Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Religious Right vs. Young People

Recently some new studies came out showing that today's young people (in the U.S.) have a strong negative opinion of Christianity, dramatically more so than ten years ago. The only surprise to me is that anyone was surprised at this news. One main reason is quite obvious, and it's not an intrinsic problem with Christianity. It's that the political movement known as the "religious right" encourages people to think their movement's political positions are one and the same with Christian beliefs and theology. And the religious right's political positions practically amount to generational warfare, the old vs. the young. Frankly, it's a formula for driving the next generation away from Christianity.

Look at the religious right's set of pet issues:

The study discovered that young people are concerned about the environment. Can we say "No duh"? If it looks like we have maybe thirty or forty years left where we can continue consuming oil at the current rates, and we'll probably be able to keep up our current lifestyle's waste-and-pollution rate for the next few decades, then it's pretty convenient to tell yourself that Jesus will be coming to burn and/or fix everything eventually. If you're sixty, that is. If you're fifteen or twenty -- whether you believe in the rapture or not -- you're likely to have concerns about what Earth will look like in 2050. Really, who do you think is going to be paying for our little joy-ride on this planet? I'll give you a hint: they're currently wearing diapers, and I don't mean adult depends.

Going to war for what's left of the oil rather than putting the priority on diminishing our dependence on fossil fuel? That's quite a task to be placing on the shoulders of our young.

Science education? It would be nice for our kids to have some, wouldn't it? They'd love to have the skills to compete in the global marketplace. But, gosh, implementing a serious math-and-science curriculum, and attracting qualified people to teach it? That's pretty darn expensive. (And giving it to kids for nothing? Isn't that communism?) Teaching them straight from the Bible is a whole lot simpler, and cheaper.

Then there's "abstinence education" and reproductive rights, i.e. sex. Nothing but nothing says "old people vs. young people" like wanting to see maximum punishments enforced for sex. 'Nuff said.

As a subset of the sex question, there's discrimination directly focused on gay people. What a dog of an issue! This one really highlights the short-sightedness of the religious right's strategy, focused on energizing their base today without a thought for tomorrow. Young people have grown up alongside gay people as ordinary people. The opinion divide on whether homosexuality is a choice isn't along liberal vs. conservative lines nearly as much as it's along the fault line of old vs. young. So when a group stands up and says their number one issue is keeping marriage contracts away from (gay) people who want to get married, all the young see is pure bigotry.

All of these ideas are embodied in our illustrious president, Dubya. The corruption, the illegally spying on his own people, the torture: all excused because at least he's not afraid to be outspoken about his relationship with Jesus. He thinks God told him to invade Iraq, and he's apparently incapable of even considering the possibility that that might have been an error since God can't be wrong. It would be one thing if it looked like Christians were booing him off the stage clamoring that that's not Christianity. But when Christians excuse his crimes and incompetence because they're impressed by his grand declarations of piety? How do you imagine that affects people's view of Christianity?

Apparently polls show that not only is Christianity significantly down but atheism is on the rise in the rising generation. I'd like to give the "new atheists" all the credit, but I honestly think the main recruiters have been the religious right and Dubya himself.

Good Christians: Don't look at the religious right and think "Well they're Christian, so at least their heart is in the right place." If they're on the wrong side of the issues above, then their heart is not in the right place. Their heart is in the place of maintaining their current consumption level and putting it on their grandchildren's tab. I know, I know, it's just that they grew up in an era when people didn't have to worry about our footprint on the planet, and now they're too set in their ways to change. So maybe it's not really their fault. But in that case, maybe it's time to take away the keys.

Now I know many people will read the above and think "Chanson, you big meanie, you don't want granny to have her medication?" Au contraire. I want granny to have her medication. The United States of America is a rich enough country to be able to afford correct health care for everyone if correcting the health care system were a priority. But the religious right waving these generation-warfare issues in granny's face is ultimately a tactic to scare her into voting against her own interests as well as her grandchildren's.

I'd like to see good Christians loudly proclaiming that the short-sighted theocrats of the religious right don't represent them. That xenophobia and hating gay people aren't what Christianity is all about. I don't want to be too hard on liberal/progressive Christians for not shouting loudly enough because, frankly, the theocrats are so loud that it's difficult for anyone to be heard over them. But what I'm saying is for the benefit of the faithful as well as the skeptic. We need a candidate who -- when questioned about his/her faith, regardless of his/her beliefs -- will look the camera in the eye and say "I'm running for president, not for first pastor."

Now I'd like to address the young people (teens and twenty-somethings) reading this if I may.

If I can give one piece of advice to young people today, it is this: Aspire to something more important than equal or greater material comfort than what your parents enjoyed. Aspire to pass a livable planet on to the next generation.

Now some of you are probably asking: "Why should we be the responsible ones? Why should we be the ones to think of future generations before thinking of ourselves, if our parents and grandparents didn't?" Well, somebody has to think of the future, and if your parents and grandparents aren't doing it, then it will fall on you. Remember you'll be living farther into the future than they will. Being young today means advantages and especially challenges that no previous generation has faced.

Right now you're probably more worried about your friends, and having fun, and finding your talents and your place in the world -- as well you should be. But if you're also thinking a little bit about what kind of planet you'll be leaving for your (future?) kids, then prepare to be a leader. Your country, your species, and your planet will need your leadership skills, whether you end up influencing five people or five million. Start walking in the right direction and others will follow you. And if you think I might possibly be talking to you, then I'm talking to you!!! :D

What you'll face won't be easy, but I believe in you. For all of our sake, I hope you'll rise to the occasion.


C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. On this note, I'd like to mention A.E.'s story about the pledge. The main topic of the story has nothing to do with my point here -- I just like this story because it's well-written and illustrates my (idealistic?) view of young people. It shows how you can develop courage and leadership skills by overcoming obstacles that you didn't ask to have thrown in your path.

B.G. Christensen said...

This is why I think Obama has a better chance than Clinton of winning the general election, assuming he's able to beat her in the primaries. He definitely has the youth thing going for him, he's openly talked about his religious values (so Christians know they're not voting for a scary atheist), and he's also openly talked about the fact that religious values should not drive politics (so atheists know they're not voting for a scary Christian). The terrifying alternative is that the Religious Right manages to put someone like Huckabee in office. [shudder]

Anonymous said...

Brilliant!:If they're on the wrong side of the issues above, then their heart is not in the right place. Their heart is in the place of maintaining their current consumption level and putting it on their grandchildren's tab.

And strangely, I don't even think they're even AWARE this is their M.O.! It's all so founded in their Xian beliefs, and Mormonism is even worse because the temple ceremony drills in the idea that everything, the planet as a whole, the plants, animals, and all non-humans creations were created simply to "beautify" this place for us to look at. And *that* leads to gross misuse of it because they simply do not care. The Mormon doctrine on this subject simply translated means: Destroy this planet!


Rebecca said...

I posted a link to this on my facebook account. I'm just assuming that's okay with you. I'm also sending the link to my family.

Anonymous said...

Very good post. The Religious Right and Dubya are highly visible examples of everything that is wrong about religion. It's amazing that more Christians aren't thoroughly embarrassed by him. Looking on the bright side, though, Dubya is a pretty good recruiting tool for atheism.

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

This is just what I needed to hear today--after hearing stupid Laura Ingraham talking about how stupid she thinks young college students on Facebook being interested in politics is, I needed to hear someone smartly discussing the issues of young versus old, tolerant versus intolerant.
So thank you.

Rich said...

Very nice summary Chanson. I like to think of it in "Trek" terms: Earth is, in reality, our own rather small, delicately balanced space ship, hurtling along through the barren, inhospitable cosmic void. Why therefore would any rational being want to go and mess with the life support system?!?

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks for the positive comments, everyone!!!

I posted this, then went to bed thinking I'd be getting a bunch of comments like "Chanson, didn't you promise in your very previous post to 'keep it light and fun' and cut it out with the rants and impassioned speeches?" lol. But this is the last serious one I have planned for a while... ;-)

Spencer Ellsworth said...

This is a great post. I hope everyone reads it and learns something.

The terrifying alternative is that the Religious Right manages to put someone like Huckabee in office. [shudder]

Or... (cough) Romney.

B.G. Christensen said...

Romney is definitely a terrifying possibility--I just don't think it would be the Religious Right putting him in office, being as how a lot of them don't like him cause he's Mormon.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Spencer!!!

Like Mr. FOB, I don't think Mitt can get elected. I hope he can't anyway, and the same goes for Huckabee...

from the ashes said...

Nice thoughts, chanson. Well said.

Alon Levy said...

Huckabee is already saying he's not running for pastor in chief. To him that's a convenient way of dodging questions about his fundamentalism. Secularists are not the only group in the US that's looked down upon for religious reasons.

woundedhart said...

Great post. It was only ranty in the good people-need-to-hear-it sort of way.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Alon!!!

Hmm, I didn't think of that. That Huckabee is a sneaky one....

Thanks Woundedhart & FTA!!!

beatdad said...

Hey Chanson, weren't you going to keep it light and fun and not get ranty....

I remember an article from a couple of years ago where some students at a Baptist college were asked about their views on same sex marriage. None of the respondents thought it was a big deal and couldn't see so many were opposed to it.

Also, whenever I hear a candidate say that they will not be bringing their religion to their political office. I get confused.

How can you not bring your "religious" values with you wherever you go? For example, I would not want someone who believes, and follows the ten commandments to leave the "thou shalt not kill" clause, at the door of the oval office.


UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

Beat Dad--
In my opinion, it's one thing to live by the morals of your religion--particularly the ones which are also national laws (thou shalt not kill). However, it's another thing to campaign as if you're running for Pope rather than President. There's seperation of church and state--if you're a public official, the state should come before the church in your policies. Mitt Romney shouldn't have to be defending his Mormonism because no one should be questioning whether a Mormon can be president, it shouldn't be relevant. No one should be examining Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton's religious backgrounds either. And Mike Huckabee certainly should not be spending so much time talking about his faith--religion does NOT belong in politics, end of story in my opinion. But it's been made too important for too long, and therefore people with backwards opinions like "gay people are immoral" and "women belong in the house" seem angry that younger generations do not consider their opinions to have much worth.
Oh, and...the Oath of Office (for all public offices) should be taken on the Constitution. Not the Bible, Quar'an, Tanakh, or any other holy book.

Anonymous said...

Right on.

To quote Rufus Wainwright:
"I'm tired of being the reason the road has a shoulder."

Last big election us gays were the red herring and this time around it's the Mexicans. The extremists have always got to have something to distract Americans from what's really going on.

You know Chanson, I really get the feeling that most young people today don't give two shits about gay or straight. They figure it all out young and move onto their Emo phase and are done with it. The straight boys kiss some gay boys, the girls have fun kissing each other in front of the boys but at the end of the day they don't really care what's getting stuck where and in whom. The preoccupation with orifices and who's got what in where is something that seems to be first and foremost in the mind of the far-right religious extremists. Hell, they're more worked up about sex than I am. And it's really hard to imagine anybody being more worked up about it than I am.

Anyway, great article as always Chansi. I love the way your mind works and the very clear connection between it and your keyboard.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I agree.

I'll go a step further: The brainwashed should not be allowed to vote for candidates, it ruins the country for everyone else.

Anonymous said...

You may want to skip over this because, well, I have gray hair and could probably pass as your mother although she's probably more impressed with you than I am. I have five children four of whom are teens. I've taught high school English, home schooled and subbed in the public schools throughout most of my adult life. Thus, my exposure to young people is fairly extensive. Some, my own children included, impress me quite a bit. They care, or at least give lip service to caring, about the planet, the issue of poverty, peaceful solutions to global problems, etc. More, however, seem pretty impressed with themselves, expect things (literally things--m3p players, ipods, cell phones,clothes, etc.) to be given to them for nothing, think life ought to be easy and spelling shouldn't count. I've watched and listened as they dis one another, bully the kid who isn't like them, threaten players of fans from other teams, treat their parents and teachers with disrespect and complain when they aren't allowed to do exactly what they want to do or when they are asked to do something they don't want to do. The youth I've watched and litened to, consume every bit as much as their parents, drive rather then walk (if they have the choice), eat unhealthy food and often miss the trash can when they throw the wrappers away. It's a crazy world we live in when we don't take the plank out of our own eye before we try to point out the speck in our brother's eye--I'll promise to look in the mirror more often if you do. --Minnow

Lola said...

Yeah, and those damn kids are always on your lawn!

Way to totally miss the point and go on an off-topic, ageist rant, Minnow.

Anonymous said...

This is Chanson, I've now arrived in Switzerland, and I'm having a little trouble signing in, but everything will be back to normal soon...

I'd just like to respond to Minnie's comment:

I'm not trying to say I think all young people are geniuses and/or saints. All people tend to "look out for #1" first, and sadly, there's probably a lot of truth to the old adage that you'll never go broke underestimating people's intelligence (by P. T. Barnum?). However, those unfortunate points about the human race aren't what I want to focus on here.

The thing is that if our species is to survive in the long term, we need a massive shift in priorities towards seeing things in terms of sustainability. And it's another sad truth about humans that a massive shift in priorities and outlook only comes with a change of generation. That's why I think it's critical to talk to young people and listen to them and take their concerns seriously right now.

Anonymous said...

As a believing fundamentalist left-leaning christian, I wish to say that I agree with your conclusions. At a low point in Jewish spiritual BC history, one of the prophets said, "On your account is the name of God blasphemed among the nations." This is the condition of churchianity today.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey drdan!!!

I'm glad to see I'm in agreement with what actual Christians think of this. I think those who performed the studies I quoted above reached approximately the same conclusions: that the religious right's politics don't represent what Jesus taught, and their claim that they represent Christianity is alienating a whole lot of people from Christianity, including an entire generation of young people.

On that note, have you seen Al Franken's "Supply Side Jesus"? It's hilarious!!! It presents a new version of the gospels in an alternate universe in which there's a "Supply Side Jesus" who teaches what the Republican party seems to think Jesus taught...

Hey Beat Dad and Une Femme Plus Courageuse!!!

True, this is a bit of a sticky question. Clearly one's religious beliefs will affect one's political actions. So it makes sense that asking candidates specific questions about their beliefs shouldn't be off-limits. I guess what I really meant was that we need a candidate who has a strong commitment to separation of church and state and isn't planning to use the office of President as a pulpit to preach (and favor and enforce) his/her particular religion.

Thanks Tom!!!

I think you're right to connect this issue with sentiments about Mexicans (the "find some out group to blame" mentality).

Hey Stevo!!!

It's true that ignorant and uninformed voters are a problem in a democracy. The problem with restricting who gets to vote, however, is the eternal question of who gets to choose who gets excluded. There's just too much potential for misuse of the restrictions. A better way to decrease the proportion of ignorant voters is to improve education across the board. A good first step is what's happening right now: people getting their information from the Internet -- where they're encouraged to exercise their critical thinking skills -- instead of just absorbing whatever the authorities on the idiot box (T.V.) say.

Hey Laura!!! Thanks for the chuckle! ;^)

And with my anonymous comment to Minnie above, I think that covers everyone who commented while I was en route to Switzerland.

Thanks to all for the good discussion!!!

Craig said...

Minnow Speaks:

And who do you think taught them (us) to behave like that? Did they come up with on their own? Or are they emulating they way their parents and grandparents act and behave? Is it the child's fault who doesn't respect his environment if his parents didn't teach him to? Is it not possible that they boy who bullies the "different" student has learnt that sort of behaviour from the prejudice of his parents?

I am not saying that parents are culpable for all the mistakes of their children - just that they are responsible for teaching them the correct way to behave. Unfortunately, many parents have not and are not doing that.

I too have had experience with those younger than me, and overall, I am convinced that they are more concerned with the environment, with humane treatment for all people, and with improving our world than previous generations have been.

I thought this statement of yours was actually rather amusing:

[they] treat their parents and teachers with disrespect and complain when they aren't allowed to do exactly what they want to do or when they are asked to do something they don't want to do.

Have you ever known a single teenager (including yourself) to not exhibit that kind of behaviour at least occasionally? I don't know that that will ever change. It seems to be less of a generational thing as a biological/behavioural trait. Teenagers rebel. Thats sort of the way the world works.

Kids will (ever) be kids. To judge an entire generation based on how they act in high school is probably not going to be the most accurate indication of how they really will come to think and act as adults.


I agree fully with your analysis of the situation. I was surprised how few people even cared that I was gay when I came out, and I came out when I was at BYU. Even among the Mormons, surprisingly enough, the tendency to be accepting of gay people by the younger generation is in evidence - not to the degree that we might like, but it is there.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks [kɹeɪ̯g̊]!!!

I'm glad to hear your friends were accepting and supportive when you came out! :D

Jeff Eyges said...

Teaching them straight from the Bible is a whole lot simpler, and cheaper

Yeah, 'cause, you know - they won't need to know how to factor polynomials in hell!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey cipher!!!

lol, exactly!!! ;^)