Religion escapes recession woes

“Hiding in plain sight…is a revolution in American Christendom, a change of heart that could see American Protestant churches looking increasingly like their European equivalents,” wrote Justin Webb in the article “Bible bashing dying out in Kansas” on the BBC News website in late December.

The BBC broadcasts a weekly radio show in which its journalists provide their perspective on the news and the issues in the communities they live in . The result, a program called “From Our Own Correspondent,” is a perspective on a wide swath of cultures and nations. The U.S. is no exception, and reflections on America can be enlightening.

The above sentence was the thesis of Webb’s narrative on his experiences in Kansas, a state that has historically been a stronghold of radical Christianity and has been ridiculed for its close call with the teaching of creationist theory in public schools.

Webb relates the story of Terry Fox, a “typical” Kansas reverend who presided over a standard issue Baptist mega-church until recently. His hellfire and brimstone sermons grew too out of touch with the congregation, and he was forced out—the new pastor says the chief concerns of the ministry are “human rights and the environment.”

According to Webb, this is but one example of a movement that is sweeping the U.S.—a dramatic shift away from the bible bashing Puritan wonderland of yore to a more secular society that is more in line with that of Europe.

Among certain groups he might actually be right. But in the overall, grand scheme of American demographics, the gulf between religion and decision-making has been vastly exaggerated. The influence of religion in the U.S., unlike the housing market, is far from a recession.

Witness, for instance, the fact that Mike Huckabee, a conservative presidential candidate with views that would shock most Europeans (“When people say, ‘We ought to separate politics from religion,’ I say to separate the two is absolutely impossible” is a choice quote), was able to comfortably win the primary in Iowa. It wasn’t the Chuck Norris endorsement that did it, folks—it was his appeal to the religious base in the state.

The presidential race is rife with examples of the strength of religion in the U.S. The current campaigns have seen the media question and analyze whether traits like Barack Obama’s race, Hillary Clinton’s gender or the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon will hurt their viability as a political candidate.

But the striking fact is that polls consistently report the single most unacceptable quality for a presidential candidate in the U.S. is to be an atheist. (Granted, if a candidate was a convicted felon that might be pretty bad as well, but last I checked atheism was not against the law.)

More people would elect an openly gay candidate than one who did not believe some flavor of Christianity. No, religion, and by connection the emphasis on “moral values” and faith in decision-making are not in the doldrums—not yet.

As for Webb’s article, well, it may be true that some mega-churches of today are no longer opting to actively proselytize against abortion, or regularly encourage its congregation not to tolerate the thought of gay marriage.

But at the end of the day, these remain the issues that drive voter decision making more often than not.

On a college campus we often find ourselves in small bubbles of people whose views are in line with our own, but those views can be radically different from the mainstream. The presidential election, then, serves as a good reminder of the true nature of this nation’s everyman.