Pew Finds Increasing Percentage of Americans Disagree with Religion: US Political Implications

(SCF) – On October 16th, Pew headlined “A growing share of Americans say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral”, and reported that, “Most U.S. adults now say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values (56%), up from about half (49%) who expressed this view in 2011. This increase reflects the continued growth in the share of the population that has no religious affiliation, but it also is the result of changing attitudes among those who do identify with a religion, including white evangelical Protestants.”

This development represents a basic change in American culture. No previous Pew poll had found that a majority of Americans believed this way — believed that no religion (not theirs, nor anyone else’s) possesses the authority to define ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

No dictum of any religion is more basic than is the dictum that its view of things defines what is right and wrong — that it sets the foundation for being a ‘good’ person, by it’s stating what ‘God’ wants, and what ‘God’ prohibits. Each religion, and each sect within each religion, exists as a group (or as a faith) in order to promulgate its own view of what ‘God’ wants, and in order to define ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in accord with that Scripturally-based opinion — the religion or sect’s opinion — about what ‘God’ wants. This is why, in some religions, adherents may kill non-believers: nonbelievers don’t hold the same view of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

For anyone to say that “It is not necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values” — which is how Pew had phrased this choice to its respondents — is to say that the core belief of any religion, and the belief that enables and supports any social institution of, and moral authority of, any religion, is false. This is to say that religion itself is based upon selling a fraud. It’s to say that religion’s basisof authority, some ‘God’, is fake. It’s to say that the given individual does not obtain his or her own conception of what is ‘right’ and of what is ‘wrong’ from any Scripture, because no Scripture possesses such authority — no Scripture comes from any real “God.” Only human individuals write those documents; and, even if those writers believed that they were channeling some ‘God’, the individual was the actual source, no actual ‘God’ was (even if that individual honestly thought it was).

This was not a question about whether some “God” exists (it’s not a question about atheism versus theism); it was a question about whether anyone’s version of “God” — if a God does exist — merits to be trusted as being an accurate representation of God. That trust (the trust in Scripture) is now a minority position in America. America is now majority-secular, minority-religious.

Gallup has figures on this general topic going back much farther than Pew’s merely six years — going back 41 years, to be exact — and Gallup’s polling, during that entire time, shows even more clearly how unprecedented the situation on this matter now is. Gallup bannered, on 15 May 2017, “Record Few Americans Believe Bible Is Literal Word of God”, and their polling, regarding whether the question asking if the Bible is the “actual word of God to be taken literally,” showed that Americans’ affirmation of that fundamentalist view averaged 38% during the period 1976-1984, and it twice peaked at 40% during that period, but then during 1991-2007 it averaged only 31%; and, now, in 2017, it’s down to only 24%, which is the all-time low recorded during the over four decades of Gallup’s polling on that question.

This radical change in American culture has major implications in politics, not only in theoretical matters such as ethics and morality.

In order to explain the connection to politics, a landmark masterpiece of U.S. political reporting, Jane Mayer’s 23 October 2017 “The Danger of President Pence”, is especially relevant, not only because of what it reveals about Vice President Mike Pence, but because of what it reveals about President Donald Trump — and, indirectly, because of important confirmatory evidence that Mayer’s article provides: additional confirmation for the only scientific study which has ever been done of whether or not the U.S. Government is a democracy or a dictatorship, a study that was done of a mass of empirical evidence and which found that we live under a dictatorship by the super-rich and their agents, and that the U.S. Government does the bidding of only the super-rich. Those findings, of an American dictatorship by wealth, are narratively exemplified in Mayer’s account of Trump and of Pence. Her article is a stunning narrative demonstration of those massive empirical findings. Her description — both of the persons of Trump and of Pence, and of the process by which these two men came to lead this country — portrays an American President, and an American Vice President, who despise the majority of Americans, despise the American public, who are neither wealthy, nor (especially in the latest polled figures) religious; and, what that empirical scientific study had found was that the U.S. Government represents only the super-rich, not at all the poorer 99% of the U.S. population. If the October 16th Pew finding is correct, then also the majority of the U.S. population (which used to be religious) is no longer even religious; and, so, America’s two top political leaders are then not representative of the American people, either economically or religiously — they are unrepresentative both in their own persons (their respective two systems of values), and also in regards to the persons whom they feel themselves obligated to serve in their respective positions as U.S. public officials. Portrayed in Mayer’s report are a libertarian and a theocrat, who are leading a nation of individuals who are neither libertarians nor theocrats. Precisely at this moment of all-time-low fundamentalist Christianity, the most Christian-fundamentalist person perhaps ever to occupy national elective office, Mike Pence, is now the U.S. Vice President — and the person above him, President Donald Trump, is possibly even more unrepresentative, in his worshipping money instead of ‘God’. Although “Greed is good” was first elected to the Presidency in 1980 (even if it was a minority viewpoint at that time), CBS News issued on 5 November 2014 their poll on the question of whether the American public agree with the view (the basic libertarian belief, and which Ayn Rand championed for the most famously) that “Greed is good,” and the finding was 78% “Disagree” and 19% “Agree.” And yet, at a time like this, we’ve got extreme representatives of both of those very unpopular value-systems — fundamentalist Christianity, and libertarianism — occupying our nation’s two highest elective offices.

Mayer’s article documents that Pence is a fanatic fundamentalist Christian — a literalist interpreter of the Bible and of biblical laws — who thinks that he has been chosen by God to lead the American people, and she makes clear that Trump instead measures a person’s worth by how much wealth the individual controls. There is a strong crossover between those two viewpoints (both of which worship The Almighty, but Trump thinks money is the physical manifestation of it and is the measure of an individual’s worthiness, and Pence thinks that Scripture is). The crossover between the two viewpoints is comprised by fundamentalist Christian libertarians, such as the economist and historian Gary North, but neither of those two traditions (libertarianism, and fundamentalist Christianity) constitutes anything like a majority, nor even close to a majority, of the U.S. voting population; and, so, a question naturally arises as to what the reason is why those two men (each exemplifying a decidedly minority viewpoint) happen now to stand at the top of the U.S. government today; and the answer to this question likewise seems to be clearly indicated in Mayer’s article: neither Trump nor Pence could have won their high governmental posts but for the ideologically strongly libertarian U.S. aristocrats, the Koch brothers, and their extensive libertarian network of billionaire and centi-millionaire donors to political campaigns; plus the ideologically theocratic clergy, the “evangelicals,” and their biblical-law-respecting congregations. This fusion of the aristocracy with the theocracy, is a fascinating story, and Mayer managed to obtain amazing access to principals, and to their aides and confidants, in telling it.

Here are what I consider to be the core passages from Mayer’s fine article (this is a 574-word summary of her 13,400-word article, stated in its own words, by means of 6 passages in it):

The Kochs, who are not religious, may have been focussed more on pocketbook issues than on Pence’s faith. According to Scott Peterson, the executive director of the Checks & Balances Project, a watchdog group that monitors attempts to influence environmental policy, Pence was invited to the Koch seminar only after he did the brothers a major political favor. By the spring of 2009, Koch Industries, like other fossil-fuel companies, felt threatened by growing support in Congress for curbing carbon emissions, the primary cause of climate change. Americans for Prosperity devised a “No Climate Tax” pledge for candidates to sign, promising not to spend any government funds on limiting carbon pollution. At first, the campaign languished, attracting only fourteen signatures. The House, meanwhile, was moving toward passage of a “cap and trade” bill, which would charge companies for carbon pollution. If the bill were enacted, the costs could be catastrophic to Koch Industries, which releases some twenty-four million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year, and owns millions of acres of untapped oil reserves in Canada, plus coal-fired power plants and oil refineries. …

Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman at that point, arranged for Trump to meet Pence, and urged Trump to pick him. Pence was seen as a bridge to Christian conservatives, an asset in the Midwest, and a connection to the powerful Koch network. Kellyanne Conway, who had done polling work for the Kochs, pushed for Pence, too, as did Stephen Bannon, although private e-mails recently obtained by BuzzFeed indicate that he considered the choice a Faustian bargain — “an unfortunate necessity.”

Still, Trump remained wary. According to a former campaign aide, he was disapproving when he learned how little money Pence had. …

“Trump’s got the populist nationalists,” Bannon said. “But Pence is the base. Without Pence, you don’t win.” … 

The Kochs were delighted that one of their favorite politicians had joined the ticket, although, because of Trump’s stance against wealthy donors, Pence and the Kochs agreed to cancel a speech that he had been scheduled to give at their donor summit that August. The Kochs continued to withhold financial support from Trump, but Short, the former Koch operative, became a top adviser to Pence on the campaign. Some billionaires in the Kochs’ donor network — such as the hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, who has also financed Bannon’s ventures — began backing Trump.

The Koch network gained even further sway after Trump won the Presidency. …

Trump began to appoint an extraordinary number of officials with ties to the Kochs and to Pence, especially in positions that affected Koch Industries financially, such as those dealing with regulatory, environmental, and fiscal policy. …

A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!”. …

The passage, “‘Trump’s got the populist nationalists,’ Bannon said. ‘But Pence is the base. Without Pence, you don’t win’,”identifies Pence as the campaign’s real money-base, as its core fundraiser — the bait to attract the billionaires. Trump already had his ‘populist’ base, except what had previously been the fundamentalist Ted Cruz’s (whom the Kochs had earlier backed) fundamentalist-voter base; and, so, that passage indicates Trump’s having needed Pence in order for Trump to be able to win over also the Cruz voters (fundamentalist Christians), as well as to have the secular nationalist voters that Trump already had. It says that the Kochs, “who are not religious,” are using the Christian fundamentalists in order to increase their own wealth (by using those people’s faith — via people such as Pence — to batter-down the scientists’ findings that carbon-gases cause global warming).

This is consistent with the view that, whereas (as the linked-to scientific study had found) the U.S. is ruled by its aristocracy, this aristocracy consists of two wings —Republican and Democratic — who battle between themselves for control over ‘the peoples’ Government. (It’s shown there to be actually the aristocracy’s government.) On the Republican side, it’s mainly the fundamentalist Christians who are being manipulated, and Mayer’s article deals very well with that side of the dictatorship. However — as might be expected, since the New Yorkeris a Democratic Party ‘news’medium — her article (and that magazine generally) ignores the methods that Democratic Party billionaires and centi-millionaires employ to control ‘the other side’ of America’s oligarchic Government. Such an investigation would focus not on people like the Kochs and their friends, but on people like the Soros’s and theirs. The rackets can be different, even if the racketeering is basically the same, and Mayer has described here only the Republican racket (fusion of the aristocracy with the theocracy). Democratic billionaires tend to get favorable, instead of unfavorable, press in the New Yorker. Her article thus should be read by anyone who wants to understand the Republican side of the U.S. dictatorship. The Democratic side’s racket is a racket that the New Yorker doesn’t report about, which is the reason they virtually booted Seymour Hersh for his having had the temerity to cover both rackets honestly, in his reporting about international affairs (which now is being published mainly by the London Review of Books).

Image Source: Patrick Denker, Flickr, Creative Commons

This is what’s meant by “The Establishment.” There are two sides to it: there’s one bad side; and, there’s also another bad side. America’s Establishment has two sides. It’s not merely one bad side. It’s not only the side that Mayer’s article describes so well.

This report prepared by ERIC ZUESSE for Startegic Culture Foundation.