January 2, 2016

Religion and Political Correctness

I thought I'd circle back on a post I did this past November, about a small business owner who chose to discourage customers who did not think the way he thought.

The business is a bakery; the discouragement comes from a sign, shown here, that the owner thought was politically incorrect, but which I think is simply rude.

It's one thing to bemoan political correctness; sometimes, I confess, it's too much for me (being a middle-aged white lady and all). It's something entirely different, though, to think that all of the things on the sign the owner posted on his door are mutually inclusive. As I suggested in the original post, one doesn't need to say "Merry Christmas" to be thankful for our troops and first responders, any more than one needs to believe in God to fly an American flag.

I got thinking about this political incorrectness, and what's really driving the sentiments. Is it all just a bunch of nonsense, fueled by Fox News? Is it angry Duck Dude and Duggar fans, lamenting the cancellation of shows that made gave them their heroes? Does it come from the 'denier' populace, those who think that Sandy Hook and other real, honest to goodness tragedies are 'false flags' manufactured by our government?

I think it's all of those, and then some. But it might also stem from something else -- the changing face of religion in our country.

Religious demographics in the US have been changing over time, with the greatest impact being a decrease in the number of Christians and an increase in the number of unaffiliated, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center last May.

The current study, done in 2014, and a prior one from 2007, each surveyed over 35,000 people, making the error margin less than 1%, much lower than we typically see with surveys and polls. Among the key findings:
  • The percentage of people identifying as Christian dropped from 78.4%  in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014; Protestants and Catholics lost the most. 
  • The percentage of 'unaffiliated' (which includes agnostics, atheists, and nothing-in-particulars ) grew from 16.1% to 22.8% during the same time period. The largest growth was in the last bucket, up 3.7%.
  • People who married since 2010 chose a partner outside their faith 39% of the time; people who were married before 1960 married outside their faith only 5% of the time. 
  • The percentage of non-whites grew in just about every Christian faith; overall the rate went from 29% to 34%.
These changes are significant, especially in a relatively short period of time. The new demographics may make people uncomfortable, but they aren't in and of themselves indicative of religious persecution, a war on Christmas or, even, a war on Christianity. 

In fact, in the face of the changing American religious landscape, the political power of the 'Religious Right' seems almost out of whack. And it seems to be these folks - the politicians and their stand-ins from the right-leaning media outlets - that are acting out, lashing out at anyone who doesn't share their beliefs, more than the Muslims and Buddhists and the nothing-in-particulars are lashing out at the Christians. 

Sometimes it's overt -- as with the battles over marriage equality, and over contraception. Sometimes it's a bit more subtle, as with the Ohio bakery and their 'love America like we do' message.

Whether it's a business exerting their personhood through a profession of its personal beliefs, or the politicians trying to legislate away anything that's not quite Christian or not quite American enough, I'm inspired to paraphrase Shakespeare's classic line from Hamlet: the right wing doth protest too much, methinks.