When I was in grade school, the young boys would fight
In the playground, to see whose religion was right
The Baptists, the Lutherans, the Methodists, too,
A handful of Catholics—well, more than a few—
A couple of Mormons, and some I-don’t-knows
Would argue religion, and soon come to blows
Too young to have had a good grasp of their fables
This battle of faiths was a fight between labels
“You’re wrong, and I’m right!” “I’m right and you’re wrong!”
We’d huff and we’d puff, and it wouldn’t take long
Before someone would lose it, and then throw a punch—
In the end, bloody noses, and icepacks at lunch.
Religion means splitting, and schisms and sects,
Perhaps inquisitions (which no one expects)
It’s in-group and out-group in sanctified form
Where “us versus them” is accepted as norm
Believers may gather as sisters and brothers
But often to join in a fight against others
So when did it change? When did Christians unite?
When did so many sects come together to fight?
It’s the strange sort of bedfellows politics makes
When the Truest of Christians align with the fakes
All good politicians, like God, will take notes—
And it’s all about winning. It’s all about votes.
Context, after the jump:
An op-ed today in the Los Angeles Times by (of all people) Penn Jillette, examines the changing nature of the “Christian” label in US culture:
Christian used to be a throwaway word. People didn’t used to use it much. People didn’t start self-labeling or getting labeled Christian until the last part of the 20th century. Before that, you might identify as a Baptist, or a Southern Baptist or a Methodist. But there wasn’t one identifier that put you in a fold with all the other believers.
In fact, every religious cult was afraid of every other religious cult. The bugnutty Pentecostals didn’t want the bugnutty Methodists to have too much power. There was no “Christian nation” for the simple reason that the Christians were afraid of one another. America was founded on Christians not trusting each other, and they sometimes seemed more willing to reach out to the godless than to someone from another sect.
Like I’ve argued here before (I thought it was here, but I know I said it more succinctly elsewhere), the success of atheism has forced an alignment among christian sects against a strong common enemy. As Penn puts it:
Atheists are growing way fast, from under 2% to about 8% just in this century. If you throw in self-labeled agnostics and those who identify as not religious, you’re getting up to around 20%. Evangelicals are about 26%, Catholics about 23%, Jews, 1.7%, Mormons also 1.7% — if you start breaking Christians up into their smaller groups, nonbelievers come close to being the dominant religion, if you can call no religion a religion, like calling not collecting stamps a hobby.
Let’s just hope our politicians keep expanding the group of people they want to serve. Rather than embracing Christian as the magic word of politics, we can move on to the truly magical word: American. And maybe we can even go a step further and make the magic word “humanity.”
I’d let that be the last word, but I do want to point people to the comments at the LA Times after Penn’s column. His language is… what we have come to expect from him. And some people cannot get beyond that. It does not matter what he says, what matters is how he has said it.