Will Support for Christianity Collapse?

There was a post on Twitter relating to this article which said that maybe the evangelical voting bloc might not be so monolithic as we think, which almost goes without saying, voting blocs are rarely monolithic.   But the article goes onto a very interesting, though somewhat unstated conclusion.

The article is talking about why “evangelicals” are voting for Trump, rather than say, Ted Cruz as Trump is “not an evangelical Christian, and neither his personal background nor his policy proposals seem like a very good fit for religious conservatives.”  Which I, like many others have noticed and wondered about.  But that is not the fishy part.

First,  the author puts out what I would call the “standard math.”

The term “evangelical” is an excellent case in point. In the very broadest sense, this refers to anyone with a personal relationship to Jesus. The Pew Research Center says 30 percent of Americans identify as evangelicals or as born again, which is about 96 million people. (For comparison, 127 million people voted in the last presidential election.)

 

Now, I do have some quibbles with those numbers, the 30 percent is pretty high compared to the latest Pew survey and extrapolates the numbers to the entire US population rather than the adult population, overestimating (at first) the number of “Evangelicals.”

But then he does cite a Barna survey which asks about specific beliefs which finds that only about 10% of the population qualifies as “true” Evangelicals.  He himself apparently interviewed a large number of people who identified as Bible Believing Christians who “believe the Bible to be literally true, and virtually none of them ever read it.”  Which is something any atheist can already tell you about most “Christians.”

He then goes on to say (basically) that it is those “fake” Christians who are now flocking to Trump.  Which is, of course the root of the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy.  I actually plan to deal with this in a later post.  But I draw another conclusion from all of this.

I actually agree with the author (not about who votes for Trump) but rather the depth of support for Christianity.

For example, Gallup asks people what they think of the bible and there are three responses: Literally the word of god;  the word of god, but not every word true; and a bunch of fables.  Currently about half of the respondents go the middle route, with about 30% going the literalist route.

Here is what I think is happening and will happen.  Right now the “word of god” response is the “right answer.”  The bible is the “greatest book ever written” and all that.  But just about nobody actually reads it.  As time goes on the felt social stigma for not believing will decrease, it is already.  It will get easier and easier for people to say (to pollsters), “The bible, meh, not so much.”  And I think this will happen pretty fast so that we go from “Three in Four in U.S. Still See the Bible as Word of God” to something like “Sixty percent no longer see bible as relevant.”

Mostly because they will just be saying what they really believe, they just aren’t ready to say it yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backward Headlines

My political punditry might be a little off the mark, but I continue to be amazed at the coverage surrounding the candidacy of Donald Trump.  Here is some fairly typical rhetoric from CNN (not exactly a rightwing outlet):

Donald Trump did more than win his second easy victory in consecutive presidential primaries in South Carolina on Saturday.

He advanced his takeover of the Republican Party. He proved that he can dominate a race in the Deep South. He vanquished the dynasty that ruled the GOP establishment for decades as Jeb Bush dropped his White House bid.

And in the process, Trump left no doubt that he is the GOP’s national front-runner and has the most credible path to capture the party’s nomination.

Wow, Trump is taking over the Republican party!  Just one problem, it seems to me, the numbers just don’t add up.  So far, in three contests, Trump has not cracked more than one third of the Republican vote.  And while an earlier CNN headline touted Trump’s “momentum,” the numbers don’t show that either.

In Iowa, Trump got 24% of the vote, he improved to almost 36% of the vote in New Hampshire, then fell back to 32% in South Carolina.  Not what I would call progress.

In South Carolina the combined Rubio/Cruz vote (Cruzio) was 10 points more than Trump.  And it seems that they are splitting pretty similar voters.  It is very unclear who voters will move to as candidates drop out, but I think it is pretty clear that those who voted for Jeb Bush will not be voting for Trump any time soon.  The feeling over at the 538 blog is that if the primaries continue with 3 or more candidates, Trump cruises to the nomination.

Which would be great for Democrats.  Imagine a nominee that only appeals to one third of Republicans.  NPR says that Trump is the one bringing record turnout to the primaries.  If so, he must be bringing out as many people to vote against him as to vote for him.  Logic would tell you that if he were bringing significant numbers of new Republican voters that he would break or at least come close to the 50% mark.  He has not even been close.

Personally, I will not be at all impressed with Trump’s electoral strength until he breaks 50%.  And I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Our New Electoral Map?

The thing about Supreme Court rulings is that they do not have to follow public opinion, in fact sometime they can lead public opinion.  And this is exactly as the Founding Fathers intended.  The Founders were actually a bit afraid of unfettered democracy, understanding as they did the appeal of demogogues (read, Donald Trump).  They understand that (for example) no matter how many people might vote for it, torture is never right.  And that is one of the roles of the Supreme Court.

There is a lot of noise from the Right about the Obergfell case, but it is a battle they are destined to lose, and frankly the longer they go on about it, the more they are going to lose.  There was a poll released today that says that 53% of Americans have no problem with the legality of same sex marriage, and this has been fairly stable since the ruling, with other pollsters finding similar results.  No before you say, “That is kind of a slim majority,” consider this bit of history.

In 1967 the Supreme Court ruled that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional (Loving v Virginia).  Makers of those laws used many of the same arguments against interracial marriage that we now hear against same sex marriage (it’s unnatural and against God’s will/plan.)  Here is a quote from the trial judge in the case that eventually went to the Supreme Court:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

The legal issues were so similar that Loving wasabpajpuzgu6pafbqeowhyq cited many times in the Obergfell decision.  But here is the thing, public opinion was definitely against the Loving decision, much more so than against same sex marriage.  Support for interracial marriage did not reach the majority level until 1994, almost 30 years later!  Majority support was already in place for same sex marriage when the decision was issued and remains.

So, Republicans who would like to overturn Obergfell are fighting two trends, Supreme Court precedent and public opinion.  They are actually heading down a very dangerous road.  Below is a map that shows the support for same sex marriage by state.

prri-ava-same-sex-marriage-heat-map

The first thing that jumps out at you is that support for same sex marriage is highest in the “Blue” states that tend to vote Democratic in Presidential elections.  No surprise there.  But let’s look at a few other states.  The Republican stronghold of Indiana — 52%, a majority.  Arizona — 56%(!).  Alaska — 60%!   Colorado is actually higher than California!

If the states on this map with majority support for same sex marriage were to be reliably Democratic, we are going to have a string of Democratic presidents.  Now, look at the states where support is on the cusp of a majority, at 49% we have Virginia, Nebraska(!), Idaho and Montana.  At 48%,  Wyoming and Missouri are almost there as well.  Within shouting distance are Texas, Utah, Georgia and West Virginia.

If Texas ever again votes for a Democratic presidential candidate, the chances of the Republican party are over for a long time, at least for the White House.  This map also shows why the Republicans are the party of low turn out and why they want to restrict voting rights, they simply disagree with a real majority of the American people on many issues.

I presume that Republicans won’t be so stupid as to keep beating a dead horse when public opinion has turned against them, but then again looking at their primaries so far, who knows where they are going.

The Republicans have been looking back at the past, but it seems that maybe the bus is about to leave without them.

 

 

 

The Revolution is On! Or Not so Much…

So, the news out of New Hampshire shot my political punditry right out of the water (another theory slain by ugly facts), but here I am at it again.  The narrative in the mainstream media after the New Hampshire primary is that with Sanders and Trump winning, the revolution in both parties is on.  Politics as usual is over in this election cycle.  Which makes a great story, but let’s slow down just a bit.

First Bernie Sanders.  There is a bit of genuine revolution here.  A senator who has, in fact fought against politics as usual, first by calling himself an independent, then a socialist, he is a non-religious Jew swimming upstream against the millennialist Christian types currently running amok in the Republican party.  His message has, in fact, resonated among progressive voters.

But after a near win in Iowa, where they they like to embrace underdogs (like Barack Obama in 2008) and a clear win in New Hampshire, which is his backyard, I don’t think we can declare the revolution on yet.  South Carolina and Super Tuesday loom large and are much more in Hilary’s wheelhouse.  If Bernie can get some victories there, I will start to believe.

Ironically, the non-religious Republican front-runner is running what amounts to a revival campaign where he doesn’t so much appeal to Jesus as appearing to be channeling the Republican Jesus directly.  In his victory speech his meme seemed to be: “Believe in me, I love you!”

I will say that Trump has laid bare the “religious” roots of the Tea Party movement, that is to say, there are none.  Trump is the naked nativism, violence and racism of the movement shorn of any fig leaf of biblical “values.”  But is it a revolution?

Maybe not.  Although Trump may have had a 20 percentage point lead over his nearest rival, he still only got a third of the Republican vote.  Kasich, Rubio/Cruz/Bush combined got 49% of the vote.  Some of the Cruz voters might be crazy enough to support Trump, but most of the voters for the others would never vote for Trump in a primary.  If the Republicans could put forth decent candidate, he would beat Trump easily.

But none of the candidates who have stepped forward have anything going for them.  Christie isn’t even liked in New Jersey any more, Cruz is too busy running for pastor-in-chief, Rubio is just a naked opportunist, and Jeb!, well, even though Bushes served three terms as president, nobody likes them.  Kasich is the one they should get behind, at least maybe he could deliver Ohio and they would have a chance.  Unfortunately, Kasich is blandly competent, which no longer sells in the Republican party, ask Mitt Romney.

The ragged remnants of the Tea Party would rather see Trump go down in glorious flames in the general election rather than have a chance with a “compromiser” like Kasich.

And that could well be what happens.

 

WTH is the Point of Hell?

Even if you were not raised in a fire and brimstone household, you are surely acquainted with the final resting place of those who are evil incarnate, the pit of eternal fire, hell.  And I don’t mean Hell, Michigan.  The current Catholic catechism defines hell like this:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

Which is quite mild compared some of the more lurid descriptions of hell which seemed to revel in the sadistic punishments that await the likes of someone like me.  But what is the actual purpose of hell?

One purpose that is sometimes given is to contain evil, but if so, it has failed miserably at its purpose.  Evil is alive and well in the world and most Christians will assure you that the devil is running around tempting people and causing mischief every hour of the day.  In human society one function of prisons is to keep bad people separated from society so they can’t harm innocent people.  Hell, in the afterlife serves no such purpose.  So, as a container of evil, this is a total fail.

It’s next purpose is as an all purpose threat, the cosmic stick to counter balance the golden carrot of heaven.  Even the Catholic catechism propounds this view:

[T]he teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Or to put it more bluntly, “Wise up pal — or you’re going to hell.”  But if god designed hell for that purpose, he has a pathetic understanding of human psychology.

We know from behavioral psychology that the most effective forms of punishment immediately follow the behavior and this even follows for deterrent effect of preventing future behavior.   Swift and certain punishment has been found to have a much greater deterrent effect than more severe, but less certain punishments.  In this sense, hell is a total fail.  It is certainly a severe punishment, but it is quite literally so abstract as to be mythical.  Maybe it exists, maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe I’ll get sent there, maybe I won’t.  Who knows?  The Catholic Church famously says they have no idea who actually in hell.  Not even Hitler.  Or Christopher Hitchens.

It seems to me that the only people afraid of hell are those who wouldn’t actually do anything bad enough to land them there.   Martin Luther King showed that there is nothing to fear from going to jail, what most of us fear is the social stigma.  We don’t need actual prisons to convince people like me not to commit crimes, I would be mortified just to be arrested.  That is enough deterrence for me and most other people.

There is a whole other class of people for whom hell is no deterrence, and that is those who think they are on the right side of things.  Dante made fun of these self-righteous people in the “Inferno” and there might be some satisfaction of imagining that someone who is so sure he is on the right side of things facing eternal wrath, but it is of no deterrence at all.  People like Hitler think they are doing god’s work, much like psychopaths think chumps deserve to lose their money.  So, the threat of hell is not going to stop the Hitlers of history.  So, the church is wrong, the threat of hell is not really going to convert anyone.

Hell is certainly not for rehabilitation.  It is apparently irrevocable and final.  So, it is not punishment that will change your mind in any way.

Justice is a purpose that comes up often in discussing hell, but certainly by human standards, it fails.  I have no problem with people being punished, but it certainly has struck many people that meting out infinite punishments for finite sins is not just.  It seems even more unjust when you compare the sinfulness of humans versus to the essentially infinite power that god is supposed to have.  How could a human possibly hurt an all powerful god so much that they deserve infinite punishment?  To me, hell tips the cosmic scales too far — into injustice.

The only purpose I can see for hell is vengeance.  In the old testament god promised many times that he is a vengeful god.  If there is a hell, he was most certainly right. And if you want to worship a vengeful god, feel free to so do.

I’ll pass, thanks.

 

 

What did Jesus Sacrifice?

I was raised in a Catholic household, but I have to say that raising consisted basically of learning that Jesus was a pretty nice guy and his example of kindness and sacrifice was one that we were to emulate.  In many ways I still have no problem with that worldview.

Once I got to college, ironically a state college, I ran into fundamentalists who seemed to know a different god.  This lead me to consider the entire bible.  Fundamentalists claimed to believe that everything in the bible was real, but after I read it, I realized the book as a whole is just too ridiculous to believe.   I also realized that I didn’t need any kind of god, especially the one in that book, to continue to be generally kind to people.

One of the things that made the least sense, when run through a logic filter, is the whole “salvation drama” that supposedly runs through the whole book.

The drama goes something like this: our ancestors committed a heinous sin (disobedience) that was so horrible that it filtered down to their descendants.  In fact, people were so horrible (in some way unexplained) that a few generations later god decided to start over by killing pretty much every living thing on earth.  But even this did not correct the problem, people were still horrible.  He tried to get some obedience by just smiting some random bad people (Sodom) but people overall were still horrible.

Finally he sent his son, knowing full well that we horrible people would kill him, which we did.   But by killing our god, the horrible people apparently finally  appeased the anger of their god by spilling his blood (WTF??).  His anger appeased, the horrible people are now eligible to go to heaven after they die, as long as they are not quite so horrible and/or acknowledge the truth of this crazy story.

The way some people interpret Paul makes more sense, some people think that Paul is saying that Jesus was accidentally killed by the devil and his demons in a spiritual realm by mistake.  This inadvertent sacrifice appeases god’s anger, saving mankind.  At least in this case the killers and the saved are different entities, so this makes a bit more sense.

But as for the usual story, there is so much insanity, I don’t even know where to begin.

First of all, there are lunatics like Ken Ham who want to prove to the world that god is some kind of sociopath that he kills, not just evil people, but every living thing on the earth.  He is willing to spend millions of dollars to absolutely “prove” this!   Even little babies and all the animals.  And in so doing, absolutely nothing gets better.  In fact, god’s own “righteous man” invents alcoholism and incest right after being “saved” and Ken Ham wants all of us to believe that all of us are literally descended from drunken, child molesting Noah.  Why would you even want to believe such a thing?  I would rather believe I am related to bonobos, thank you.

God strikes me as being like a farmer whose herd of cows that doesn’t give much milk.  He randomly picks two of them, slaughters the rest and then wonders why the new herd isn’t any better.  And this is an omniscient being?  If god was so disappointed in the human race, why not wipe us all out and start over?  Create a new planet.  Maybe this time not create us in his image so we would be less horrible.  But no, he had another plan.  Just as crazy as the last one.

So, god sends his son to earth to show us how to be less horrible, which is nice, but the real point is to get himself killed by us — which somehow is going to forgive us for being horrible, I am not even sure how.  Perhaps one reason that this does not work out so good is that the “sacrifice” of Jesus just is not that big of a deal.  hqdefault

Christians like to wax poetic about the “sacrifice” of Jesus, a la Mel Gibson, but really what was the big deal?  Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people were crucified by the Romans and other ancient tyrants, and frankly Jesus wasn’t even all that brave about it.  The night before, he sweats blood in terror of what is about to happen and on the cross he disses god — “Why have you abandoned me?”  Jesus the whiner.   Plenty of people have faced their impending death with more dignity than this.  What makes it worse is that Jesus wasn’t even really facing “death.”

Presumably, being god, he knows that he is to rise again.  He knows that he is only going to hell for a cup of coffee.  A day and a half dead?  You should be so lucky.  A day and a half dead is enough to forgive the sins of all mankind?  A bit of flogging?  Characters in Quentin Tarentino movies go through more suffering than this.

No wonder it doesn’t seemed to have worked all that well.

Only a small percentage of Christians actually believe that Jesus’s sacrifice actually saved all of mankind.  And the Universalists were widely reviled as heretics.  What did the rest of mankind get from Jesus, according to most Christians?  Not too darn much really.  I ask Christians all the time, “Did Jesus die for ALL of our sins?”  And the answer, invariably is “Umm, actually no.”

In Catholic theology, you still have to pay for the sins you actually commit by an unlimited time in purgatory.  This is like being told that the governor issued you a pardon, but you still have to serve the rest of your prison sentence anyway.  And who goes to heaven right away?  The saints, that is those that do much more good than harm (at least according to the church).  And who goes to hell?  Those that reject god, we are told.  So, it seems you get to heaven or hell by your own efforts.  And the rest of us still have to be “cleansed of our sins.”  What exactly did Jesus die for anyway?

It seems to me that if there are god given moral absolutes (like “Thou shalt not kill,”) and you are sent to hell for violating those absolutes, then Obama is currently making a greater sacrifice than Jesus did.   Obama is ordering drone strikes, which surely kill innocent people, in violation of the commandment.  Obama is risking hell for all eternity to keep us “safe.”  And what is his thanks?  To be reviled by so-called Christians who question his Christianity!  But surely he is potentially sacrificing much more than Jesus — eternity versus a day and a half in hell.

Seriously, what did Jesus accomplish?  Is hell closed?  Is the devil dead?  Do people not sin any more?  Do people not die any more?  No difference whatsoever, really.

And anyway, what kind of all powerful being needs some kind of blood sacrifice to forgive the “sins” of creatures who can’t actually hurt him (her or it) in any way.  If your dog disobeys you, do you slaughter all dogs for all time?  Who would even want to worship such a narcissistic creature such as the god we are presented with in Abrahamic religions?

Theists sometimes say we atheists don’t want to believe in god because we don’t want follow the “moral” laws that he has laid down.  This, for me is somewhat true.  I truly hope that we do not live in a universe or even on a planet that is ruled by the god that is described in the bible.

 

 

 

 

Whither Iowa?

The first votes were cast in Iowa and actually I feel pretty good about my predictions.  As the voting got closer I thought there was a chance that Rubio might pull off a victory there.  I was only a couple of percentage points from being right.  But oddly, the actual results (Cruz, followed a near tie between Trump and Rubio) has almost the same effect.  Why do I say that?

First of all, we just found out that we have not entered some kind of new era in politics where all you need is a well followed twitter feed to win elections.  Granted Trump got a lot further than others who threw around red meat slogans (anyone remember Herman Caine?)  You still have to have an organization and a plan to win elections, and Trump had neither in Iowa.  Wishful thinking and bluster are still not enough to win.

The big question facing Trump now is how many losses can he handle?  It seems pretty clear that he ran for president to strengthen his “brand.”  But how many losses can he sustain before he hurts the brand rather than help it.   Trump does not want to be remembered as a quixotic loser (Rick Santorum, anyone?)  Even if he were to right the ship and win New Hampshire (more on that in a minute) he doesn’t have the organization to “win” Super Tuesday.   So, how many times can Trump lose and still claim to be a “winner?”

Here is my prediction of what happens from here.

Although Cruz won Iowa, recent history has shown that Iowa doesn’t back the ultimate nominee, which does not bode well for Cruz.  It is also pretty apparent that while very conservative voters will vote for Cruz, nobody who knows him likes him very much, which now makes Rubio the “establishment” Republican candidate.  Add that to polls that show Rubio running better than Cruz against either Sanders or Clinton.

So, Rubio starts to run a “I’m the only grownup around here and am most electable” campaign (think Mitt Romney).  Super PAC money will start flooding to Rubio, who might have enough time to swing New Hampshire his way.  If Trump loses in New Hampshire, I think he bows out.  If Trump somehow hangs on to win New Hampshire, I don’t think he wins South Carolina, Rubio does.  At that point Trump probably drops out to avoid losing something like 10 of the Super Tuesday states.

If a week of advertising blitz either gets Rubio a New Hampshire win or  a very close second, he probably takes South Carolina, does the best on Super Tuesday and goes onto the nomination, rolling in big donor cash the whole way.  I think this is the most probable scenario.

Less likely is that Cruz wins New Hampshire (or comes a very close second to Trump).  This would create momentum for South Carolina, if he wins that, he could possibly be best on Super Tuesday, then onto the nomination.  I don’t see this as very likely, as Rubio’s electability  argument, organization and big donors are going to be very tough to overcome.

Trump has to win big in both New Hampshire and South Carolina to keep his campaign alive.  But I assume that there is going to be a blizzard of PAC produced commercials that will say something like: “Trump can’t get Iowa Republicans to the polls, how can he beat Hilary Clinton?  We need a real candidate.”  Hard to see how he wins big with that going against him and no ground organization.  “The Donald” is in way over his head and that will become clear to him real soon and he will file for political bankruptcy.  “I just wanted to shake things up,” he’ll say, “and now that I have done that, I will just comment from the sidelines.”

On the Democratic side, it seems the media is saying that Iowa was a “must win” for Bernie Sanders and that a tie was not good enough.  That seems harsh, but if people buy that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a win in New Hampshire might be as far as he gets.  On the other hand, if people actually see his Iowa performance as a big win for an underdog, he wins New Hampshire (as expected) then maybe wins South Carolina and then on to the nomination.

If New Hampshire is close, that would be seen as a win for Clinton, she takes South Carolina and then is unstoppable for the nomination.

The most likely scenario at this point is Rubio versus Clinton in the general election, which Clinton wins in a squeaker.  If Trump or Cruz somehow manage the nomination, they both lose big to Clinton.  If Sanders gets the nomination, it would be very, very close with Rubio, but he handily defeats either Cruz or Trump.