secularism

Pew gap 2020: Thinking about Emma Green, sad Trump voters and woke wing of Democratic Party

Pew gap 2020: Thinking about Emma Green, sad Trump voters and woke wing of Democratic Party

As the 2020 White House race draws closer, I think I hear a familiar train a comin’. Or maybe it’s this slow train, coming up around the bend. I’ve already bought my new political t-shirt for the months ahead.

Whatever you want to call it, the train that’s coming is more and more coverage of Donald Trump and his white evangelical voters — both enthusiastic supporters and reluctant ones. It’s the same train that so many mainstream journalists spotted in 2016, but never took the time to understand (or were unwilling to make that effort, for some strange reason).

The bottom line: They thought the whole “81 percent” thing was a story about the Republican Party and the Republican Party, alone.

As for me, I keep thinking about all the church-goin’ people that I know who really, really, really do not want to vote for Trump. Yet they hear the train a comin’, since they remain worried about all those familiar issues linked to the First Amendment, abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court, etc. (Click here for my breakdown on the various evangelical voting camps in the Trump era.)

So what is happening on the Democratic Party side of this story?

That brings me to a short, but important, essay by Emma Green (she’s everywhere, these days) that ran at The Atlantic Monthly website with this headline: “Pete Buttigieg Takes Aim at Religious Hypocrisy.” It starts you know where:

On the debate stage, Buttigieg gave voice to a view that has become common among Democratic voters: Many of Trump’s policies, along with his conduct as president, do not reflect Christian values. “The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,” Buttigieg said. “We should call out hypocrisy when we see it.”

Many religious conservatives, of course, agree with that statement, that Trump’s conduct doesn’t “reflect Christian values.” His policies? That’s a bizarre, very mixed bag, for most religious conservatives that I know.

Back to Green:

This has been a theme throughout Buttigieg’s campaign. The mayor has spoken openly about his religious faith and rallied religious rhetoric to his advantage: This spring, he called out Mike Pence for his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying, “Your quarrel, sir, it is with my creator.”

This is a departure from the usual playbook for the Democratic Party.

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Pilgrimage: Normandy and Lourdes defy the stereotypes of France's ardent secularism

Pilgrimage: Normandy and Lourdes defy the stereotypes of France's ardent secularism

For such a secular country, there are certainly lots of religious symbols to be found in France and religious institutions and activities continue to make news.

The country and many of its citizens do pride themselves on the principle of laicite — French for secularism — but is there really an absence of religion in public life?

Not really. It’s true that Notre Dame, one of the biggest symbols of European Christianity for centuries, has been cordoned off for the past two months after a tragic fire, deemed accidental, destroyed the roof. The cathedral, which will undergo a major renovation, is off limits to tourists. Nonetheless, the towering house of worship remains a symbol of Paris and part of this beautiful city’s skyline. The city’s other churches worth a visit include the Church of Saint Sulpice and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, known as Sacre-Coeur.

Outside Paris, God’s visibility is even more pronounced. Two very different sites — Lourdes, one of the holiest in the world for Roman Catholics, and the U.S. cemetery at Normandy — have the ability to bring visitors closer to God in very different ways. There are reminders everywhere of the country’s religious past and how that symbolism continues to play a part in the lives of millions, both visitors and residents, who visit them. As a result, it’s not so unusual for tour operators to include packages to visit both sites.

It is worth noting that this notion of secularism, as it pertains to French government policies, was the result of a law passed in 1905 calling for this strict separation of church and state. While true that religious symbols have been removed from French public life (a possible reason why so many Muslims have found integration so difficult), Lourdes and Normandy may be the two places where this very human law seems to not apply.

First stop on this countrywide pilgrimage is Lourdes. A six-hour train ride (fares range from $134 to $193 roundtrip) from Paris gets you to Lourdes, a southern trip through the French countryside until finally pulling into the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. While many take trains into Lourdes to embark on their pilgrimage, many from across Europe (particularly those from neighboring Italy and Spain) board coach buses to get there.

Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site after a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to see the Blessed Virgin Mary on Feb. 11, 1858 through a vision. Soubirous would see Mary another 17 times near a grotto over the course of five months. Unaware she was having a vision, Mary told the girl: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”  

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When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

When the queen dies: What, precisely, will cause England to slide into grief?

I guess it is sort of strange to complain about a heavy emphasis on business and economics in a story published at BusinessInsider.com.

Nevertheless, I found myself wanting to know more after reading the recent feature that ran with this headline: "The death of Queen Elizabeth will be one of the most disruptive events in Britain in the past 70 years." Yes, I sense a religion ghost here.

I have read several reports about the planning that is going on behind the scenes, as British leaders brace themselves for this seismic shift in their culture. There are so many details to describe and, yes, lots of them are linked to economics and trade.

England's currency will need to change, along with all passports. God Save the Queen will, of course, return to God Save the King. Police uniforms will be tweaked. Old questions will resurface about the status of the monarchy and the British Commonwealth. The public events linked to her death will cost billions of pounds.

Check out this overture. It may even help to read it out loud, to get the reverent tone right:

Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, is not going to live forever.

Since ascending to the throne in 1952, the monarch has seen 13 prime ministers serve Britain and lived through another 13 US presidents. She's now 92. At some point -- not for many years yet, we hope -- Queen Elizabeth II's reign will come to an end.

But what happens then? For at least 12 days -- between her passing, the funeral and beyond -- Britain will grind to a halt. The chaos will cost the UK economy billions in lost earnings. The stock markets and banks are likely to close. And both the funeral and the subsequent coronation will become formal national holidays, each with an estimated economic hit to gross domestic product of £1.2 billion to £6 billion($1.6 billion to $7.9 billion), to say nothing of organisational costs.

Yes, that's a lot of money and that's part of the story.

However, there are even larger issues lurking in the background that, frankly, have to do with history and national identity.

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More secular attacks on burkinis: The New York Times explains why this is not about religion

More secular attacks on burkinis: The New York Times explains why this is not about religion

All week long, there has been a wave of news coverage about the burkini wars (earlier post here) in the very tense land that is postmodern France.

Part of the problem is that public officials are not sure what has been banned. One Muslim woman was sent home from the beach for wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt and pants, with a head scarf, according to The New York Times. Another got in trouble for wearing a "competition bathing suit" with a head cap. There appears to be confusion about whether it's illegal for Muslim women to take a stroll on a beach while wearing the hijab.

Meanwhile, one Muslim voice argued that it's progress that some Muslim women want to go to the beach at all, since a wet burkini still reveals the shape of their bodies. Progress!

In terms of journalism, the good news is that some reporters are beginning to explore what this story says about the links between French colonialism and the nation's aggressive approach to secularism -- which argues that all religious faiths must kneel before the powers of a superior French culture based on secularism, venerating modern saints such as Brigitte Bardot and Roger Vadim. I ticked off a few readers in an earlier post by suggesting this is a clash between Sharia law and a kind of secular Sharia law.

However, one still gets the impression that members of the college of cardinals in the Times newsroom are still clicking their heels together and chanting, "This is not about religion," "This is not about religion," "This is not about religion."

Well, it's hard not to sense a religion ghost in this haunted headline: "Fighting for the ‘Soul of France,’ More Towns Ban a Bathing Suit: The Burkini." The irony, of course, is that Prime Minister Manuel Valls and others have been placed in the uncomfortable position of arguing that their goal is to liberate women, by telling them what they can and cannot do.

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Adventures in secular laws and faith: BBC takes shallow dip into Cannes burkini debates

Adventures in secular laws and faith: BBC takes shallow dip into Cannes burkini debates

If you were covering a radical Islamist government's decision to ban Western swimwear on the beaches in its territory (a) who would you interview and (b) would you include any information about the religious/legal beliefs that shaped the decision?

Of course you would focus on the religion angle in the story, probing to see precisely what kind of Islamic vision was at work in this decision. It's not enough to say that Sharia law was at work and leave it at that, because there are many different approaches to Islamic law and its enforcement in the Muslim world.

So what if you turned this equation around, as in the BBC report that ran under this headline: "Cannes bans burkinis over suspected link to radical Islamism." Here is the overture of this online report from the tense land of France:

The mayor of Cannes in southern France has banned full-body swimsuits known as "burkinis" from the beach, citing public order concerns.
David Lisnard said they are a "symbol of Islamic extremism" and might spark scuffles, as France is the target of Islamist attacks. ...
Anyone caught flouting the new rule could face a fine of €38 (£33). They will first be asked to change into another swimming costume or leave the beach.
Nobody has been apprehended for wearing a burkini in Cannes since the edict came into force at the end of July.

Ah, some readers might say, this action was not based on religion. It was the response of a secular government to religious symbols that it has decided are, in effect, threatening. As the BBC story quickly notes, in 2011 French officials banned both full-face Islamic burkas as well as hijabs that cover part of the face.

So the burkini wars are not a matter of religion, but of an anti-religion?

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Religion journalists: Why are the UN's ten 'happiest' nations all secular-oriented?

Religion journalists: Why are the UN's ten 'happiest' nations all secular-oriented?

So, how are you today? Feel OK about your life? Are you happy?

Chances are you're more likely to answer those questions affirmatively -- while smiling broadly, no doubt -- if you reside in Denmark rather than, let's say, Burundi. Or if you live in Switzerland and not -- get ready for another shocker -- Syria or Afghanistan.

At least, so says the pretentiously named World Happiness Report produced for the United Nations by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of economists, psychologists, public health experts and others.

Most of its conclusions seem beyond obvious. (You don't see many Danes or Swiss risking their lives, and those of their children, to illegally enter Burundi, Syria or Afghanistan, do you?) However, the report does contain a few surprises.

For example, Israelis -- who face knife attacks and other small-scale terrorist actions on a daily basis and who live with the Islamic State, Hizbollah and Hamas on their borders -- say they are happier as a nation than do Germans, Britons, the French and Italians. And even Americans. Israel was listed by the report as the 11th happiest nation on Earth, while the U.S. placed 13th.

Apparently humans prefer facing possible death on the streets than the endless drip-drip torture of presidential primary debates. I can relate.

But I jest. So let me get serious and suggest that the report has much to offer journalists. It's haunted by religion ghosts -- which is to say, there's a host of extractable story ideas in it for journalists inclined to explore the nature of human happiness today from a psychological, spiritual and religious perspective.

Religion writers; I'm looking at you.

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Franklin Graham: Another Trump? Yes and no, RNS profile says

Franklin Graham: Another Trump? Yes and no, RNS profile says

The Religion News Service takes a skeptical but fair-minded look at Franklin Graham -- his beliefs, his politics, his differences from his famed father, Billy Graham -- in a satisfyingly long profile rolled out for Super Tuesday week.

And no, that’s not a chance coincidence, as Godbeat veteran Cathy Lynn Grossman crafts the story:

While Donald Trump campaigns to "Make America great again," Franklin Graham, facing a nation where conservative believers are losing cultural clout, wants to make it Christian again. Week after week, he stands on winter-wind-swept statehouse steps and exhorts crowds like a biblical Nehemiah, warning people to repent to rebuild Jerusalem — with a gospel twist. He urges them to pray first and then vote for Bible-believing evangelical candidates.
But you can’t vote for him.
"No, no!" he is "absolutely not" running for office, said Graham, who tends to rat-a-tat-tat his points.
Instead, he exhorts his listeners to run themselves, starting with local city and county offices. Imagine, he says at every tour stop, the impact on society if "the majority of the school boards were controlled by evangelical Christians."

This sweeping, 2,200-word article is impressive, though not without a couple of issues. It tells of Franklin's rise in building the Samaritan's Purse charity, from a small medical mission into one of the largest disaster relief and development agencies in the U.S. And it adroitly parallels the presidential primary campaigns with Franklin's $10 million "Decision America" barnstorming tour, which often "takes him into town just ahead of a primary or caucus."

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The New York Times probes (sort of) the heart of Bernie Sanders, a 'non-Jewish Jew'

The New York Times probes (sort of) the heart of Bernie Sanders, a 'non-Jewish Jew'

Once again, it's time to talk about the media coverage of Bernie Sanders and his now you see it, now you don't approach to Judaism. The New York Times headline is pretty predictable: "Bernie Sanders Is Jewish, but He Doesn’t Like to Talk About It."

This new piece addresses all kinds of issues and answers a few questions that mainstream journalists missed in the past -- which kibbutz did he live in as a young man (a socialist one), what are his views on hot-button issues linked to Israel (he's with the Israeli left, seeking a two-state solution that backs Israel’s right to exist as well as a Palestinian homeland).

Nevertheless, as I read this piece I kept thinking about Jimmy Carter and the media storm in 1976 when the elite American press was forced to wrestle with the term "born again Christian." That's ordinary language in the Sunbelt and Middle America, but part of an unknown tongue in major chunks of the media-rich urban Northeast.

I understand that many journalists in New York City needed time to grasp the basics of evangelical Christianity. Hey, 40 years later lots of elite journalists are still wrestling with that.

However, is it really big news at The New York Times that there are million of people of Jewish heritage whose identity centers more on matters of culture than on the practice of the Jewish faith? I found it strange that this A1 Times piece basically let rabbis explain Sanders to America. Where are the quotes from articulate Jewish atheists and agnostics? Other than insights from his brother, Larry Sanders, where are the voices of the secular Jews?

Bernie Sanders is pretty normal, statistically speaking. He appears to be a secular, cultural Jew (not that there's anything wrong with that).

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Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Think of them as the three laws of spiritual physics when it comes to the demographics of faith. The bottom line is that religious groups thrive when:

* Believers have children.

* Believers pass their faith on to their children, the children retain that faith and some of these children even embrace vocations as clergy or workers with the faith.

* Believers reach out to others and spread the faith in service and evangelism.

As we like to say here at GetReligion: Demographics is destiny, and so is doctrine.

You could certainly see these factors at play in the recent "Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts"(.pdf copy here) conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

The bottom line: Catholicism is on ice in Europe and on fire in Africa and Asia. You can read some of the details in my "On Religion" column this week, but here's the bottom line: It's hard for a faith to survive, let alone thrive, when it isn't producing children, clergy and new believers. Heed these thoughts from CARA's Mark Gray:

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