US Catholic bishops move toward denying Biden communion in political decision violating Vatican direction

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly voted on Friday to move toward chastising President Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, for his policies supporting and defending a woman's right to choose an abortion. It is the first official step toward denying the U.S. President communion. Biden personally opposes abortion but believes it should be a safe, protected, and legal right, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

The Bishops voted 168-55 to create a "teaching document," as NBC News reports, to serve as a "rebuke" of Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion. The Roman Catholic Church opposes the move.

"The Vatican has warned conservative American bishops to hit the brakes on their push to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights — including President Biden, a faithful churchgoer and the first Roman Catholic to occupy the Oval Office in 60 years," The New York Times reported Monday, suggesting the U.S. Bishops' move is just as much a political gesture as a religious rebuke.

"Some leading bishops, whose priorities clearly aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line — especially with a liberal Catholic in the Oval Office."

The Times reports the push to go after President Biden is being led by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles (photo), the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The focus of this proposed teaching document," Archbishop Gomez wrote in a memo, “is on how best to help people to understand the beauty and the mystery of the Eucharist as the center of their Christian lives."

But the Times noted the Vatican does not want "to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon," Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis, said.

Conservative American bishops were demanding "a strong rebuke of Biden," NBC notes, "because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while opponents warned that such action would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country."

Image of USCCB President José Horacio Gómez by Prayitno via Wikimedia and a CC license

US bishops set collision course with Vatican over plan to press Biden not to take Communion

A rift between conservative American bishops and the Vatican could be laid bare on June 16 as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets amid talk of a growing divide in the church over Pope Francis' leadership.

During the virtual event, U.S. bishops are expected to approve a motion to begin drafting a document on “Eucharistic coherence" that would exclude Catholic political figures who support abortion rights from receiving Communion

If they do proceed, the bishops will have opened a breach with Pope Francis and the Vatican, which has all but instructed the bishops not to go ahead with the motion.

They would also be putting the Catholic Church in the United States in unprecedented territory regarding its relationship with the wider Catholic community.

It all stems from a dilemma President Joe Biden poses for Catholic bishops. Many prominent Roman Catholics in public life – including Democrats such as Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – support abortion rights. Yet the Roman Catholic Church teaches that abortion is the taking of a human life, no different from murder, and so grave a sin that it incurs an automatic excommunication. This has led some bishops to grow concerned that a contradictory picture of Catholic faith is being presented to the public.

Their response is a pastoral statement on “Eucharistic coherence" that would instruct Catholics about when they should and should not receive Communion. The effect of that document would be to exclude Catholics like Biden and Pelosi from full participation in the church.

Communion, also known as the Eucharist, is the central act of Roman Catholic worship, in which Catholics receive bread and wine that they believe becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Church law particularly excludes from taking Communion those who are guilty of what is known as “manifest grave sin." This means no one who has committed a serious sin in a way that is publicly visible should receive Communion.

The bishops argue that in supporting abortion rights, Democrats like Joe Biden have made themselves unsuitable to take Communion.

As a scholar who studies Catholicism in political life, I argue that the proposed pastoral statement reflects existing divisions inside the Catholic Church that have been heightened by the election of Biden as president. Moreover, it will serve only to deepen the divide.

Greater authority?

Joe Biden is a devoted Catholic, attending Mass weekly and carrying a rosary everywhere he goes. He has talked many times about how important his faith is to him.

But his policy position on abortion jars with more conservative elements in the Catholic Church. In October 2019, a priest declined to give Communion to the then-presidential candidate when he presented himself at St. Anthony Church in Florence, South Carolina. The priest, who had never met Biden before, told reporters, “Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of church teaching."

The picture is not as clear as that priest suggests, and the Catholic Church's history of dealing with Catholic public officials is more inconsistent. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, for example, presided over a brutal regime of atrocities and torture known throughout the world, yet he received a Catholic burial in 1975 over which the archbishop of Toledo presided.

More pertinent to the Biden case, Pope John Paul II gave Communion in 2001 to Rome's mayor, Franceso Rutelli, who had campaigned to liberalize abortion laws. Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI gave Communion to Rudolph Giuliani, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry – all of whom support abortion rights.

The reason the issue has come up now in the U.S. appears to be more about concerns among bishops over their waning influence.

Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities and one of the main figures supporting a pastoral statement about Communion, told The Associated Press in April, “Whether intentional or not, [Biden is] trying to usurp our authority."

“He doesn't have the authority to teach what it means to be Catholic," Naumann continued; “that's our responsibility as bishops."

Naumann may have reasons to be concerned. A 2019 poll found that 63% of American Catholics have lost trust in Catholic bishops because of their handling of the ongoing crisis of sexual abuse.

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To many Catholics, Biden's presentation of Catholic faith as aligning with racial justice, economic justice, climate justice and health care justice offers a pointed contrast with bishops mired in scandal and unhappy about trends such as same-sex marriage in American culture.

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila wrote in mid-April about what he sees as the need to establish “Eucharistic coherence" through a pastoral statement that would set out when someone like Biden should not present himself for Communion. It seems many bishops like Aquila see that as the solution to their dilemma over Biden.

But not all bishops agree. Approximately 70 of the nearly-250 bishops in the U.S. signed a letter urging the bishops conference to slow down and consider this pastoral statement and its effects more carefully. Yet the great majority of U.S. bishops are as undeterred by that letter as they have been by urgings from Rome.

Communion 'not a prize'

This proposal for a document about “Eucharistic coherence" will come before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' virtual meeting, being held June 16-18. But even if a pastoral statement is written, the conference has no authority to enforce it on any particular bishop. The result would be an incoherent patchwork allowing each individual bishop to decide. Washington's Cardinal Wilton Gregory already has indicated he will not prevent Biden from receiving Communion. As such, the pastoral statement could serve only to highlight differences among many American bishops and the pope.

It also could backfire as an attempt to wrestle back authority for U.S. bishops. A preelection debate over the sincerity of Biden's Catholicism proved divisive among the faithful. Biden, through Baptism and participation in the other sacraments, is a Catholic. There is no question about that.

Because it reflects intense divisions in the church, this effort to disqualify the president from the sacraments and the church are, I believe, a threat to church authority today. Nothing that furthers or deepens those divisions will help the bishops or the Catholics that they lead. And the growing visibility of the divide between U.S. bishops and the pope is a threat to the church itself.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 5, 2021.

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Steven P. Millies, Associate Professor of Public Theology and Director of The Bernardin Center, Catholic Theological Union

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'Conning' their 'vulnerable' followers: Here's what Trump and a discredited televangelist have in common

When the Christian right invaded the Republican Party during the 1980s, Peter Popoff was among the televangelists who made millions of dollars. Popoff, a faith healer, was exposed as a major fraud — he wasn't really curing cancer patients as he claimed. Journalist Michael Siegel, in a lengthy article published by Ordinary Times on June 8, lays out the things that Popoff has in common with another con man: former President Donald Trump, explaining why their deluded followers have such a hard time accepting the truth.

Popoff and Trump are the same age: 74. Popoff was born on July 2, 1946, and Trump was born the previous month on June 14, 1946. Siegel's article is really about Trump more than Popoff, although he offers plenty of details about Popoff's embarrassing history — and Siegel stresses that when people have been conned, they are often in denial about it. Popoff still had his unwavering followers even after he was exposed as a fraud during the 1980s.

As anti-Trump and anti-Popoff as Siegel's piece is, he does more than slam them and makes a point of explaining their appeal.

Siegel observes, "One of the things that con men rely upon is a certain vulnerability…. Many are afraid of their nest eggs disappearing, which ironically, makes them vulnerable to the very people who want to rob their nests."

According to Siegel, "Con men — whether they prey on the rich or the poor, the powerful or the powerless — look for those who are at a crossroads. Those who want a chance to get ahead. Those who fear falling further behind. Those who have lost their status and want it back. A person comfortable in their life and their finances will realize the Nigerian Prince is too good to be true. A person nervous about their finances or desperate to move up in life may think this is the chance they've been waiting for."

Peter Popoff exposed - Part 1

Trump is much more dangerous than Popoff ever was, as Popoff never became president of the United States — although the Christian right movement that Popoff helped bring to the forefront of the GOP during the 1980s (along with the Moral Majority's Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr., Jimmy Swaggart, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and others) has been very damaging to the country. And Trump still has millions of devotees seven months after being voted out of office and four months into Joe Biden's presidency.

Many Trump devotees, according to polls, still believe the Big Lie: Trump's false claim that he was a victim of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. And Siegel explains why they are so "vulnerable," not unlike Popoff's followers.

"The Trump election fraud claim is something far more insidious than the standard-issue 'they stole our votes' cry of the defeated," Siegel warns. "It did, after all, culminate in an open attack on the Capitol to try to overturn the election. It is a claim that is not fading but being amplified by an increasing number of Republicans, becoming a litmus test in primaries. The Republicans just ousted their third most powerful Congress-critter because she had the temerity to say that Donald Trump was full of it."

Siegel continues, "I can certainly see why grifters like Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell are making this claim. There's money to be made by promoting these claims — the Trump campaign itself pulled in a quarter of a billion dollars with this scam. But why do rank-and-file Republicans believe this. Is it because they're stupid? They're no more stupid than anyone else. Is it because they're deluded by Fox News? Most of them don't watch it. No, I think it's something more basic, something that goes back to Peter Popoff and every other con artist that slithered down the pike. It's because they don't want to believe they were fooled."

Godless grifters: How the New Atheists merged with the far right

It was inspiring — really inspiring. I remember watching clip after clip of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens debating Christians, Muslims and "purveyors of woo," exposing the fatuity of their faith-based beliefs in superstitious nonsense unsupported by empirical evidence, often delivered to self-proclaimed prophets by supernatural beings via the epistemically suspicious channel of private revelation. Not that Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens were saying anything particularly novel — the inconsistencies and contradictions of religious dogma are apparent even to small children. Why did God have to sacrifice his son for our sins? Does Satan have free will? And how can the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be completely separate entities but also one and the same?

The "New Atheist" movement, which emerged from the bestselling books of the aforementioned authors, was the intellectual community that many of us 15 or so years ago were desperately looking for — especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which seemed to confirm Samuel P. Huntington's infamous "clash of civilizations" thesis. As Harris once put it, with many of us naively agreeing, "We are at war with Islam." (Note: This was a dangerous and xenophobic lie that helped get Donald Trump elected. As Harris said in 2006, anticipating how his brand of Islamophobia would enable Trump's rise, "the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.")

New Atheism appeared to offer moral clarity, it emphasized intellectual honesty and it embraced scientific truths about the nature and workings of reality. It gave me immense hope to know that in a world overflowing with irrationality, there were clear-thinking individuals with sizable public platforms willing to stand up for what's right and true — to stand up for sanity in the face of stupidity.

Fast-forward to the present: What a grift that was! Many of the most prominent New Atheists turned out to be nothing more than self-aggrandizing, dogmatic, irascible, censorious, morally compromised people who, at every opportunity, have propped up the powerful over the powerless, the privileged over the marginalized. This may sound hyperbolic, but it's not when, well, you look at the evidence. So I thought it might be illuminating to take a look at where some of the heavy hitters in the atheist and "skeptic" communities are today. What do their legacies look like? In what direction have they taken their cultural quest to secularize the world?

Let's see if you can spot a pattern:

Sam Harris: Arguably the progenitor of New Atheism, Harris was for me one of the more entertaining atheists. More recently, though, he has expended a prodigious amount of time and energy vigorously defending the scientific racism of Charles Murray. He believes that IQ is a good measure of intelligence. He argued to Josh Zepps during a podcast interview not only that black people are less intelligent than white people, but that this is because of genetic evolution. He has consistently given white nationalists a pass while arguing that Black Lives Matter is overly contentious, and has stubbornly advocated profiling "Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim," at airports. (When Harris believes he's right about something, it becomes virtually impossible to talk him out of it, no matter how many good arguments, expert opinions or hard data are presented to him. Like Donald Trump, he's pretty much unteachable.) Harris has also partly blamed the election loss of Hilary Clinton on "safe spaces, trigger warnings, [and] new gender pronouns," released a private email exchange with Ezra Klein without Klein's permission, and once suggested that New Atheism is male-dominated because it lacks an "extra estrogen vibe."

His primary focus these days is boosting the moral panic over "social justice warriors" (SJWs), "political correctness" and "wokeism," which he apparently believes pose a dire threat to "Western civilization" (a word that has a lot of meaning for white nationalists). Consequently, Harris has become popular among right-wingers, and the sentiment of solidarity appears to be mutual. For example, he's described Ben Shapiro as being "committed to the … rules of intellectual honesty and to the same principles of charity with regard to other people's positions," which is odd given that Shapiro is a pathological liar who routinely misconstrues his opponents in service of a racist, misogynistic, climate-denying agenda.

Michael Shermer: The founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, which once published a favorable review of Milo Yiannopoulos' book "Dangerous" and a defense of child-rapist Jerry Sandusky, Shermer made a name for himself as a "skeptic." However, his legacy has been overshadowed by, among other things, a protracted history of sexual harassment and assault allegations, with James Randi once calling him "a bad boy" whom numerous people at atheism conferences had complained about. In 2014, he was accused of rape, which he later flippantly joked about on Twitter. Since then, he has dedicated an impressive amount of time belittling "SJWs" and "the woke," often hurling ad hominem attacks and middle-school insults towards those with whom he disagrees. For example, Shermer has referred to "SJWs" as "mealy-mouthed, whiney, sniveling, and obsequious," and "a bunch of weak-kneed namby-pamby bedwetters." He once tweeted, in Trumpian fashion: "Know this Regressive Lefters/SJWs — you will lose. Those of us who believe in truth & justice will prevail. Yours is a failed ideology. Losers." After I wrote a critique of Steven Pinker's recent book "Enlightenment Now!", which contains many serious errors, Shermer took to Twitter to call me a "cockroach." None of this should be that surprising, since he describes himself as an anti-woke, anti-reparations libertarian who thinks Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is "a remarkable book."

But be careful: Shermer has also acknowledged, in writing, that he's fantasized about murdering people. "Or, if not actually killing the particular bastard," he reports, "at the very least I imagine dislocating his jaw with a crushing roundhouse knuckle sandwich that sent him reeling to the pavement." This comes from his book "The Moral Arc," which received an extended, glowing blurb from Steven Pinker.

Lawrence Krauss: A world-renowned cosmologist who authored "A Universe From Nothing" and ran the Origins Project formerly at Arizona State University, Krauss was among the most academically accomplished of the New Atheists. In 2018, though, he was dismissed from his job as director of the Origins Project after an investigation found that he had violated the sexual harassment policy of the university "by groping a woman's breast while on an ASU-funded trip in late 2016." He has also repeatedly and vigorously defended his onetime friend Jeffrey Epstein, the child sex trafficker, who "donated $250,000 to the Origins Project over a seven-year span." According to a 2011 Daily Beast article, Krauss claimed, "I don't feel tarnished in any way by my relationship with Jeffrey; I feel raised by it," adding that he didn't believe the "beautiful women and young women" surrounding Epstein were underage. (Plenty of other people have said it was impossible not to realize that, and Krauss himself has acknowledged that Epstein favored "women ages 19 to 23," which surely should have been a red flag.) After a 2018 BuzzFeed article detailing some of the sexual harassment allegations against Krauss was published, a flood of further accusations emerged online, some of which I catalogued here.

Richard Dawkins: Once a heavyweight within the world of evolutionary biology, Dawkins energized atheists the world over with his book "The God Delusion." Over time, though, it became increasingly clear that he's neither an adult-in-the-room nor a particularly nice guy. For some bizarre reason, he obsessively targeted a Muslim teenager in Texas, who was arrested after a homemade clock he brought to school was wrongly thought to be a bomb. He also flipped out over what came to be called "Elevatorgate," which began with Rebecca Watson calmly asking men to be thoughtful and considerate about how they make women feel at conferences — for example, in the enclosed space of an elevator. This resulted in a flood of rape and death threats directed toward Watson, while Dawkins mocked the situation by writing a shocking letter addressed "Dear Muslima," in which the first line was "Stop whining, will you." More recently, he's made it clear that he isn't bothered by the allegations against Krauss, and posted seemingly anti-trans comments on Twitter. When asked why Twitter has caused him so much trouble, he claimed: "I love truth too much." (For Dawkins' troubling views on aborting fetuses with Down Syndrome, see this.)

James Lindsay: Once a promising young atheist, Lindsay published "Everybody Is Wrong About God" in 2015 and, three years later, "How to Have Impossible Conversations," co-authored with Peter Boghossian (below). Referring to himself as "apolitical" but boasting a profile page on the right-wing, anti-free-speech organization Turning Point USA, he is now one of the most unhinged crusaders against "critical race theory" (CRT), an idea about which he seems to have very little actual knowledge. (This is unsurprising, given that Lindsay has literally argued that he doesn't need to understand "gender studies" to call for the entire field to be canceled. See #10 here.) Over the past few years, he has teamed up with Christian nationalist and COVID conspiracist Michael O'Fallon, and now rakes in plenty of cash via Patreon — proof that grifting about "free speech" and "CRT" pays. Known for his social media presence, Lindsay has called women he disagrees with "bitches," while — seriously — hurling "your mom" insults at intellectual opponents who point out his mendacities. He recently argued that antisemitism is caused by woke Jews (i.e., they're doing it to themselves), spread COVID conspiracy theories, and claimed in 2020 that people should vote for Donald Trump (as he did) because Joe Biden is a neo-Marxist, or will succumb to the influence of scary neo-Marxists like Black Lives Matter.

Last year, Lindsay co-authored the commercially successful book "Cynical Theories," which received a glowing endorsement from Steven Pinker but repeatedly misrepresents the ideas of those it hysterically, and incorrectly, claims are tearing down "Western civilization." And let's not get into his wildly delusional conspiracy theories about the "Great Reset," which apparently, as someone Lindsay retweeted put it, "aims to introduce a new global planetary diet"! If you want to understand Lindsay's worldview, I suggest reading Jason Stanley's excellent book "How Fascism Works," which captures the anti-intellectual, anti-academic, anti-social justice spirit of Lindsay's activism perfectly.

Peter Boghossian: A "philosopher" at Portland State University and "longtime collaborator of Stefan Molyneux" (a white supremacist demagogue who once declared, "I don't view humanity as a single species …"), Boghossian wrote "A Manual for Creating Atheists" in 2013. A year later, he tweeted: "I've never understood how someone could be proud of being gay. How can one be proud of something one didn't work for?" This was followed by a defense of Nazis (no one outside Hitler's Germany should ever be called a "Nazi"), and a stern rejection of the historically accurate claim that "slavery … was not merely an unfortunate thing that happened to black people. It was an … American institution, created by and for the benefit of the elites."

In 2017, Boghossian and Lindsay attempted to "hoax" gender studies by publishing a fake article in a peer-reviewed gender studies journal (note: the journal had nothing to do with gender studies). But it turned out this was based on a demonstrable lie, which they of course never admitted. Their paper ultimately ended up in a pay-to-publish journal. That was followed by an even more elaborate and even more bad-faith "hoax," which resulted in a response from Portland State University professors alleging that "basic spite and a perverse interest in public humiliation seem to have overridden any actual scholarly goals." Indeed, Boghossian and his crew failed to get institutional review board approval for this experiment, resulting in serious accusations of unethical actions. "I believe the results of this office's view of your research behavior," wrote the vice president for "research and graduate studies" at Boghossian's university, "raises concerns regarding a lack of academic integrity, questionable ethical behavior, and employee breach of rules." On May 6 of this year, Boghossian — a vocal critic of "cancel culture" — called for "the defunding of Portland State University," which he incorrectly described as promoting "illiberal ideologies." (See here for more.)

David Silverman: Silverman made a name for himself as a "firebrand" atheist, even appearing on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show several times to take on "Papa Bear" himself. But "explosive … allegations of sexual assault and undisclosed conflicts of interest" got Silverman fired from American Atheists, where he was president. In the years since, he has given voice to a stream of grievances about feminism, social justice and the like, referring to social justice as "a cancerous social movement" that "has to be undone," adding: "I have a lot of regrets for being in your whiney culty immitation [sic] of feminism." The same day, he spoke with Sargon of Akkad (aka Carl Benjamin, a member of Britain's far-right party UKIP) about "Feminist Tyranny." (More here, here and here.)

Steven Pinker: To many of us early on, Pinker seemed to genuinely care about maintaining his intellectual integrity. But, once again, high expectations only meant a harder crash. Consider that Pinker has claimed that rape is often "over-reported." To support this, he cites right-wingers like Christina Hoff Sommers and Heather MacDonald as primary sources. Over the past few years, he has become unhealthily fixated on "political correctness," social justice and "wokeness," and participated in the 2017 "Unsafe Space Tour" of college campuses, organized by the right-libertarian magazine Spiked. It also came out, much to Pinker's chagrin, that he'd assisted the legal defense of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, even appearing in photographs with Epstein taken after the latter was convicted of sex crimes in 2008. Here's a picture of Pinker with Dawkins (and fellow New Atheist Daniel Dennett) flying to a TED Conference with Epstein. Pinker's response? It's hard to make this up: despite being a vociferous "opponent" of censorship — bad ideas must be exposed to the light! Free speech must never be hindered! — Pinker blocked half of Twitter to stop people from mentioning his past links to this rapist and pedophile. Of course this backfired, drawing even more attention to the issue, a phenomenon that I call the "Pinker-Epstein Effect" (which is nearly identical to the Streisand Effect but specific to, well, Pinker and Epstein). Although Pinker was never as prominently connected to "New Atheism" as the others, his influence within the movement, partly because of his advocacy for secularism, is undeniable. (See here for more.)

This is hardly an exhaustive list. But it's enough to make clear the epistemic and moral turpitude of this crowd. There is nothing ad hominem in saying this, by the way: The point is simply that the company one keeps matters. What's sad is that the New Atheist movement could have made a difference — a positive difference — in the world. Instead, it gradually merged with factions of the alt-right to become what former New York Times contributing editor Bari Weiss calls the "Intellectual Dark Web" (IDW), a motley crew of pseudo-intellectuals whose luminaries include Jordan Peterson, Eric and Bret Weinstein, Douglas Murray, Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro, in addition to those mentioned above.

At the heart of this merger was the creation of a new religious movement of sorts centered around the felt loss of power among white men due to the empowerment of other people. When it was once acceptable, according to cultural norms, for men to sexually harass women with impunity, or make harmful racist and sexist comments without worrying about losing a speaking opportunity, being held accountable can feel like an injustice, even though the exact opposite is the case. Pinker, Shermer and some of the others like to preach about "moral progress," but in fighting social justice under the misleading banner of "free speech," they not only embolden fascists but impede further moral progress for the marginalized.

Another way to understand the situation goes like this: Some of these people acted badly in the past. Others don't want to worry about accusations of acting badly in the future. Still others are able to behave themselves but worry that their friends could get in trouble for past or future bad behavior. Consequently, the most immediate, pressing threat to their "well-being" has shifted from scary Muslim immigrants, evangelical Christians and violent terrorists to 19-year-old kids on college campuses and BLM activists motivated by "wokeness." This is why Lindsay has teamed up with a Christian nationalist and why Boghossian talks about the "Great Realignment" in which anti-woke alarmists, like him, end up joining hands with "conservative Christians" in "Culture War 2.0."

What ties these people together is an aggrieved sense of perpetual victimhood. Christians, of course, believe that they are relentlessly persecuted (note: they aren't). The IDWs similarly believe that they are the poor helpless victims of "CRT," "standpoint theory" and other bogeymen of woke academia. But really, if "Grievance Studies" studies anything, it should be how this group of extremely privileged white men came to believe that they are the real casualties of systemic oppression.

An excellent example of this delusion comes from an inadvertently hilarious interview with Boghossian for the Epoch Times, a media company associated with the Falun Gong movement that is "fueling the far-right in Europe" and has spread COVID conspiracy theories. In it, Boghossian warns that "woke ideology" has produced "a recipe for cultural suicide." This has led him — the co-author of "How to Have Impossible Conversations" — to spout extremist rhetoric like this:

I'm done playing. … I am waging full-scale ideological warfare against the enemies of Western Civilization. … We must broker absolutely zero tolerance with this ideology, and the only way forward at this point is full-scale ideological war, and I will take no prisoners, … . I seek the complete eradication and extirpation of the ideology from every facet of life.

That's scary, intolerant and even fascistic. And it's exactly where the New Atheism movement has ended up, to the exasperation of those who still care about secularism.

To conclude, let me bring things full circle: At least some studies have shown that, to quote Phil Zuckerman, secular people are "markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian" than religious people. It's a real shame that New Atheism, now swallowed up by the IDW and the far right, turned out to be just as prejudiced, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded and authoritarian as many of the religious groups they initially deplored.

Atheists are 'not to be tolerated': 7 states still have bans on non-believers holding office

by Kristina M. Lee, Colorado State University

Tennessee's Constitution includes a provision that bars three groups from holding office: atheists, ministers and those engaging in duels. Efforts are under way in the state legislature to remove this exclusion for ministers, but not for duelists – or atheists.

In January 2021, Republican Tennessee State Senator Mark Pody proposed Senate Joint Resolution 55 to amend Article IX of the Constitution of Tennessee to rid it of a clause that states “no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature." No mention is made in Pody's resolution about Section 2 of the same article: “No person who denies the being of God … shall hold any office in the civil department of this state." Nor for that matter does the current bill mention Section 3's objection to those who participate, aid or abet a duel.

When Pody was asked why his resolution removes only the ban on ministers, his response was that it is best to clean up the constitution “one simple step at a time."

Tennessee is one of seven states that has an unconstitutional ban on atheists holding public office. Although superseded by Supreme Court rulings, such bans are important. As a scholar of religious and political rhetoric who focuses on the marginalization of U.S. atheists, I believe they reflect the normalization of anti-atheism that has yet to be truly dealt with, or rarely acknowledged, in the United States.

Atheists 'not to be tolerated'

Numerous state constitutions established laws banning both ministers and atheists when they were ratified.

The bans on ministers were framed as necessary to protect their “sacred calling." The prohibitions on atheists were installed for a different reason. Atheists, it was claimed, could not be trusted to be good citizens in a democracy.

This sentiment was expressed by early enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke – both of whom influenced early American politicians. Locke argued in his 1689 “Letter Concerning Toleration" that “those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist."

Bans on atheists and ministers are now unconstitutional due to Supreme Court rulings in 1961 and 1978. Tennessee is the last state to maintain an unenforceable ban on ministers in their Constitutions, while seven states still have their unconstitutional bans on atheists.

Although unenforceable, the bans periodically impede atheists wanting to hold public office. In 1992, Herb Silverman, an atheist activist and math professor, was denied a position as a notary public because of a ban in South Carolina. He had to sue the state before he could hold the position.

Meanwhile in 2009, Cecil Bothwell, a local Democratic candidate, won his city counsel race in Asheville, North Carolina – but had to fight critics who claimed he was ineligible on account of his atheism.

These attacks continued for years after Bothwell was elected. H.K. Edgerton, a Black Confederate activist and one of Bothwell's staunchest critics, complained in 2014 that the council had “placed itself above the law for two terms with Cecil Bothwell sitting there passing rules and regulations and dictating law unlawfully."

David Morgan, editor of the Asheville Tribune, claimed his criticism of Bothwell was about upholding the state constitution, arguing “If you don't like it, amend it and take out that clause."

Atheists have tried to do just that. But politicians show little interest in removing the bans on atheists that exist in state constitutions. As Todd Stiefel, an atheist activist, notes: “If it was on the books that Jews couldn't hold public office, or that African Americans or women couldn't vote, that would be a no-brainer. You'd have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed. Even if it was still unenforceable, it would still be disgraceful and be removed. So why are we different?"

Normalizing anti-atheism

These anti-atheist clauses and the failure to remove them reflect a phenomenon I call “theistnormativity," which is the normalization of the belief in God as being tied to good and moral citizenship.

To many Americans, beliefs in God and Americanism has become synonymous. A 2015 survey found that 69% of respondents thought it was important to believe in God to be “truly American." And Americans are expected to embrace national slogans such as “In God We Trust" and “one nation, under God." Politicians are regularly asked to participate in public prayers to God before official meetings. And while they can request otherwise, the default assumption is that Americans will make an oath to God when taking public office or testifying in court.

While there is no ban on being an atheist in the United States, atheists have long been framed as un-American. When Democratic Representative Louis Rabaut proposed adding “under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, he argued that an “atheistic American" is a “contradiction in terms."

Even President Barack Obama simply acknowledging the existence of “nonbelievers" in his 2009 inaugural address led critics to question whether the acknowledgment was “offensive" and could lead to dangerous misunderstandings about “our true nature as a nation."

And it isn't just the political right. When Bernie Sanders was running for president in 2016, leaked emails from Democratic National Committee leadership revealed a plot to try to out him as an atheist to negatively influence perceptions of him.

Impediment to power

This political environment makes it difficult for open atheists to gain much political power. In a 2021 survey of Congress' religious identity, only one person, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, identified as “religiously unaffiliated." Eighteen members replied “don't know" or refused to answer the question.

Polling shows 4% of Americans identify as atheists, and about 23% identify more broadly as nonreligious. While identifying as “nonreligious" does not necessarily mean not believing in God, research suggests that as many as 1 in 4 Americans is atheist, but that most are unwilling to reveal this, even in anonymous polls.

As such, there are likely more atheists in Congress – they're just not open about their beliefs. In fact, in 2014, the American Humanist Association claimed that 24 members of Congress privately stated they did not believe in God but would deny it if outed.

Political analysts have long wondered if an atheist could become president. It would take a brave one to try, given that polls indicate that only 60% of Americans would be willing to contemplate voting for one.

Even theist presidents get criticized if they fail to show proper homage to religion. Biden, a Catholic, was the first president to not include “God" in his National Day of Prayer proclamation, a move Evangelical leader Franklin Graham called “dangerous."

Everyday anti-atheism

This anti-atheism extends beyond politics. Atheists face discrimination in the workplace and hiring practices. Parents who are religious often have an advantage in custody cases. Even though atheists are no more likely to commit crimes than theists, stereotypes surrounding atheist criminality and untrustworthiness persist. In court, atheist rape victims are less likely to be believed than Christian or religiously ambiguous victims.

It is in this context that the bans on atheists – although unenforceable under Supreme Court ruling – must, I believe, be examined.

While these bans may seem harmless, they represent anti-atheist prejudices that are ingrained in America. They remind atheists that, despite their beliefs being protected by the first amendment, being open about not believing in God has consequences.The Conversation

Kristina M. Lee, Ph.D. Student in Rhetoric, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jerry Falwell Jr.: I had no responsibility to tell Liberty University about my personal life

Jerry Falwell, Jr. is asking a court to dismiss a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against him by his former employer, Liberty University, the Christian conservative evangelical college founded by his father.

The suit, worth more than $40 million, is merely a tool to embarrass and publicly shame him, Falwell says. He claims university officials are using it as a vehicle to keep his affairs in the public eye.

The lawsuit, Falwell claims, according to the Lynchburg News & Advance, focuses "in large part on an affair between Falwell's wife, Becki, and a young man named Giancarlo Granda that Jerry Falwell Jr. has made public statements about."

Granda has repeatedly claimed that not only did Falwell know about his wife's affair with Granda, often described in the media as their "pool boy," Falwell Jr. participated in some of the liaisons, as a voyeur.

Falwell Jr. "has claimed Granda — once a pool boy, business partner and friend to the family — had extorted the couple, which Granda has denied."
Liberty University "honed in on those claims in its lawsuit, stating Falwell breached his fiduciary duty to the school by not disclosing 'Granda's extortive threats' while negotiating a 2019 employment agreement that included a $1.5 million raise and a $2.5 million severance package. Beyond that, it alleges Falwell damaged the school's reputation and donor base through a series of 'indiscretions' in recent years, along with his 'personal impairment by alcohol.'" Falwell in his court filing says the “rehashing of these events and protected defamation of Falwell through litigation serves one mission — ruining Falwell's reputation through mischaracterization of events and public shaming through out-of-context pictures filed in a public complaint." His "response to the lawsuit states he had no duty to tell the university about private matters and the university failed to prove legal elements of the business conspiracy it alleged against him."

The United States is at the mercy of those who think they're God's elect

I'm going to try connecting things that don't at first seem related. They are the fight over a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection; the disproportional number of covid deaths in states run by Republican governors; this week's shooting massacre in San Jose, Calif., and every other one like it; and, let's see, what else? Well, feel free at the end of this piece to add your own examples. There are plenty more.

All have in common the political concept that God divided the world between the elected and the unelected, that is, between His chosen and everyone else deserving of eternal damnation. (They deserve what's coming to them, in other words.) For the chosen, anything is possible. For God's enemies, God's law. All politics, all historical struggle over power and limited resources, can be seen through a lens in which everything begins with the chosen and ends with the chosen. It's a closed circuit—politically, religiously, economically and every way that matters. Important for you to understand is this: it's impervious to democracy, morality, justice and the truth. If you want to keep this republic of ours, you've got to keep these people away from power.

The commission

The Republicans in the United States Senate this morning filibustered a bipartisan House bill that would have created an independent ideologically neutral commission to investigate the January 6 sacking and looting of the United States Capitol. The United States Congress created such commissions after the Oklahoma City bombing in the 1990s and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Along with being good for democracy and patriotism, a commission of this kind is the right thing to do.

If the Republicans do not explicitly see themselves as God's chosen, they act like it implicitly—in that they have decided, as a political party over a number of years, that only Republicans can rule legitimately. The country is politically polarized, because the Republicans now insist on a polarized worldview in which the Republicans are good, because they are good and the Democrats are bad, because they are bad.

Calls to "do the right thing," like establishing a truth commission, cannot therefore be seen as merely "doing the right thing," because no matter how moral or how patriotic it might be to call for establishing a commission, such calls are actually politics in disguise. In this view, the Democrats are not acting morally or patriotically. They are trying to extract an advantage that the Republicans would never give up voluntarily. If the Republicans agreed to a commission, the Democrats would win, which would be intolerable from a party that's supposed to lose, because God's chosen always win.

The covid deaths

Enough time has gone by since the beginning of the covid pandemic to see that states with Republicans governors had far more deaths than did states with Democratic governors. Among other things, such as lockdowns and school closings, this is due to the fact that Democratic governors and the residents of their states accepted the necessary inconvenience of wearing face masks until there was a viable vaccine.

Wearing face masks to prevent catching the covid, before there was a viable vaccine, was widely seen as commonsense. Commonsense, however, is not politically neutral when you believe the Republicans are good, because they are good, and the Democrats are bad, because they are bad. "Commonsense," like calling for "doing the right thing," is politics in disguise according to people who believe they are God's chosen. Indeed, the more you insist on commonsense, the more they resist, much to the bewilderment of those who can't make sense of perspectives that are not supposed to make sense.

Very little is going to make sense when everything in life is polarized between being for the chosen or against the chosen—when God's victory is proof of my elect and God's defeat is also proof of my elect. The Democrats can't possibly have my best interest in mind, because the Democrats stand for rules and laws that can be used to take this country away from me, a country that was given to God's chosen. The Democrats and their calls for commonsense must therefore be opposed at all costs, even if the cost of refusing to wear a face mask means a terrible death by the covid.

The shootings massacres

The shooting massacre in San Jose, which killed nine people, including the killer, is the latest in a seemingly endless string of massacres that America has witnessed since the expiration of the assault weapons ban in 2004 but especially since 2012 when a young man shot to pieces 20 kids in an elementary school in suburban Connecticut.

The Republicans are the problem. They have blocked, time and again, legislation in the Senate that would do something about mass death. They have cited the Second Amendment and its preservation of the right to self-defense as their reason. There's something to that, but only something. It's no coincidence the Sandy Hook Massacre came shortly after the American people reelected the country's first Black president.

Barack Obama's reelection was confirmation that the rules of democracy were no longer reliable. The Republicans have since launched myriad efforts, coordinated and ad-hoc, to change the rules of democracy to give them prejudicial advantage. Behind this effort is an understanding that goes all the way back to the Puritans—that this country was given by God to his chosen, which is to say, to white people. To many white Americans, the election of a Black president was, quite literally, a robbery.

The Second Amendment can therefore be understood as a remedy to the crime, as a means of restoring a religious covenant, the Constitution itself, which for many white Americans is "linked to white nationalism and the idea that God has ordained this country for whites and therefore licenses white nationalist violence," said filmmaker Sierra Pettengill in a recent interview with historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Dunbar-Ortiz added: "The Constitution is worshiped as the embodiment of [this] covenant—and so the Constitution for them is the direct word of God giving instructions."

Every day that goes by takes the United States farther away from this covenant, and closer to God's enemies. I think every single shooting massacre, one way or another, is rooted in this political concept: that God's enemies deserve what's coming to them.


We talk a lot about the Republicans and their information bubble. But that does not cause people to believe they are God's chosen. That kind of thinking has been with us since before the founding of the republic. It has always been with us. It will probably always be with us. Whether it has access to real power, however, is the question.

There are 3 primary sources of Christian pandemic denial

by Robin Willey, Concordia University of Edmonton

The GraceLife Church in Alberta has been at the centre of a recent controversy about pandemic restrictions. The rural church located outside Edmonton has resisted restrictions on public gatherings issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The pastor James Coates was charged with violating the Public Health Act in December after the church failed an inspection. He was jailed shortly thereafter when he would not agree to his bail conditions. After being released, Coates continued to conduct services that flouted the province's COVID-19 protocols, leading Alberta Health Services (AHS) to order the church closed on April 7.

There have been at least 12 reported outbreaks in Alberta churches to date. The most tragic occurred at Living Spirit United Church early in the pandemic, when 41 people attended a birthday celebration of an elderly congregant. Twenty-four people contracted the virus as a result and two died.

Research out of Australia has demonstrated the elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission in places of worship. This is not surprising, given the activities commonly undertaken in church: singing, shaking hands, hugging — which all come with a high transmission risk. What is surprising, however, is that churches have emerged at the centre of pandemic skepticism movements that resist public health measures.

Pandemic skepticism meets pandemic reality

While recent research has found a connection between religiosity and elevated pandemic skepticism, the vast majority of Albertan faith communities have followed public health guidelines without protest. GraceLife Community Church is an outlier in their resistance to these measures.

While GraceLife has not reported an outbreak, Southside Victory Church in Calgary has been less fortunate. AHS has not reported any official numbers in relation to the church, but we can assume there have been at least 10 cases due to its inclusion on the provincial outbreak list.

In an April sermon, Senior Pastor Craig Buroker struggled to acknowledge the suffering of his sick congregants, while still questioning the severity of the pandemic. He referred to COVID-19 as “the flu" and emphasised the “99 per cent" survival rate for the infected.

This is a classic example of cognitive dissonance — a state of internal contradiction usually reserved for apocalyptic religious groups who are forced to reckon with their continued existence when the world fails to end as planned.

Sources of Christian pandemic denial

Three primary factors contribute to pandemic denial and resistance to public health orders in churches: finances, political culture and theology.

Some research suggests that the pandemic has not significantly impacted church finances. However, many churches are indeed struggling and have flouted public health regulations as a means of increasing funds. It worked for Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, whose weekly donations increased six-fold after the church's pastor openly mocked health restrictions. The church has close ties with GraceLife.

Second, what drives a church to resist public health orders isn't its Christianity, but the political culture in which the church is situated. These churches are already filled with people inclined to question restrictions and the severity of the virus.

GraceLife's public statement on the pandemic repeats numerous themes circulated by pandemic skeptics, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's comparison of COVID-19 to influenza. GraceLife's statement mirrors those of U.S. churches who repeated Donald Trump's pandemic skepticism to justify their own resistance to public health measures.

This rhetoric also aligns the churches with fringe anti-government elements like far-right groups and QAnon conspiracy theorists.

Shortly after GraceLife was ordered shut, groups that describe themselves as “patriots" — a label commonly used in QAnon conspiracy circles — arrived to protest a barrier placed around GraceLife to prevent people entering the church.

Theology as an afterthought

Theology only appears in GraceLife's argument to support their financial and political positions. They argue that public health regulations prevent members from taking part in the Great Commission. In other words, it inhibits their ability to evangelize.

Restriction resistant churches read public health guidelines through the “Christian persecution complex." This perspective assumes an attack on a single Christian is an attack on all Christians, and has played out in right-wing U.S. media coverage of Gracelife.

Researchers suggest Americans subscribing to Christian nationalism are more likely to eat in restaurants, visit people indoors, gather in larger groups and are less likely wear a mask or wash their hands. Christian nationalists think of Canada and the United States as distinctly Christian nations. As such, they look to fuse Canadian and American politics and civic life with a narrow conservative version of Christian culture and morality.

GraceLife's leaders have accused churches following health restrictions of being allied with “Caesar". A reference to the Roman Empire, which many Christians understand as being complicit in Jesus' execution and a persecutor of the early church.

Coates has claimed the government does not have the right to protect us from death. His words to this effect are quite chilling:

We live in a fallen world. Viruses and death are inevitable. A virus has unleashed on the world, God is sovereign over that virus. The effects of that virus are not the government's responsibility. They do not have the responsibility to protect us from the virus. There is no culpability when someone dies from COVID‐19.

Coates is trying to justify his dismissal of the pandemic and the death that inevitably comes with it.

Challenging government authority has also led Coates and others who have joined this pandemic skeptic bandwagon to target Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw and other healthcare workers. Coates says he has “demonstrated clearly that the threat to Alberta is not COVID-19. It is AHS". This language is dangerous and it places a target directly on AHS employees, who have already received threats.

It will be a year or two before we can fully look into the financial benefits of pandemic denial through both Canadian Revenue Agency data and benefits gained though speaking fees and book deals. In the meantime, we do have examples of American churches benefiting financially from pandemic denial and a GoFundMe setup to assist James Coates sits at over $45,000.

Persecution stories are like currency in some Christian circles. In this case they are being used to produce actual currency. The public health charges, the arrest of church leaders, and the ongoing criticism of the church play into these narratives.

In sociology, we often note that privilege is more difficult to acknowledge than poverty. The fact that the Alberta government has allowed communities of faith to meet in person for most of the pandemic, albeit in a reduced capacity, while non-religious cultural communities have not, does not seem to cross the minds of Christian leaders like Coates. With GraceLife and other churches resisting health orders, their argument is not actually about persecution; it's about keeping their privilege.The Conversation

Robin Willey, Assistant professor, Sociology, Concordia University of Edmonton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Religion, right-wing news consumption are strong predictors of QAnon beliefs

People who believe in QAnon often self-describe as independent thinkers, not beholden to any media, corporate, or government propaganda. Yet a new study finds that the easiest way to predict whether someone will support the conspiratorial far right movement is if they consume the same far right media sources.

A new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that nearly half of Americans who believe far-right news outlets like Newsmax and OANN, as well as one-third who trust Fox News, subscribe to the QAnon belief that a "storm" will sweep politicians they dislike out of power and install beloved far right figures like Trump.

Religion, too, is a major factor in predicting whether someone is a QAnon adherent; specifically, white evangelical Protestants, Hispanic Protestants and Mormons are most likely to believe in QAnon. Americans without college degrees are three times more likely than those with them to believe in QAnon.

Overall, nearly one out of seven Americans, as well as fully one out of four Republicans, is a QAnon believer.

Perhaps most notable among the polling statistics, however, is the revelation that media news consumption is "by far the strongest independent predictor of QAnon beliefs."

Robert P. Jones, Ph.D., the CEO and founder of PRRI, told Salon in an email that "as the country is becoming less white and Christian," Americans who are attracted to the politics of grievance subscribe to a mutually reinforcing right-wing ecosystem of ideas. Republican partisanship and right-wing media outlets all play a role in this, and they in turn fuel the conspiracy theory movement known as QAnon.

Salon inquired whether QAnon adherents and people who subscribe to Donald Trump's 2020 election Big Lie seem to be motivated by white supremacist or Christian supremacist ideals.

"We unfortunately don't have variables in this dataset to demonstrate that directly, but the demographic characteristics of those who are most likely to believe in QAnon are consistent with those attracted to the politics of grievance and displacement that was key to Trump's 'Make American Great Again' messaging, something I noted in my book 'The End of White Christian America,'" Jones wrote to Salon. "Believing that the country is becoming unrecognizable because of demographic change or that non-European immigrants are replacing white Anglo-Saxon Protestants also runs high among these demographic groups."

This raises a chicken-and-egg question: Are these people being figuratively brainwashed by propaganda, or are those media companies simply giving their customers what they want?

"It is likely that the connection is a two-way street: people who hold QAnon beliefs have migrated to these far right media outlets and those who watch these outlets have become more susceptible to believing these conspiracy theories as they are exposed to them on these outlets," Jones told Salon. He observed that conspiracy theories have throughout history seemed most attractive to people who feel threatened when a perceived social order is being disrupted.

"As the country is changing, these are also people who are generally less trusting of institutions and society, who feel threatened by these cultural and economic changes, and who are attracted to theories that promise that the familiar order of the world will soon be set right," Jones pointed out.

In addition to their support for Trump, QAnon adherents believe that they are privy to an underground truth that the mainstream media refuses to cover. They argue that a secret cabal of elite, Satanic pedophiles secretly runs the world, and that far right-wingers like Trump are engaged in a titanic struggle against them. There is also considerable overlap between QAnon adherence and susceptibility to Trump's pre-election propaganda that if he lost the election was stolen. This ultimately culminated in an unsuccessful insurrection attempt after Trump became the first president to lose an election and refuse to accept the result.

Right-wing media is fracturing — and Fox News could lose its grip on the religious right

by Ryan Burge, Eastern Illinois University

Fox News possesses an “outsized influence" on the American public, especially among religious viewers.

That was the conclusion of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute in a report released just after the 2020 presidential election. It noted that 15% of Americans cited Fox News as the most trusted source – around the same as NBC, ABC and CBS combined, and four percentage points above rival network CNN. The survey of more than 2,500 American adults also suggested that Fox News viewers trend religious, especially among Republicans watching the show. Just 5% of Republican viewers of the channel identified as being “religiously unaffiliated" – compared to 15% of Republicans who do not watch Fox News and 25% of the wider American public.

To further explore the relationship between different faiths and the TV news they associate with as part of my research on religion data, I analyzed the result of another survey, the Cooperative Election Survey.

The annual survey, which was fielded just before the November 2020 election, with the results released in March, polled a total of 61,000 Americans over a number of topics. One question was on their news consumption habits. It asked what television news networks respondents had watched in the prior 24 hours.

Percentage of respondents who saw TV news in past 24 hours

Ryan Burge/CES

Some very interesting patterns emerged across religious traditions – and the nonreligious – and the type of media being consumed. For instance, of the the big three legacy news operations – ABC, CBS and NBC – there was no strong base of viewership in any tradition.

In most cases, about a third of people from each religious tradition said that they watched one of those legacy networks in the last 24 hours. PBS scored very low among every tradition. In most cases fewer than 15% of respondents reported watching PBS in the time frame.

However, the numbers for the three major cable news networks – CNN, Fox News and MSNBC – were much higher across the board. In eight of the 16 religious and nonreligious traditions categorized in the poll, CNN viewership was at least 50% of the sample. This was led by 71% of Hindus who watched CNN and 63% of Muslims.

The least likely group to watch CNN was clearly white evangelicals, at just 23%. In comparison, MSNBC scored lower nearly across the board. In fact, in none of the 16 classification groups was viewership of MSNBC greater than it was for CNN.

Fox News viewership was higher than that of MSNBC, but was not as widely dispersed as it is for CNN. It's no surprise, given its reputation as a conservative news outlet, that 61% of white evangelicals say that they watch Fox News – in the last election, around 80% of white evangelicals voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump. The other three traditions where viewership was at least 50% are white Catholics, Mormons and members of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It should come as no surprise, as those are three groups that consistently vote for the Republican Party. Just 14% of atheists watched Fox, which is just about in line with the share of white evangelicals who watch MSNBC.

Fracturing right-wing media

But with the fracturing of conservative media sources seeing more competitors vying for viewers among the right, Fox News could see a drop in viewership from the religious right.

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, Fox News viewership plunged as many Trump supporters believed that the network was not being loyal to their standard-bearer of the GOP.

Given the vast number of news options that people of faith have and the increase in political polarization in the United States, the pressure for networks to deliver the news that people want to hear will only increase as time passes.

[Explore the intersection of faith, politics, arts and culture. Sign up for This Week in Religion.]The Conversation

Ryan Burge, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Eastern Illinois University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The parentification trap: How evangelical daughters like the Duggar girls become mothers in training

By the time she was 13 years old, Ruth's daily schedule was almost identical to that of her mother's.

Both would wake up at 5:30 a.m. and spend an hour picking away at the seemingly endless list of chores associated with running what would eventually become a 12-person household: laundering and mending the mountain of hand-me-down clothes that occupied a corner of the kitchen, loading up three slow cookers with ingredients for dinner, cleaning the bathrooms before they'd be in use, on-and-off, all day.

If Ruth's mom was pregnant — which is how Ruth, who asked that only her first name be used, primarily remembers her — then the bulk of the work would fall to Ruth. She would be the one to wake her younger siblings and prepare them breakfast before walking the ones who were old enough to a church-run elementary school nearby.

"I didn't really have the option to pursue school outside of homeschooling, though, because my mom needed me to help with the much younger kiddos," Ruth told me in a phone call.

"I remember complaining about it for the first time when I was probably 11 and I'll never forget what she told me," she continued. "She said, 'Ruth, this is what God made you for.'"

Ruth, who is now 31 and lives outside of Atlanta, describes her family's religion as a "slippery slope that led to Quiverfull."

Her father was raised in a sleepy independent Baptist church in rural Georgia in the 1970s.

"But he always had a flair for the dramatic," Ruth said. "Dad liked the Bible stories about the 'big miracles.' Jesus feeding the thousands, Moses parting the Red Sea, that kind of thing. So, when he visited a Pentecostal tent revival, where they were handling snakes and speaking in tongues, I think that was it for him."

Her father, she says, was deeply compelled by the idea of demonstrating one's faith in God through outsized public displays. He gravitated towards scripture that encouraged followers of Christ to "be in the world, but not of the world." After traveling through the South for a few years as a self-made evangelist who did odd jobs on the side, he married and saw an opportunity to follow God to the extreme by having as many children as possible to serve Christ.

When asked about his decision, Ruth remembers her father would recite a Psalm from the King James Version of the Old Testament: "As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."

It's the same verse that other adherents to Quiverfull ideology — as well as the scandal-ridden Duggar family of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting," who have previously said they do not identify as part of the Quiverfull movement — point to as a theological backing for their movement. They interpret it as a command to reproduce often without any birth control or family planning.

"I grew up around at least a half dozen other Quiverfull families, maybe more," Ruth said. "And the parents, the fathers mostly, would talk about what a blessing children are, but I'll tell you, they didn't care about the female arrows in their quiver."

Even in many more mainstream evangelical congregations, girls are trained up to be wives and mothers.

Before I hit puberty, youth leaders at my parents' Baptist church would talk to us about the virtues inherent to "Proverbs 31 wives," which was based on a description of the ideal Godly woman that was purportedly written by King Solomon — who, if you'll remember, also supposedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines. (The irony is overwhelming in retrospect).

It was made clear that we were to be pure and virtuous "help meets" for our future husbands, someone to assist them in their role as spiritual leader of the household.

In Quiverfull families, however, the eldest daughters often take on the role of "little mothers," as the blog "Quivering Daughters" aptly put it, or as additional help meets.

While it's inevitable in any family with multiple children that the older siblings will have some responsibilities that younger siblings do not, in families that reach the double-digits in size and where Biblical patriarchy is preached, the burden falls heavily to the girls, which can have long-lasting psychological effects.

In 2017, The Atlantic published an article titled "When Kids Have to Act Like Parents, It Affects Them for Life," which dove into the concept of "destructive parentification," a form of emotional abuse or neglect where a child becomes the caregiver to their parent or sibling. Researchers are increasingly finding that in addition to upending a child's development, this role reversal can leave deep emotional scars well into adulthood.

Lisa M. Hooper, a University of Louisville professor who studies parentification, told the publication that many children who were made to parent their siblings now "experience severe anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. Others report succumbing to eating disorders and substance abuse."

"The symptoms look similar to some extent, from cradle to grave," Hooper told the Atlantic.

Donna Jackson Nakazawa, the author of "Childhood Disrupted," added: "Chronic, unpredictable stress is toxic when there's no reliable adult."

Much of the research that has been done on destructive parentification focused primarily on children whose parents were neglectful or unavailable because of alcoholism or addiction. But a survey of writings from women who were raised as Quiverfull daughters shows similar evidence of feeling anxiously unmoored.

Hillary McFarland, the author of "Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy," shared an excerpt of an old diary entry on her blog in 2009. She'd written it when she was 14.

"I'm having a bad day today," she wrote. "I'm just so tired! I'm so tired of working—there is always something that needs to be done and dad is never satisfied. I'm tired of being overwhelmed with everything. I'm tired of washing dishes every night, I wish that the house would stay clean for 2-3 days—the kids are always cutting up paper, getting out toys, splashing water all over the bathroom sink, getting mud and sand all over the bathroom floor."

She continued: "I'm tired of getting mad at my brothers and sisters, I wish I were perfect. I absolutely abhor the thought that every idle word will be judged . . . lately I have been doing some self-analyzing, or examining—I'm trash . . . I'm sick of disappointing God."

That concept of disappointing God runs heavily through Quiverfull families. In many cases, there aren't enough hours in a day or resources, emotional and financial, to go around and it's burdensome; but as Vyckie Garrison, a former Quiverfull wife told Salon in an interview last week, many mothers approach it as a spiritual challenge or a backyard mission field.

"The [fellow Quiverfull] women would tell me, 'Missionaries risk their lives every day and they do it because it's their calling,'" she said. "'When they get to heaven, they'll get their martyr's crown.' There's a huge martyr's mentality."

Over the last decade, the concept of parentification has gained enough mainstream traction that former viewers of the now-cancelled TLC show "19 Kids and Counting" have started to question whether the network's framing of the family as an oversized "Waltons" was shielding something more sinister, especially as the family's eldest son, Josh, has fallen into scandal after scandal, and has now been arrested for the possession of child pornography.

Throughout the years, there have been numerous web forums and subreddits dedicated to going back and watching old footage of the show while advocating for the "freedom" of some of the Duggar family's daughters. Former Quiverfull daughters are now speaking out as well while the family is under increased scrutiny.

"One time, my family attended a talk by the Duggar parents and my baby brother was crying, so I had to take him out to the hall where all the other older daughters were handling their parents' babies, including Jessa and we all shared this exhausted look that I remember to this day," one Twitter user wrote.

She continued: "Looking back now, it's so f**king funny that you had all these families who worshipped the Duggars and their way of life and all these daughters were in the hall with their parents' babies just like… f**k this, I'm tired."

Ruth felt this acutely while growing up. Most nights, she would only get five hours of sleep — between staying up late to finish chores, waking throughout the night to feed or comfort one of the babies, and getting up early — and was always exhausted.

"Since I was so tired, I would lash out at my parents and siblings and then I would get reprimanded," she said. "While I was being punished, I would angrily pray to God, 'Why are you doing this to me? I'm just trying to serve you.'"

Ruth ended up running away when she was 17 after watching "Now, Voyager," a 1942 film starring Bette Davis. Her parents were strict about what she and her siblings watched, but most "black and white classics" were deemed acceptable.

The film takes its name from the Walt Whitman poem "The Untold Want," which says, "The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted, Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find."

"In it, Bette Davis' character lives with a controlling mother who always puts her down and then she has this mental break," Ruth said. "She ends up moving away, getting healthy, becoming fashionable and then she comes back. I thought that I could do that, too. All I really wanted was a break."

Her break was a little less glamorous than Davis'. She got a job at a local convenience store and split rent with an elderly coworker. At night, she studied for her GED and on weekends, she'd eat cereal in her pajamas and watch television — trashy reality shows and Animal Planet, mostly.

It was the first time in Ruth's life that she didn't have a schedule; it was also the first time that she really watched the Duggars on television. "I watched this sanitized version of what Quiverfull life was like and I was hurt, I was disgusted," she said. "I can't even look at them to this day without getting angry."

Ruth said she hopes that the Duggars' crumbling facade in the face of Josh's scandals will make the public question other aspects of the family life they modeled for years on TV.

"I think back to how my mom said, 'God made you for this,' and I finally had to say, 'No, God made me for more,'" she said.

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