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Christians a minority in the US

May 23rd, 2007

Rightwing bloggers are making a big fuss about a poll in which 47 per cent of US Muslims stated that they thought of themselves first as Muslim, and only 28 per cent as Americans first. By contrast, for self-described US Christians, the results were 48 per cent for American first, and only 42 per cent for Christian first, with 7 per cent saying “Both” and 3 per cent Don’t Know. The only possible reading of this data is that less than half of all Americans are in fact Christians in the religious, as opposed to the cultural/tribal, sense of the term. Galations 3:28 is pretty clear on the subject, but more importantly, it’s obvious that you can’t seriously believe in, and worship, an Almighty God if your allegiance to an earthly power comes first, or equal, or if you don’t even know.

As should be apparent from previous discussion, I don’t have a problem with this, belonging mainly to the secularist tradition. But it might be useful in discussion of US exceptionalism to note the preponderance of nominal believers revealed by this question.

* Possibly, some of those saying “both” are making the claim that they can conceive of no possible inconsistency between the two, but even on this charitable reading, and standard treatment of the Don’t Knows, that only gives a bare majority of self-described Christians, and therefore still a minority of the US population as a whole.

** Hat-tip to Glenn Greenwald, who points out some rather unchristian attitudes, maybe among the 48 per cent).

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  1. Bring Back the Currency Lad
    May 24th, 2007 at 09:50 | #1

    I am horrified at the poor understanding of doctrine of people who profess to be Christians

  2. BilB
    May 24th, 2007 at 10:11 | #2

    This is a mammoth issue. Every big as global warming. Why? Because it threatens our personal security and stability of community as much. The problem with applied Islam is that it has political ambitions that prefer an authoritarian state. As seen in some areas of Nigeria when some Muslim governors felt that they had the numbers they declared Islamic statehood effectively replacing democratically derived law with religious law. Most of the conflicts around the world are about groups of muslims wanting create new Islamic states for their area. Try to live with our values under Islamic law and see how long ytou stay a free person.

    I think that an allegiance to a God has nothing to do with an allegiance to ones own country. There is no place for religion (or tribes) in government, any religion at all. You can bring religious values to the table of government, but not the religion itself, or its laws. We can see in many places around the world how poorly the alternative works.

  3. BilB
    May 24th, 2007 at 10:13 | #3

    addendum
    that was “every bit as big”

  4. May 24th, 2007 at 11:09 | #4

    BilB,
    I think a look through the history of the Middle East under Islam and then comparing it to Europe at similar points would be instructive. Freedom of worship actually existed in a (nearly) true sense of the term for nearly a millennia under Islam. The only impediments were a restriction on proselytizing and a small incremental tax.
    Compared to the reaction in Europe against religious heresy this is small stuff. Freedom of the individual was much better respected in the Middle East than in contemporary Europe.
    The preference for an authoritarian state has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the arrogance of the leaders, the weakness of the institutions and poor education of the people.
    Of course there are problems with any religion being institutionalised, but to single out Islam in this way looks to me more like prejudice than knowledge.

  5. BilB
    May 24th, 2007 at 11:36 | #5

    Andrew,
    I am talking about the present and the future not the past. Take a look at how much both Australia and the US spend on dealing with religious zealots (without being specific) versus how much they spend on global warming.
    I do have a prejudice. It is against the politics (perversion) of religion along with the outcomes, not religion itself or the people who practice any religion.

  6. May 24th, 2007 at 12:09 | #6

    Perhaps you should correct what you said in your earlier comment then – the problem is not applied Islam: it is perverted religious zealotry generally.
    Any belief system – religious, political or any other can be (and probably has been) used to justify repression in some way. It is the repression that should be the focus, not religious belief.

  7. snuh
    May 24th, 2007 at 12:27 | #7

    I am talking about the present and the future not the past.

    perhaps the many centuries of history of a particular religion and its adherents may have some relevance to considering that religion’s inherent qualities?

    anyway, since islam is (IMO) much stronger in terms of the necessity of submission to god above all else, isn’t sort of unfair to compare the findings of muslims and christians on this issue?

  8. May 24th, 2007 at 13:22 | #8

    human beings need a social tent under which to shelter. it might be a nuclear family, a clan, a football club, a nation, or a religion.

    when a nation can not, or will not, present a sense of acceptance and protection to it’s members, they will look elsewhere. western societies have atomized and alienated many or most members and so can not attract allegiance. those most rejected turn outward, to gangs, to religions, or even social clubs.

    a fragmenting society will blame the refuges people seek, but would do better to step over to the mirror and exclaim: “ah! therrre’s the problem!”

  9. MikeM
    May 24th, 2007 at 13:33 | #9

    If a Christian American were faced with the choice of staying in the US and having to give up Christianity, or being expelled to, say, Canada and being allowed to continu professing his faith, what would he (or she) choose?

    Isn’t that a better test than asking which comes first? The difficulty is of course that one can maintain one’s faith in secret, so some would choose to stay in the US and only pretend to give up Christianity.

  10. Ernestine Gross
    May 24th, 2007 at 14:02 | #10

    On the usefulness of religious and patriotic preference rankings – a true story:

    I know a family in Sydney where the grandfather considered himself first a ‘Bavarian’, second a ‘German’ and third a ‘Jew’. He was a soldier during WWI and married to a Catholic-born woman from Bavaria (State in Germany). While living and working with his Bavarian-German family in the German speaking part of Switzerland during the Nazi era, he received from the Nazi-government an Iron Cross for his services during WWI, accompanied by a letter, signed by one of the ‘heavies’ (I can’t remember which one), saying something to the effect that the German nation thanks him for his services and hopes he will return to the Fatherland. He didn’t; he didn’t because he couldn’t; he couldn’t because he was law abiding but not suicidal.

  11. BilB
    May 24th, 2007 at 14:03 | #11

    This is what can happen when state and religion get mixed up:-

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/inside-the-taliban/2007/05/21/1179601331182.html

    and if you add tribalism to the mix it gets even worse. That is if it is done for the purposes of power gain or greed.

    Of course there are examples of cultural festive celebration where the outcome is totally enriching and delightful. I know which I prefer, but it is safer to keep government and religion well apart.

  12. observa
    May 24th, 2007 at 14:53 | #12

    Turkish PM Erdogan in aspeech to university of Bosporus students when he was mayor-

    ‘In the West they say, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. But this country’s interior minister says that Caesar has rights but God does not!’

    “But the fact is that 99% of the people of this country are Muslims. You cannot be both secular and a Muslim! You will either be a Muslim, or secular! When both are together, they create reverse magnetism [i.e. they repel one another]. For them to exist together is not a possibility! Therefore, it is not possible for a person who says ‘I am a Muslim’ to go on and say ‘I am secular too.’ And why is that? Because Allah, the creator of the Muslim, has absolute power and rule!”

  13. observa
    May 24th, 2007 at 14:54 | #13

    ..when he was mayor of Istanbul.

  14. swio
    May 24th, 2007 at 23:49 | #14

    “You cannot be both secular and a Muslim!”

    But you can want a very liberal version of islam, or be proud of and comfortable with your islamic heritage while not actually believing in god anymore which is what muslims really mean when they say they are secular. The ravings of threatened Islamic religous conservatives won’t stop the secularisation of Islamic countries just as it failed to do so when practised by their western christian counterparts.

    BilB, you obviously don’t have the slightest clue about the composition and make up of muslims in Australia. You sound like you are kept awake by a vision of hoards of Bin Laden wannabes sprouting up on Haldon St Lakemba to spread out through the country on their mission kill us all (presumably in a bout of mass food poisoning due to the synchonised delivery of thousands of dodgy kebabs). You should get out from behind your keyboard a bit to meet some members of this group of people of which you are so terrified. Perhaps after seeing that most of them are surprisingly normal you will be able to get some sleep.

  15. gaddeswarup
    May 25th, 2007 at 00:20 | #15

    I am travelling in USA now but busy with other things. I noticed in salon.com an article which may be of interest:
    http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/05/23/polls/index.html

  16. jstrocch
    May 25th, 2007 at 00:57 | #16

    Pr Q says:

    The only possible reading of this data is that less than half of all Americans are in fact Christians in the religious, as opposed to the cultural/tribal, sense of the term

    This is a tendentious reading of the survey and not at all “the only possible reading”. Almost all religions are primarily sociological constructions. The notion of a purely theological apporach to religion may be of interest to academics interested in idle points scoring but is irrelevant to the common life of the (tribal/cultural) people.

    I suppose Left wingers think they have discovered some important truth when they practice gotcha Culture Warring ie some Army officers are ALP candidates, some Christians are unaware of the intransitivity of their theological and ideological views.

    Pr Q says:

    it’s obvious that you can’t seriously believe in, and worship, an Almighty God if your allegiance to an earthly power comes first, or equal, or if you don’t even know.

    It is not obvious at all if one takes the view that religions are social arrangements that endure if they (perhaps unintentionally) serve some useful social purpose. This was the view taken by Weber.

    The opposite view, that religions are the this-worldly incarnation of intellectual viewpoints about God and Man, was lampooned by Dr Knopfelmacher as the “theologico-deductive” mode of religious analysis. A similar fallacy is evident in the portrayal of political parties as the incarnation of intellectual views about Man and the State, the “ideologico-deductive” mode of political analysis.

    In any case, a question that forces people to choose between God and Country is michievous. Mostly this kind of commentary demonstrates the frivolous nature of Leftwing cultural commentary. Any Right winger worth his salt knows there is no contradiction between love of God, Country and Family.

    Most American Christians believe that the US is “God’s own country”. So there is no real contradiction in putting American first since love of America is equivalent to love of God’s most successful social work on earth.

    Mathew 22:21 is pretty clear about this. The “America firsters” are simply following the Biblical injunction, to render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s in the sphere of public affairs.

    To draw Pr Q’s inference that most Americans are not serious about Christianity one would have to believe that Sgt York was not a serious Christian, which is prima facie absurd.

  17. observa
    May 25th, 2007 at 01:17 | #17

    “The ravings of threatened Islamic religous conservatives won’t stop the secularisation of Islamic countries..”
    This is a duly elected representative of a moderate Muslim country that supposedly had reformed under Ataturk and as such wants to join the EU swio. Presumably those people demonstrating in the streets have some gripe about what they are seeing and hearing in their midst, as back to the future, like so many other Muslim countries are experiencing at present.

  18. BilB
    May 25th, 2007 at 07:48 | #18

    Swio,

    I have a very clear understanding of the makeup of the muslim community, along with many of the other cultural groups. This does not keep me awake at night. It would if I lived in the Sudan or Nigeria, or Indonesia, or some parts of the Phillipines or a full hand of other countries.

    This is important to get a handle on because “religious zeal” is a significant economic brake. The greater the degree of religious extremism the greater the potential negative factor that must be applied to the economic contribution from that sector. I say potential because some religions have a work or business focus. For those religions there can be a positive (accelerating) effect.

    All religions have the potential to be a hinderance to economic performance whether they be Catholic, C of E, Islam, Morman, Branch Dividian, Dretheren, Jew, Hindu, Bhuddist, etc. It is not hard to find examples, for most if not all of these religions, where elevated levels of zeal have impinged on economic output for their community.

    The economic influence of religion can be quantified into a factor (different for each religious group) better than many other economic forces simply because religion tends to apply uniformity. eg bretheren are strong business people giving them a positive performance factor, however, at present their code restricts them from using computers thus reducing their performance factor. If one religious group falls out with another, economic performance plummets ie Ireland, Iraq, Palastine, India (periodically).

  19. rog
    May 25th, 2007 at 08:03 | #19

    Many christians are secularist, the definition of “christian” varies between one christian group and another, some find baptism at birth sufficient. Similarly with being jewish, you can be both jewish and atheist – not all jews are adherents of Judaism and amongst those that are there are varying degrees of observance.

    To this extent both jews and christians are cultural descriptions that contribute to a secular society.

  20. swio
    May 25th, 2007 at 08:22 | #20

    Islamists are just like other political parties. They get into power by pretending to be less conservative than they actually are. Its a sign of how weak the support for their religous agenda is that they have to do this. People are happy to elect them as long as they think they will do very little. Then when they get over confident and try to satisfy their base and actually implement some of their ideas the country turns on them. Its a problem conservatives face in western countries as well.

  21. swio
    May 25th, 2007 at 08:32 | #21

    BilB,

    Your initial comments seemed specific to Islam, but do you apply the same concerns to the levels of zeal in other religous groups? If so you have my sympathy. I am not particularly worried about the Islamic conservatives because of their small number and I know how much trouble they are having imprinting highly conservative values on their children in secular Australia. But what about other groups that have much larger numbers and a far greater prescence in Australian society? Groups like the Exclusive Brethen would seem to have a much greater influence on the day to day lives of all of us through their access to real political power.

  22. swio
    May 25th, 2007 at 08:42 | #22

    “Any Right winger worth his salt knows there is no contradiction between love of God, Country and Family.”

    But does that apply to a muslim living in a country that most right wingers believe is fundamentally christian? and to a christian living in an Islamic country?

  23. May 25th, 2007 at 12:22 | #23

    swio,
    Absolutely. You can love without blindness. Loving someone / something does not necessarily mean that you agree with all that they do, mean or say. In fact, to me at least, without that, love is no more than blind faith – which is dangerous at the best of times.

  24. observa
    May 26th, 2007 at 13:03 | #24

    Something Turkish PMs can appreciate only too well http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/24/africa/thai.php

  25. May 26th, 2007 at 20:57 | #25

    Not sure how that link relates to Turkish PMs, observa. It is about possibly establishing Thai Buddhism as the state religion.

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