Thursday, June 09, 2005


The Christian theocrats are said to be running amok in Red America, rousing the rabble with their strange beliefs and perhaps stoking the dungeon fires as they finalize their hit lists. Of course it doesn't take much to be accused of religious intrigue and assault these days: An Air Force cadet who sent an e-mail containing a Christian message was last week accused of harassment. It seems we are in the midst of a new Red Scare - with Commies being replaced by Red State Christians and their allies in the Blue zone.

Yet in the course of reporting a new book (Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity) I found little evidence of a crusading spirit here in Jesusland. Quite the contrary. Not long ago, many people who are today called fanatical believers would have been labeled fully formed heretics. They may take their faith seriously, but they don't take it to the streets.

Be assured that rumors of impending theocracy are not confined to New York Times columnists. The Episcopal priest posted at historic St. John's Church in Richmond, Va., where Patrick Henry made his liberty-or-death speech, told me, and his congregation, that theocrat-types appear to be bankrolling the breakaway movement within the Episcopal Church, which was inspired by the elevation of the Rev. Eugene Robinson, an openly gay priest, to bishop. The fear of Episcopalians establishing a theocracy, even in a small hamlet, is highly amusing, something akin to fearing a military takeover led by the Kiwanis Club. Such is the level of hysteria.

Yet one finds little of the crusading spirit of religious certitude even among the dread born-again Christians and Evangelicals. Pollsters, including the much-quoted George Barna, have instead divined widespread heterodoxy and a live-and-let-live attitude. Born-again Christians simply aren't as generally advertised. Consider their view of Jesus, once regarded as the Sinless One. Twenty-eight percent agree that "while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people." That is far from a crusading belief. Even further afield, 35 percent of these supposedly hard-core believers do not believe Jesus experienced a physical resurrection, a belief shared by 39 percent of the general population (85 percent of Americans say they believe that Jesus is "spiritually alive," whatever that may mean. One recalls that many Americans believe their deceased pets are now ghosts, which may also qualify as being spiritually alive. )

In this same spirit, 52 percent of born agains believe the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol of God's presence or power but is not a living entity, not much different than the general adult population (61 percent). Nor does the devil find much support. Nearly 60 percent of American adults say Satan does not exist as a being at all, but is merely a symbol of evil; 45 percent of born again Christians agree.

These supposed storm troopers of the religious right have surprisingly little interest in bringing non-believers into the fold. Over one quarter - 26 percent - think it doesn't matter what faith a person has because religions teach pretty much the same thing, while 50 percent believe a life of "good works" will get you into heaven. They are also more politically heterodox than rumored. According to 2001 figures, 38 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Republicans, and 35 percent of Independents consider themselves born again Christians. Political analyst and writer Steve Waldman reminds us that "at least 10 million white evangelical Christians voted for Gore."

All told, these are not the beliefs of a crusading army, and only a small portion of believers should be considered truly devout, Fr. John McCloskey told me. McCloskey, an evangelist and traditionalist Catholic who is credited with helping bring Robert Bork, Robert Novak, Larry Kudlow, and Sen. Sam Brownback into the Roman Catholic Church, says that only about ten percent of Catholics are "with the program," by which he means they regularly attend Mass, go to Confession, and attempt to conform their lives fully to church teachings. The ten-percent figure turned up elsewhere as well. Dr. Albert Mohler, head of a Southern Baptist Convention seminary in Louisville, told me that only about ten percent of Protestants are serious believers, by which he meant people who take scripture not only seriously but as a guide to behavior and thought.

Ten percent can of course make a difference, and to be sure there are conservative believers who hope to influence politics. Their bold assertion is that being seriously religious should not be a disenfranchising offence. Many are also under the firm belief that most of the crusading comes from the secular world. Father McCloskey's website, for instance, includes an essay in which he muses about the possibility of large-scale martyrdom of North American Christians.....

More here


And the teachers love it!

The New South Wales State Government yesterday ordered an inquiry into how classroom lessons are planned and created as a furore broke out over a public school's program on "gay and lesbian" discrimination. Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said she had asked Director-General Andrew Cappie-Wood to review and report to her on how resource material was developed and used in the state's 2230 schools. The minister's action followed revelations that students as young as 14 had been asked at school to place themselves in an imaginary world dominated by homosexuals and lesbians.

Ms Tebbutt banned the program used at a western Sydney high school in which Year 9 children were told to visualise themselves being kissed by a member of the same sex. The controversial lesson, branded by critics as "brainwashing and social engineering", provoked an avalanche of letters to The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

The Teachers' Federation wrote to Ms Tebbutt stating it was "appalled" by her decision to cut the program. "The program clearly fits properly within Board of Studies syllabuses and Department of Education and Training guidelines," federation general-secretary Barry Johnson said. Mr Johnson said the minister would be aware of the number of suicides of young people who were homosexual or perceived to be homosexual. He said the bullying of young people in those circumstances was horrific and programs such as the one she had just banned would help alleviate it.

But Ms Tebbutt reaffirmed yesterday teachers would be stopped from using the material presented to Year 9 students at the western Sydney school. She said she was not happy the "inappropriate" material had been used but it was an isolated incident. "It is not in line with Government policy. Clearly it is not the case that it is happening in every classroom," she said. "I can reassure parents our teachers are focusing on the basics of literacy and numeracy." Ms Tebbutt said she had told senior officers she was "not happy". Bureaucrats were told to "lift their game".

Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson said the Commonwealth already had asked state education authorities for details of sex education programs in all schools - public and independent. "I think we need to get a reasonable idea of what is being provided, at what age is it being provided, and to be satisfied that school communities think that the sex education that is provided to their children is appropriate," Dr Nelson said.


No comments: