Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Continued Extrusion of the Religious Right's Nose: Further Prognostications for 2009

Cassandra here. Again. Doing her sad old song and dance, warning, warning with little assurance that her warnings will be heeded. At least, as the script I see now unfolding (and no, the Deity has not spoken or shouted or shown his Old Man in the Clouds™ face to me; I just use my head and see what’s before me) does unfold in 2009, you can say you heard some of those prognostications on this website.

As the new year has approached, I’ve been blogging repeatedly about the revamped, ratched-up strategy I expect the religious right to employ in the coming year, to try to recoup its recent political losses and beef up its dwindling numbers. As I’ve noted in posting after posting, I expect the religious right to do all but stand on its head to try to woo new young adherents. I also anticipate a nasty time for both the black and gay communities—and our nation as a whole—as the religious right tries to force the wedge between those two marginalized communities deeper in 2009.

As this agenda starts to play out with the new president’s inauguration, look, too, for the religious right to begin presenting itself as a kinder, gentler version of its doddering old cranky-man self. Watch for Rick Warren’s face to be plastered everywhere, as this claim is driven home. A chubby, smiling, avuncular face, the face of someone you want to hug, someone who can’t be all bad, can he, if he helps babies with AIDS in Africa and recognizes that the environment is endangered. It’s just the gays he’s after, anyway, isn’t it? And doesn’t the bible say . . . ?

With the kinder, gentler religious right, watch for one thing to remain the same: the lies. In fact, expect them to get bolder, more fantastic, the kind that would grow huge noses on the faces of people with any scrap of conscience at all. And look for the mainstream media to continue colluding in these lies, since their bread is buttered by the same folks who butter the bread of Rick Warren and his bedfellows.

In the interest of pursuing truth when falsehood threatens to prevail—a task given to all believers all the time—I’d like to point out some of the brand-new whoppers members of the religious right are telling as the new year gets underway. These lies are perhaps not entirely new ones, but the enormity of the claims now being made to prop them up is new. And that enormity will continue to be in evidence in this period of sharpened conflict between the religious right and the will of the American people in the new political landscape. We are now seeing only the tip of the big nose that will extrude from the religious right in 2009. . . .

Whopper #1: reactionary religion is succeeding in reviving the churches and attracting youth to the churches.

This is one that’s been around for some time now. The media have helped spread it—have played a crucial role in that respect, as a matter of fact. Throughout the papacy of John Paul II, in which the current pope Benedict XVI played a preeminent part as ideological czar of reaction, we were informed again and again by sober media analysts that right-wing Christianity was succeeding at doing what liberal versions of Christianity had failed to do: attract adherents; fill seminaries; bring young folks to religious vocations.* We were told that the yearly World Youth Day circus John Paul II began would fill the churches with card-carrying right-wing Catholic youth, the kind we needed to take the church back for Christ.

It hasn’t happened. The attempt to pitch reactionary forms of Christianity to youth around the world hasn’t succeeded. It hasn’t brought large numbers of youth back to the churches. If anything, it has succeeded in shoving away those who wanted to remain connected to the churches, but who did not want do so by paying the ideological price demanded. These youth have not wanted to join a neoconservative version of the Hitler Youth movement, have not wanted to leave their minds at the church door, and have not wanted to reduce their moral compass to genital fixations.

Many youth who are distancing themselves from reactionary churches today are intently interested in morality, but in an integral morality that applies faith to the wide range of moral problems demanding the attention of people of faith, which transcend the pelvic preoccupations of the religious right. To issues like the destruction of the environment, the exploitation of women by men, the injustice of an economic system that enriches the few at the expense of the man. And yes, to issues like gay rights.

Despite clear statistical indicators that reactionary forms of Christianity are not reviving the Christian churches—as in attracting huge numbers of new adherents—the lies continue rolling forth. From representatives of the religious right. With the collusion of the media.

Shortly before Christmas, mainstream media sources around the world blared forth a boast of the religious right that the downturn in the world economy was sending folks back to church—to their churches, the churches of the right. This is a version of a story that crops up predictably in the media anytime disaster strikes.

After 9/11, we were told that the churches had filled again—with the implication that most of us are a godless lot of secularists who turn our backs on God when things are going well for us, until some disaster urges us back to mother church and father God. To our role of unquestioning, childlike filial piety—the kind of unquestioning filial piety it would behoove us to adopt, as well, vis-√†-vis the big men pulling the economic levers, who have our well-being at heart just as mother church and father God do.

What I am suggesting is that, for its own political and economic interests, the mainstream media have as much invested in telling us this lie of the superiority of reactionary religion, as does the religious right. Both are perfectly capable of inventing huge whoppers about the return to the churches (the “right” churches, the ones that preach about sin and hell and condemnation and the need for unquestioning obedience) when times are hard.

Though the preceding story of miraculous new conversions to the churches of the right rolled out just before Christmas, it has now been shown to have been false (http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/3043). Gallup polling data in December show no increase at all in church, synagogue, or mosque attendance of Americans at any point in 2008. Polls in other parts of the world indicate the same lack of a new fervor for right-wing religion in the face of economic downturns.

Despite what the data indicate, one of the boldest spin doctors of the Catholic right, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, has informed the media (who dutifully reported Pell’s story without asking for evidence to confirm the claim) that last year’s World Youth Day events in Australia had led to an increase in conversions, as well as to increased numbers of young men entering the seminary in Australia (http://zenit.org/article-24687?l=english and www.cathnews.com/article.aspx?aeid=10936). No empirical data support Cardinal Pell’s claims here—claims that are suspiciously matched to statements both he and Benedict made last February, prior to World Youth Day, in which they predicted conversions of Australian youth due to WYD, as well as a rise in numbers of seminarians (www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/188925,pope-hopes-for-religious-revival-in-australia--feature.html).

Pell delivered his pronouncements of the success of World Youth Cay on new year’s day. Two weeks later, Father Peter Kennedy of St. Mary’s church in Brisbane announced that he would lead his parish into schism if the archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, closes his parish (http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2009/01/dissident-australian-parish-threatens.html). The threat posed by this parish? It is actually flourishing, in the real world, not just the world of wish-fulfillment. But it is an innovative parish that crafts inclusive liturgies which energize everyone in the congregation, a parish that invites native peoples to contribute to shaping the liturgy and the life of the community of faith.

It is a success story that directly contradicts the lie of the religious right that progressive religious groups are waning while right-wing religious groups are on the rise. And so it is a story that must be swept under the rug, even as stories of bogus right-wing success, based on no evidence at all, are put forth as gospel truth—with media collusion.

The real story, the factual one, of the “success” of Benedict’s reactionary movement, is quite different from the one Pell wants us to believe. As the Clerical Whispers blog reported on 10 January, Catholic marriages in England have declined by 24% since 2000 (http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2009/01/roman-catholic-church-marriages-fall-by.html). The Vatican itself is admitting that vocations of women to religious life are declining rapidly—though it is seeking to blame that drop in vocations on women’s refusal to adhere to traditional gender roles (www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0900109.htm). And in Austria, despite a high-profile visit of Benedict in September 2007 aimed at reviving Catholicism there, 40,595 Catholics formally renounced their affiliation with the Catholic church in 2008 (http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2009/01/catholic-church-exodus-rolled-on-last.html).

Cardinal Pell is, quite simply, lying. And the mainstream media that assist him in lying have to know this. The reactionary movement in the Catholic church has perhaps succeeded in seizing and holding the reins of power. But it has succeeded in little else. It has not brought large numbers back to the church, to the seminaries, and to religious life.

It has, in fact, succeeded in decisively alienating many of us. And lying about it will not change that fact. And there are strong parallels between the declining membership of the Catholic church and another mainstay of the religious right, the Southern Baptist church, whose numbers have been stagnant for several years now, as the face of congregations grows ever older and as young folks do not choose this and other right-wing churches in large numbers.

People are tired of being told no repeatedly, as if that message is the gospel message in its entirety. People rightly expect something more from authentic religiosity and spokespersons for authentic faith.

Whopper #2: Openly gay bishop Gene Robinson has split the Anglican communion.

That nasty little lie comes from the mouth of Tony Perkins, president of the right-wing Family Research Council. Perkins is reacting to the news two days ago that Obama has chosen out and partnered gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to give the first prayer of the inauguration ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial (www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-obama-clergy-webjan13,0,7483819.story).

In response to this announcement, Mr. Perkins states,

I find it kind of ironic that some were adamantly opposed to Rick Warren because he was “divisive,” If you want to talk about somebody that is divisive, look at Gene Robinson. He essentially split one of the oldest Christian denominations in this country.

The truth? The truth that Mr. Perkins knows very well, since he’s a big part of the story? The religious right and its adherents have worked overtime in the past decade to split the worldwide Anglican communion, to the extent that this communion has sought to ordain women and openly gay folks, and to promote social teachings that call neoconservative ideology, with its claims to represent Christian orthodoxy, into question. Well-funded and politically powerful groups such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy have done all they can to sow seeds of discontent in the Anglican communion, by seeking to convince Anglicans of color in developing nations that Anglicans of the developed nations—many of whom are sympathetic to women’s and gay rights—take people of color for granted.

The IRD has exerted tremendous influence on the mainstream media to assure that the mainstream media adopt this script, a script that depicts progressive Anglicans as empty liberals exploiting people of color while abandoning the core truths of Christianity, and Christians of the developing nations as saviors of the creed. I’ve blogged repeatedly about these matters, and for anyone interested in documentation of the points I'm making here, I suggest entering the phrase “Institute on Religion and Democracy” into the blog search engine at the top left of the Bilgrimage homepage. You’ll find a world of links there to substantiate my claims.

Lies told by victimizers who seek to make the victim responsible for the reprehensible actions of the victimizer are particularly nasty lies. That’s the kind of lie Tony Perkins is telling here.

We’re going to see a lot more of this sort of lying by members of the religious right in 2009. For those of us who hope for a renewal of our democratic culture under a new president and a new Congress, it is important to keep monitoring the lies of the religious right—and to challenge them. And, above all, to call the media to accountability, when they sell their integrity to the religious right and turn themselves into mouthpieces for a political movement wearing a religious mask to conceal its real intent, which is destruction of democratic institutions . . . .


* Though the term “religious right” generally refers to a coalition of evangelical Christian religious groups in the United States, in my view, in its stance on family issues and sexual morality, the Catholic church is also a part of the religious right.