A February 2008 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 16 percent of America’s 225 million adults are unaffiliated with any religion.
According to the report, “When ‘childhood religion’ is compared against ‘current religion,’ the unaffiliated show a net increase of 8.8 percentage points, compared to a 7.5 point loss among Catholics, for example, or a 2.6 percent loss among Protestants.”
It is my belief that outrageously hypocritical behavior by conservative religious authorities is directly responsible for the surge in non-believers or those who shun organized religion. The ubiquitous scolds who dominate cable TV and Republican politics are too often conservatives of convenience, who believe they are exempt from practicing the strident rules that they preach.
For example, South Carolina’s First Lady, Jenny Sanford, filed for divorce last week after her husband, Gov. Mark Sanford (R), admitted an affair with a woman from Argentina. Until the scandal broke, Mark and Jenny posed as a beacon of Christian family values.
I can understand Jenny’s disgust with her husband, who left his four sons to cheat with his mistress on Father’s Day. But one can’t masquerade as a Bible-thumper when it comes to gay rights and other issues, and then say that the Bible is suddenly irrelevant when it comes to divorce.
Both Jenny and Mark profited from their charade, yet jilted Jenny wants to conveniently abandon biblical absolutism and utilize liberal divorce laws because her feelings are hurt. Sorry Jenny, but a mistress does not negate your marriage vows. Anyone can embrace the “sanctity of marriage” in good times. A true person of fundamentalist faith stays with the vows even when the relationship sours.
To highlight such hypocrisy, John Marcoa, a Sacramento Web-designer, has drafted a 2010 parody ballot measure that would ban divorce in California. Tellingly, the right wing organizations that fought to save marriage from gay couples have not lined up to support it.
From mega-churches to suburban strip mall ministries, fundamentalist youth rail against the secular culture, even as they ape it. They sport gaudy tattoos of Jesus, wear earrings in their noses and play imitation rock. On their fingers are silly chastity rings, when they really need chastity belts.
A recent New York Times magazine article points out that “More government money has been spent on the cause of sexual abstinence in Texas than any other state, but it still has the third-highest teen birth rate in the country and the highest percentage of teen mothers giving birth more than once.”
Former beauty queen Carrie Prejean is the perfect spokesperson for liberal bashing libertines. She moralized over same-sex marriage, but expected forgiveness and understanding when, thanks to tabloid pictures, America got to know her in the biblical sense.
Perhaps the most amusing part of studying conservatives is their absurd claim that America is a Christian nation, which is impossible, because no two people can define what it means to be Christian. A new Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report entitled, “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” concludes that people are now choosing to “blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs”. Who knew crystals and Christ went so well together?
Last month, Watergate felon Chuck Colson joined a batch of wing nuts to write “The Manhattan Declaration”. This supposedly conservative manifesto began by shamelessly co-opting historical liberal successes. The Declaration reads: “It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery…Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement…The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians…
It is true that Christians played a role in these movements. However, it was non-believers teaming up with liberal Christians to overcome the opposition of conservative Christians. The anti-gay signers of The Manhattan Declaration are the ideological heirs to those on the wrong side of history. It was remarkable how efficiently they scrubbed their own embarrassing past and replaced their monumental failures with liberal accomplishments.
Social conservatives are a loud bunch, but their power is slipping. I think back to Middle school, when I attended a Houston Rockets basketball game with my father. During a time out the “Voice of God” announced that a gay rights measure had been crushed. The enthusiastic crowd burst out in to loud cheers, which was quite devastating to a thirteen-year old coming to terms with his sexual orientation.
On Monday, Houston voters elected openly gay Annise Parker as mayor. Unlike my youth, I watched a Houston crowd cheer for progress instead of prejudice. No doubt there were countless social conservatives across the city slamming beers, ogling women who weren’t their wives and betting on sports – while bemoaning the city’s fallen values.
This is the lifestyle of today’s conservatives of convenience. They are all creed and no deed.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”