Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Youth shun religious right
February 2, 2013
Young adults have taken a dramatic leap from faith. These youthful Americans reject the religious right’s bossy, sanctimonious spirit. Like Pontius Pilate, a third of adults under 30 have washed their hands evangelical politics. They avoid religious affiliation whatsoever, reports the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life. Pew polls indicate these religiously unaffiliated “overwhelmingly think the religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”The religious right’s political power peaked in the 2004 presidential election. Then George W. Bush started his second term, boasting he had a large reservoir of political capital from which to draw. A trademark smirk on his face, Bush aligned himself with the religious right’s agenda. It included prayer in public schools, a military build-up in Iraq, editing of textbooks so that the United States was written up as a Christian nation at its birth, tax credits for parochial schools, dismantling Social Security with its guaranteed supplemental income, and right to life winning over Planned Parenthood.Since 2004, the evangelical voting bloc’s credibility has nosedived. Political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, in their respected 2010 book “American Grace,” linked young adults’ cold shoulders toward organized religion with the religious right’s clout in the White House under Bush II. The under-30s aren’t interested in the religious right’s agenda. They’re offended at religious lobbies that assault sensibilities by exploiting insulting bumper stickers. Formerly, leaders of the religious right assumed it didn’t matter if their moral stance sounded cranky. Battling perceived evil, they sidestepped the scriptural wisdom to “put … away anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8). Putnam and Campbell found the religious right’s victory in the 2004 presidential election alienated young voters. When the religious right began their battle against gay marriage, the younger-than-30-crowd ditched organized religion. Young adults regard an attack against gays’ right to marry as an encroachment on personal liberties. If the religious right succeeded in their anti-gay campaign, might they also legally forbid young adults from living together before marriage? Young adults divorced from organized religion find suffocating excessive public God talk. They’re turned off by it. It’s not part of their vocabulary.During the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, candidates roiled political waters. Herman Cain loved God and acted like a huckster peddling his book. Michele Bachmann, with fixed eyes that rarely blinked, believes in Creationism, which teaches the Earth is 6,000 years old. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the religious right’s puppet. Stern Rick Santorum scared people. Young adults objected to his right vs. wrong Roman Catholic faith, which smacked of an Inquisition mentality. Then the tea party-controlled House of Representatives passed an obvious resolution favoring “In God We Trust” as our national motto. God won in a landslide, 396 to 9. A waste of time is how young adults saw this legislative grandstanding. Enough already! More young adults turned a deaf ear.Labeled “Nones,” these youthful voters scorn all traditional religious labels for belief and practice. They want none of them. They reject investing in organized religion which has no market among their interests. Appearances are deceiving. At best, the religious right achieved a pyrrhic victory in 2004. When evangelicals returned Bush II to the White House, the effects of this election were superficial, lacking depth to draw the emerging generation into the religious Right.Diana Butler Bass, a respected Episcopal sifter of religious trends, tells what really occurred. “Unnoticed by elite observers,” she observes in “Christianity After Religion: the End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening” (2012, p. 80), “the conservative evangelical admixture of faith and politics was at odds with the cultural and spiritual values of younger Americans – particularly with regard to views of women, same-sex relationships, the environment, issues of global poverty, and legalization of marijuana. Young evangelicals tired of their parents’ political and social agenda, leading them to wonder if the Bible and theology they had been taught were true.”The Nones practice hands-off toward all organized religion. They feel it stifles the human spirit. The under-30s aren’t willing to sacrifice personal freedoms for the religious right’s rigid beliefs and repressive moral agenda.The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.