We did it! Faithless, churchless, secular, non-believing Americans are on the political march. So says a fascinating story in the New York Times, "Christian Right Failed to Sway Voters on Issues."
Christian conservatives, for more than two decades a pivotal force in American politics, are grappling with Election Day results that repudiated their influence and suggested that the cultural tide — especially on gay issues — has shifted against them.
They are reeling not only from the loss of the presidency, but from what many of them see as a rejection of their agenda. They lost fights against same-sex marriage in all four states where it was on the ballot, and saw anti-abortion-rights Senate candidates defeated and two states vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
(Sadly, in the state where I live, Oregon, a citizen initiative that would have legalized marijuana failed to pass. But happily, Washington state passed marijuana legalization, including its sale in officially sanctioned stores. I'm predicting a tourism boom between Oregon and Washington.)
Back in 2004, after the Bush-Kerry presidential contest, I started this blog because I was so upset with how Christian fundamentalists had swayed the election in Bush's favor. They'd come out in droves to vote for hateful anti-gay marriage ballot measures in many states.
So it's hugely satisfying to learn that Americans are turning away from that sort of misguided religiosity. Once again, the Christian right put a lot of time, money, and effort into defeating candidates and initiatives that offended their rigid moral sensibilities.
Didn't work this time.
“Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.
“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”
I'm proud of voters in Washington state. Along with legalizing marijuana, they defeated an initiative that would have overturned legislative approval of gay marriage. Until this election no state had endorsed gay marriage through a vote of the people.
But last Tuesday Maine, Maryland, and Washington did so. The times are a'changing, to quote Bob Dylan. It just has taken longer than us flower children types expected back in the '60s. The United States took a moralistic Christian turn for quite a while, which now is reversing according to the NY Times story.
The election results are just one indication of larger trends in American religion that Christian conservatives are still digesting, political analysts say. Americans who have no religious affiliation — pollsters call them the “nones” — are now about one-fifth of the population over all, according to a study released last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The younger generation is even less religious: about one-third of Americans ages 18 to 22 say they are either atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular. Americans who are secular are far more likely to vote for liberal candidates and for same-sex marriage. Seventy percent of those who said they had no religion voted for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.
Not surprising. However, what is surprising to me is how so many Republicans are supportive of policies that limit individual freedom.
This is a core contradiction in American conservatism: right-wingers want to keep government out of people's lives, except when it comes to who people can marry, what psychoactive substances they can ingest, whether women can choose to have a baby, and other decisions that libertarians seemingly should support -- but most Republicans don't.
My theory is that conservatives in this country have been infected with religion to a much greater extent than conservatives in other Western nations are. This disease weakens their commitment to individual liberty, because religions want control over people, believing that they alone know what pleases God.
And it isn't libertarian-style freedom.
So it is the secularists and other open-minded voters who adhere to values that should appeal to small-government Republicans: allowing people to marry whoever they want; to use marijuana if they want; to have an abortion if they want; to have access to insurance coverage for contraceptives if they want.
I've got some advice for the recently soundly-defeated Republican Party. You'd get much more support from a much larger proportion of the electorate if you remained conservative on economic issues, and became more liberal on social issues.
That's a formula which could work for you, given changing demographics. Relying on your traditional base, older white religious voters, is a recipe for continued electoral defeats. Loosen up on dogmatic morality and tighten up on deficit reduction, tax reform, and similar fiscal stuff.