Religion Needs the Poor

A new study by the Pew Research Center predicts that the global percentage of those who are religiously unaffiliated will decline in the next coming decades. It is a prediction that seems on face value to go against trends of an increase in those who are ostensibly less religious than in previous decades – especially in Western nations.

One theory is that existential security is inversely proportional to religious commitment. Put simply, “existential security” is the level at which I feel my life is at risk. It’s a good measure of happiness as well.

So if I live in a society where healthcare is universal, for example, and quality of life is stronger and more secure, my religious commitment will likely decline. I will also have more access to birth control and engage in less risky behaviors. These are the pockets where religion has less a hold on the community. When we take away those social securities, behaviors are more risky, people are less healthy, poorer, and more desperate. Existential crises are petri dishes for religious experimentation, for religion to be a social carrier, and the psychological desire or assumed need for a God or salvation. A less economically advantaged nation will naturally have a higher probability of existential insecurity.

(S)ocial vulnerability and lack of human development drive both religiosity and population growth. This means that the total number of religious people continues to expand around the globe, even while secularization is also taking place in the more affluent nations (Norris & Inglehart, 2006, p. 64).

The happiest nations are by far not the most religious. These trends are deep in the sociology of religion literature. However, one variable to bear in mind is the way that different religions carry societies. In previous centuries, Christianity carried both wealth and social mobility in the West. It is not an effective carrier in these societies as it once was. Islam and its network of banks and other social mechanisms designed to institute and maintain existential security are creating different patterns of religious behavior and may actually aid in its expansion.

Some social theorists have suggested that as countries develop economically, more of their residents will move away from religious affiliation, as has been seen in Europe. But there is little evidence of such a phenomenon in Muslim-majority countries. Moreover, in Hindu-majority India, religious affiliation is still nearly universal despite rapid economic and social change.

It will be interesting to see if Islam follows a similar pattern. As it carries people into a more existentially secure state of mind, will it continue to have the same sway over belief?

Even with this variable accounted for, the relationship between having one’s life at risk and becoming more religious seems to be continually supported in what we are finding out about patterns in religion worldwide.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, indeed.

It’s About Personhood Not Sexuality, Indiana

The fundamental problem behind the “religious freedom” laws of Indiana and Arkansas isn’t sex. The problem is that non-heteronormative people are simply not full persons. They are not given the same rights and are not afforded the same protections as other classes of human beings under the law.

The root is buried deep in the theologically informed notion that non-heteronormative people are defective. They are impure and unclean. Allowing something that is unclean or impure in your presence is something that puts your own purity in danger. This is old school Jewish purity law which the Christian right just loves to cite ad nauseum (and likely incorrectly). As being gay is fundamentally a defect in what constitutes a full human being, it is not in the state’s interest to protect that part of the person. And so, this “religious freedom” law is not actually discrimination, but civil rights for those persons who do not accept any behaviors that are “defective.”

This reasoning includes a specific reading of the bible that colors what “America” means and who its citizens are. America has rather high, although often arbitrary purity codes about what makes someone a full person.

This is where the state needs to step in and protect all classes of citizens. Right now the state has no compelling interest in any non-heteronormative person. None. Equality in marriage fixes a symptom but not does not get at the root of the problem: the religious force of these laws from the religious mission of these lawmakers is telling them that a homosexual is not a full person. It is a religious mission as such a discriminating set of criteria of what makes someone a full person otherwise would not fall under the umbrella of a specific kind of religious protection.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not give any direct help to a non-heteronormative person, “Title VII doesn’t forbid discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation.” It explicitly protects religious affiliation and belief. The current action is to protect a group that is already a protected class under federal law making it even easier to discriminate against a non-protected group under that same law. That sounds really messed up.

Indiana is now trying to clarify the law by saying that the law is not discriminatory. However the fundamental nature of the law is to protect people in their discriminatory behaviors if those behaviors are motivated by religious need. It is a law that opens the door to other sorts of religiously based discrimination just as long as the state does not have a compelling interest in those that the law discriminates against. It will devolve into absurd proportions and it should. When lawmakers are this near-nearsighted, the laws need to be tested by those who carefully walk on its very edge so we can all see where it goes. Case-in-point: The First Church of Cannabis, Inc.

The church’s founder Bill Levin said he filed paperwork in direct response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last Thursday. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”

Where they will test the law is if they light up a joint or get baked in church. On face value, this would get them arrested under the ruling of Employment Division v. Smith where it was ruled smoking peyote for sacramental purposes was not protected and Smith was not entitled to his unemployment. Indiana has not legalized pot for medicinal or recreational purposes. So we’ll wait and see.

We need to question our values. Is it right, under any circumstances, or under any set of observable behaviors, to classify any human being as less than a full person and so not recognized as such by the state?We did this with women by denying them the vote as well as to African-Americans by denying them any basic civil rights which for a long time was legal because they had no personhood. We also do this with criminals.

Discrimination is the actual force of the law for non-heteronormative people, as a minority group of citizens that is not a protected legal class. The politicians can talk about “intent” all day long, but when they back-pedal on the actual effect of the law as written, they not only must think we are stupid; but they are lying to us.