whatever they think is in their hearts, not a damned politician in Washington gives a shit about Jesus.

If they did, they'd actually be deeply concerned, as Jesus was, with people who are suffering. They'd sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor. They wouldn't wage war; rather, they'd be working their asses off to achieve world peace. Not a single one of our leaders even entertain such notions. Thus, not a single one of our leaders can rightfully call himself "Christian."

Christian evangelicals in recent decades, by attempting to gain cultural influence through the political process, have done nothing but render Christianity even more meaningless in terms of sincere spirituality. That is, by making Jesus more of a political object than he had been in the first two thirds of the twentieth century, the whole dynamic I described above has been heavily trumped up. Politics is about power. Religion is about spirituality. By combining the two, spirituality necessarily suffers. And it's looking like average ordinary Americans are starting to understand this.

And that's fine by me. I mean, I'm an agnostic, myself, but most of the values Jesus preaches about in the Gospels are principles I can get behind, albeit from my firmly secular point of view. If Americans really are starting to lose their taste for evangelical Christianity, it will probably mean that the religious right will play a much diminished role in the future, as far as politics goes.

Ideally, this leaves "love one another" open for sincere embrace. Without any political bullshit. Here's hoping.