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Overheard (May 2021)

Why when Jesus talks about feeding the poor, it’s Christianity. But when a politician talks about feeding the poor, it’s socialism?

Mohamad Safa, executive director of Patriotic Vision, a non-governmental organization in Lebanon, who also, in 2020, said, “Our world is not divided by race, color, gender or religion. Our world is divided into wise people and fools. And fools divide themselves by race, color, gender or religion.”

Twitter, 3-9-211

If secularists hoped that declining religiosity would make for more rational politics, drained of faith’s inflaming passions, they are likely disappointed. As Christianity’s hold, in particular, has weakened, ideological intensity and fragmentation have risen. American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever; it’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief. Political debates over what America is supposed to mean have taken on the character of theological disputations. 

Author and Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid, in his column, “America without God.”

The Atlantic, 3-10-21

There were bibles, there were crosses, there were bible verses on signs. . . . The insurrectionists are telling us who they are. They very deliberately chose those symbols. They wore them on their clothes. These were white supremacists. These were Christians. Those two groups were not fighting each other. They were marching side by side.

Robert Jones, Public Religion Research Institute founder and CEO, in an interview for the article, “The Capitol attack: White supremacist terrorism meets evangelical Christianity.”, 3-10-21

While religious exemption conversations are still dominated by debates over sex, marriage and reproduction, we confine it to a “culture war” issue at our peril. The ability of religious exemptions to undercut a wide swath of regulations and protections in the areas of economic and workers’ rights, public health, environmental justice and even democratic reforms should not be underestimated. 

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, in her column, “‘Religious liberty’ is coming for voting rights.”

The Hill, 3-10-21 

This is a stunning change in the American social landscape. To put it in context, prior to 1990, virtually no Americans identified in public opinion surveys as nonreligious. It was as low as 5 percent, which is close to the margin of error. And by the time we get to the year 2000, at that point you’re talking about 14 percent to 15 percent of the population. And now, 23 percent, 24 percent. That is a huge change. We do not typically see change of anything on that scale in a relatively short period of time.

Political scientist David E. Campbell, author, along with Geoffrey C. Layman and John C. Green, of Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics.

Religion News Service, 3-12-21

I began asking, how much is too much? Is it OK to get rich off of preaching about Jesus? Is it OK to be making twice as much as the median income of your congregation?

Ben Kirby, whose Instagram account            @PreachersNSneakers has screenshots of pastors next to price tags and the street value of shoes and clothes they were wearing.

Washington Post, 3-22-21

We are denied housing, employment, health care and recognition of our equal value. We are considered a threat — a threat to what, I will never understand. Don’t tell me it’s about individual beliefs. When I worked as a health care provider, I never denied Christians care, even though their religion has been weaponized against me. How does a doctor refusing me care when I am sick square with Christian values? What ideology was protected during the nights I spent on the street, knowing that I would be denied shelter? . . . Some people believe that in respecting my rights, they will lose some of their own. But equality is an endless cake. The more who eat from it, the more there is to share.

Cecelia Gentili, from her op-ed “Equality is an endless cake.”

The New York Times, 3-22-21

Most Nones are “somes.” Church attendance is the first thing that goes, then belonging and finally belief — in that order. Belief goes last. 

Political scientist and professor Ryan Burge, author of the new book, The Nones: Where They Came from, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going.

Religion News Service, 3-24-21

Antiscience has emerged as a dominant and highly lethal force, and one that threatens global security, as much as do terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

Dr. Peter Hotez, professor of pediatrics and molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine, where he co-heads the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, in the article, “The antiscience movement is escalating, going global and killing thousands.”

Scientific American, 3-29-21

The coming decade of U.S. politics may be defined, in part, by the struggle to prevent conservative Christianity from taking democracy down with it.

Eric Levitz, in his article, “The GOP (rightly) fears America’s churchless majority.”

The Intelligencer, 4-1-21

It is white evangelicals who were and remain the most ardent MAGA followers. Conversely, the most progressive voters, least amenable to the GOP’s brand of white supremacy and cultural memes, are those without religious affiliation. . .   Even more ominous for faith leaders is that a large percentage (58 percent) of the unaffiliated are openly hostile to religion, saying “religion is not personally important in their lives and believe religion as a whole does more harm than good in society.

Jennifer Rubin, in her op-ed column, “The latest threat to the GOP: Americans are becoming less religious.”

Washington Post, 3-30-21

It wasn’t that she was a Catholic, but that there’s supposed to be this thing called separation of church and state, which is becoming blurred. Her religion, I didn’t care. What I care about is the use of religion as basically trumping every other right. I was presiding over the Senate, and Sen. [Tommy] Tuberville says something like, “We should bring morality back, and God and prayer should come back into our schools.” I’m sitting there going, “What?” But that is the view of too many Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, on her questioning of Amy Coney Barrett’s religion during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

New York Times Magazine, 3-28-21

Young people are especially allergic to the perception that many — but by no means all — American religions are hostile to LGBTQ rights.

David Campbell, professor and chair of the University of Notre Dame’s political science department, in the article, “‘Allergic reaction to U.S. Religious Right’ fueling decline of religion, experts say.”

The Guardian, 4-5-21

There is a tendency today to frame the debate over the separation of church and state in terms that are far too narrow. In these instances, a focus on the symbolic issues, such as crosses on public land and prayers in public meetings, can obscure the fact that the entire legal system may be turned into the arm of a political movement that has no actual interest in advancing the law. In America today, these assaults on the separation of church and state are in fact part of a larger attack on democracy and the rule of law itself. Religious nationalism is the kind of thing that takes democracies down.

Author and columnist Katherine Stewart, in her column, “The Supreme Court’s religious persecution complex.”

The New Republic, 4-9-21

As they dwindle, the faithful will work more furiously toward imposing their fading religion on the growing body of unwilling unbelievers. It’s like the Republican model of government: Yell loud enough and some will believe you are still in charge.

Neil Steinberg, in his column, “See you in church . . . oops, no I won’t,” about the decline in church attendance.

Chicago Sun-Times, 4-6-21

The people who battle against science are the same ones who, for instance, wield and embrace their pocket-sized smartphones, which merge state-of-the-art engineering, mathematics, information technology and space physics. It’s an educator’s conundrum indeed. So perhaps what I really learned during the pandemic year is that science needs better marketing — refined and persistent — so that no one will ever again take its discoveries for granted.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, in a column. 

Wall Street Journal, 3-18-21

Blasphemy? Fucking Blasphemy? It’s 2021 for fuck’s sake. What next? People being punished for insulting unicorns?

Comedian and atheist Ricky Gervais.

Facebook, 3-26-21

The [Supreme] Court is serious about giving religious conservatives broad immunity from the law — so serious, in fact, that it is literally willing to endanger people’s lives in order to achieve this goal.

Ian Millhiser, in the article, “The Christian right is racking up huge victories in the Supreme Court, thanks to Amy Coney Barrett,” regarding the court’s decision on April 9 allowing people of faith who want to gather in relatively large groups in someone’s home despite the state of California’s limits all in-home gatherings.  

Vox, 4-12-21

Evangelicals’ own story of engaging politically out of serious concerns about morality and ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ has lost influence with the public because of the transparent hypocrisy they displayed through the Trump years.

Chrissy Stroop, in her column, “Have white evangelicals finally lost control of the narrative?” 

Religion Dispatches, 4-6-21

They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress. But they’ve passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers. Time for some action.”

President Biden, as he unveiled new planned executive actions to address gun violence in the United States.

The Week, 4-8-21