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Thoughts on America no longer having a Protestant (ideological) majority

Thoughts on America no longer having a Protestant (ideological) majority

Recently, I read about a new poll whose headline caught my eye immediately: Protestants no longer a majority of Americans, study finds. It turns out that  a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Protestants have fallen to only 48% of the American public while people without a religious affiliation or do not have a faith have risen from 15% to 20% since 2007. The percentage of people who are unaffiliated rises to 32 in the 18-29-years-old bracket and it is growing every day.

To me this is good news (for reasons which should become clear in due course) but apparently it's (at least) a little disturbing to the author of the article in the LA Times, Teresa Watanabe (and possibly her editor) who wrote:

Protestants, whose ideals of hard work, individualism and democratic governance have fundamentally shaped the national character, no longer make up a majority of Americans for the first time in history…

In this polarized world where news media outlets seem to be incapable of reporting the news without telling people what they should think about it, it's hardly surprising to find rhetoric of this kind seeping its way into our discourse. That being said, ignorance is still ignorance and I feel that an ignorant statement should be pointed out; especially when it's slipped into the discourse in such an insulting and either underhanded or willfully ignorant way.

While Protestants have made up a majority of this country's population for most of its history, to say that hard work and individualism are exclusively Protestant ideals would be a travesty of the truth. Ideals of hard work and individualism are ideals shared by all people regardless of their faith or lack thereof. All you need to do is ask a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu or an agnostic/atheist to tell you where the ideals of hard work and individualism come from and you'll find that they are universal human ideals and very far from being unique to Protestantism. Because these ideals are enshrined in our laws in the USA, it makes us an attractive destination for the worlds oppressed and a beacon of emulation for other nations.

Similarly, the ideal of democratic governance predates Christianity (let alone Protestantism) by more than 500 years when the Greek city-state of Athens created the first democratic government. The democratic ideal was later adopted by Rome but was eventually discarded and then repressed by monarchies which used religion to justify and fortify their rule. The American founders fought against a God ordained king who sat on the throne of England. It was not Protestant ideals that brought democratic ideals back to the fore, it was the Enlightenment of the 17 and 18th centuries that brought about a weakening of the clergy and thus the need for religious tolerance and democratic change.

Aside: Actually, be to slightly underhanded myself in a theological sense, Protestantism (unlike Catholicism) preaches that it is not deeds that are the main act which makes one a good believer but that it merely having faith which is the only thing that is required to get into heaven: Rather lazy ideal don't you think?

If you're looking for specific Protestant ideological influence in America I can give you a few examples from history as well as modern times. It was mainly Protestant "ideals" that kept the practice of slavery alive for 400 years in this country until it lead to a horrifying war due to the Bible's endorsement and/or condoning of slavery. It was mainly Protestant "ideals" that kept institutionalized racism on the books until 1968 due to the importance people placed on the Bible. Today it is mainly Protestant ideals that institutionalize inequality again, this time for homosexuals. It is also mainly a Protestant ideal that is blocking funding (in the scientific supper power of the United States) for the most promising branch of medical research in human history thereby prolonging the barely tolerable suffering of tens of thousands of individuals afflicted with things like spinal chord injuries, Parkinson's Disease, cancer and a myriad of other ailments for which, embryonic stem cell research could produce treatments and/or cures.

As usual with rhetoric exalting religious values/ideals as being the foundation of the good in a society, something like the opposite is found to be the case when it's examined by using facts. Had Watanabe payed attention in history class, done any critical thinking and/or research before publishing, she would have known these things and perhaps not made the (ignorant almost to the point of being bigoted) comment that she did.

I could be wrong, just something to think about.


{Image: American Gothic, by Grant DeVolson Wood, Wikimedia Commons.}

About themanofearth

I'm a biologist, philosopher, and an agnostic atheist activist. My other work is viewable on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/themanofearth "Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you." ~ Christopher Hitchens
  • I too am so happy religion is fading. It has done some good things but over all it has been such an evil influence for so long. I enjoyed the article. Thanks

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