Belief

Is magic immoral? Here's the role it played in the development of early Christianity

Shaily Shashikant Patel, Virginia Tech

Americans are fascinated by magic. TV shows like “WandaVision" and “The Witcher," books like the Harry Potter series, plus comics, movies and games about people with powers that can't be explained by God, science or technology, have all been wildly popular for years. Modern pop culture is a testament to how enchanted people are by the thought of gaining special control over an uncertain world.

“Magic" is often defined in the West as evil or separate from “civilized" religions like Christianity and also from the scientific observation and study of the world. But the irony is that magic was integral to the development of Christianity and other religions – and it informed the evolution of the sciences, too.

As an expert in ancient magic and early Christianity, I study how magic helped early adherents develop a Christian identity. One part of this identity was morality: the inner sense of right and wrong that guides life decisions. Of course, the darker side of this development is the slide into supremacy: seeing one's own tradition as morally superior and rightfully dominant.

My work tries to return magic to its proper place as a part of the Christian tradition. I show how false distinctions between magic and Christianity were created to elevate ancient Christianity and how they continue to advance Christian supremacy today.

The origins of magic

In Western culture, magic is often defined in opposition to religion and science. This is problematic because all three concepts are rooted in colonialism. For centuries, many European scholars based their definitions of religion on Christianity, while at the same time describing the practices and beliefs of non-Christians as “primitive," “superstitious" or “magical."

This sense of superiority helped Europe's Christian monarchies justify conquering and exploiting Indigenous peoples around the world in a bid to “civilize" them, often through extreme brutality. Imperialist legacies still color how some people think about non-Christians as “others," and how they label others' rituals and religions as “magic."

But this modern understanding of magic doesn't map neatly onto the world of the first Christians. “Magic" has always had many meanings. From what scholars can gather, the word itself was imported from the Persian word “maguš," which may have described a class of priests with royal connections. Sometimes, these “magi" were depicted as performing divination, ritual activities or educating young boys who would take the throne.

Greek texts retained this earlier meaning and also added new ones. The famous ancient Greek historian Herodotus writes that the Persian magi interpreted dreams, read the skies and performed sacrifices. Herodotus uses the Greek word “magos." Sophocles, a Greek playwright, uses the same term in his tragedy “Oedipus the King," when Oedipus berates the seer Tiresias for scheming to overthrow him.

Although these two Greek texts both date from roughly the early 400s B.C., “magician" has different connotations in each.

Starting in the first century B.C., Latin authors also adapted the Persian term into “magus."

While defending himself at trial for performing “evil deeds of magic," the second-century philosopher Apuleius claimed he both was and was not a “magician." He insisted he was like a high priest or a natural philosopher rather than someone who uses unsavory means to get what they want. What's interesting here is that Apuleius uses one idea of high philosophical magic to combat another idea of crude, self-interested magic.

Christianity and magic

The first Christians inherited these varied ideas of magic alongside their Roman neighbors. In their world, people who did “magical" deeds like exorcisms and healings were common. Such people sometimes explained religious or philosophical texts and ideas, as well.

This presented a problem for early Christian authors: If wondrous deeds were fairly commonplace, how could a group looking to attract followers compete with “magicians"? After all, Jesus and the Apostles did extraordinary deeds, too. So Christian writers made distinctions in order to elevate their heroes.

Take the biblical story of Simon the magician. In Acts 8, Simon's magical deeds entice the Samaritans and convince them to follow him until the evangelist Philip performs even more amazing miracles, converting all the Samaritans and Simon, too. But Simon relapses when he tries to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, prompting the Apostle Peter to rebuke him. This story is where we get the sin of simony: the purchase of religious office.

As I've discussed elsewhere, texts like this do not depict real events. They are teaching tools aimed at showing new adherents the differences between good Christian miracle workers and evil magicians. The earliest converts needed such stories because wonder workers looked a lot alike.

Christianity and morality

To some ancient people, stories of Jesus' miracles probably didn't seem far removed from the deeds magicians performed for money in the marketplace. In fact, the church fathers had to shield Jesus and the Apostles against accusations of practicing magic. They include Origen of Alexandria, who in the middle of the third century A.D. defended Christianity against Celsus, a pagan philosopher who charged Jesus with being a magician.

Celsus argued that the miracles of Jesus were no different from the magic performed by marketplace sorcerers. Origen agreed the two shared superficial similarities, but claimed they were fundamentally different because magicians cavorted with demons while Jesus' wonders led to moral reformation. Like the story of Simon the magician, Origen's disagreement with Celsus was a means of teaching his audience how to tell the difference between morally suspect magicians who sought personal gain and miracle workers who acted for the benefit of others.

Ancient authors invented the idea that the miracles of Christians possessed inherent moral superiority over non-Christian magic because ancient audiences were as enticed by magic as modern ones. But in elevating Christianity above magic, these writers created false distinctions that linger even today.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify Jesus's role in early Christianity.The Conversation

Shaily Shashikant Patel, Assistant Professor of Early Christianity, Virginia Tech

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

Liberty University sues Jerry Falwell, Jr. for 'at least $30 million in damages' over sex scandal: report

Before a sex scandal forced his resignation in 2020, former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. was among the most prominent White Christian fundamentalist evangelicals of the Trump era. These days, there is bad blood between the 58-year-old Falwell and many of his former colleagues, and Reuters is reporting that Falwell is now facing a major lawsuit from Liberty.

According to reporters Aram Roston and Jonathan Stempel, "The complaint filed on Thursday in a state court in Lynchburg, Virginia seeks at least $30 million in damages. It said Falwell, 58, breached his duties by refusing to disclose his and his wife Becki's relationship with (a pool) attendant, and negotiating a higher salary and severance package when he knew the affair could damage the school."

In 2020, Reuters reported that the pool attendant alleged that Falwell's wife, Becki Falwell, had an extramarital affair with him and that the then-Liberty University president enjoyed being in the same room with them when they were having sex. Sometimes, the young man alleged, Falwell, Jr. would remotely watch his wife and the pool attendant having sex via camera.

Falwell, Jr. is the son of the late Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, Jr., who died in 2007 at the age of 73. The Moral Majority was among the most influential far-right evangelical groups of the Reagan years, and the late Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was highly critical of the influence that political White evangelicals like Falwell, Jr. and Pat Robertson gained in his party during the 1980s.

There's a profound moral problem that the pro-life movement ignores

Once upon a time, I was a straight news reporter freelancing for a new national religion publication. My assignment was to attend religious services in my area to see what faith leaders were saying on the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election.

I decided to go to a Roman Catholic Church here in New Haven that offers mass in English, Polish and Latin (obviously, not at the same time). The Latin Mass, if you've never experienced it, is truly moving what with the incense and cathedral setting and so on. I was enjoying myself all the way up to the homily. It was in English. I got my notepad. "Abortion is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes," the priest said. The message was clear: don't vote for the (Black) candidate supporting infanticide.

I don't think abortion is murder, but I can see why others do. I can see why people see it as a "humanitarian crisis." I can even see why some think of the pro-life movement as a civil-rights movement. For these believers, life begins at conception, meaning a person becomes a person at what they believe is a sacred moment. Even if you don't think it's murder, you might credit the view with having a profound moral weight.

Yes, yes. I know. Anti-abortion politics is really about putting women back in their place in the natural order of things.1 It's about maintaining the local authority of white man, for the most part, and their dominance over women, especially the women in their lives. This, to me, is transparently true. Even so, abortion is what it is. It's not like the pro-life movement is based on nothing serious. There is a moral foundation, no?

What if it's not what you think it is? The energy driving 40 years of partisan politics, to strike down Roe, has been described as a moral crusade. The moral dimension has been strong enough to wedge apart liberals and social-gospel Catholics, wrote Christopher Jon Sprigman. "But for so many I knew, the struggle over abortion overwhelmed their other political commitments. For many, it was the Supreme Court's constitutionalization of abortion that turned disagreement into a great moral schism."

Again, what if it's not that? What if the question is not centered on the morality of ending a pregnancy but on something quite different? Most liberals don't even bother asking the question. They just deny the premise of the argument. They deny a fetus is a person. But what if a fetus is a person, as pro-lifers say? Then what? Well, then we have a titanic ethical dilemma no serious person in the pro-life movement talks about. And by refusing to talk about it, they give up the game. This isn't really about babies.

Think about it. The pro-life movement wants the government to outlaw access to abortion, the result being women carrying out pregnancies. Put this together with the belief that a fetus is a person. What are pro-lifers asking for? That the government force one person to permit another person to use her body. Though it's true this person requires another person's body for its survival, that doesn't change the fact that forcing one person to permit another person to use her body for its survival is a moral question as profound as the question of whether ending a pregnancy is good or bad.

Even if you think ending a pregnancy is bad, on account of your belief that a fetus is a person, you should be downright disturbed by the idea of the government forcing one person to allow another person to use her body for its survival. These are different moral problems, sure, but they are equally problematic. If the pro-life movement is not ignoring one in favor of the other, it's deciding one is OK while the other is not. And the consequential burden of either decision falls entirely on who? Pregnant women.

If abortion really were a "great moral schism," its opponents would be struggling to untangle the vexing moral knot of a government forcing one person to use another person's body. But I don't see serious abortion opponents doing that. What I do see is what everyone else sees—debate over whether the US Supreme Court will strike down Roe, or enfeeble it, out of the profound moral conviction that abortion is wrong.

But abortion is not a "moral debate." It's a one-sided moral debate. It's a debate over which one side won't look at the moral implications of winning the debate. Or it's a debate over which one side understands the moral implications and accepts them, because accepting them is in keeping with its view of the natural order of things. What's sacred isn't so much the life inside the mother as her presumed social role.

The Supreme Court is pushing a skewed view of religious freedom — as a major Church-state case looms

by Steven K. Green, Willamette University

The Supreme Court's current term is winding down, but there are still several cases to be decided – and, as with most terms, a controversy over church-state matters looms.

Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia is among the cases still to be decided. It centers on a requirement that private agencies that receive city funding – in this case an adoption agency – do not discriminate against any community they serve, including members of the LGBTQ community. This nondiscrimination requirement applies to both religious and nonreligious organizations. But the adoption service at the heart of the case – Catholic Social Services – refused to comply, asserting that not being allowed to discriminate against gay couples infringed upon its religious beliefs.

It would appear on first glance that the city's position is strong – after all, it provides the money and has a legitimate interest in ensuring that funding does not perpetuate discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Yet, Catholic Social Services and its counsel, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, believe that they have the wind at their back regarding their claim. From my perspective as a professor of law who has closely monitored such religious liberty cases, they could be right. Religious claimants have been on a winning streak before the Supreme Court in recent years. They notched up their latest victory on April 9 when justices ruled that California could not impose COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings at private homes.

A noticeable shift

The Supreme Court has become increasingly conservative over the past two decades, with five of the last seven justices appointed by Republicans. As a result, it has become increasingly sympathetic to claims by religious conservatives that mandatory nondiscrimination laws violate their ability to practice their beliefs, as protected by the Constitution and federal law.

Two recent studies have confirmed this trend. One found that since the George W. Bush-appointed John Roberts assumed the role of chief justice in 2005, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of religious claimants 81% of the time. This compares with a rate of about 50% for the 20th century.

Some of the recent cases are familiar; others, less so. In 2014, the justices relieved the craft store chain Hobby Lobby from having to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraception, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby had objected to the requirement on religious grounds.

And in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that teachers employed by religious schools were not entitled to protection against age and disability discrimination as a result of the “ministerial exception" – which allows religious entities to ignore anti-bias legislation if they can assert that staff perform even minimal religious duties.

Meanwhile, in 2018, a majority of justices suggested that a small business – here, a baker – could refuse to serve gay customers because of the owner's religious objections to same-sex marriage. The court has also held that states have to give the same grants and tax breaks to churches and religious schools that they do to nonreligious entities.

This trend has extended into the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, a sharply divided court refused to overturn state restrictions – which for the most part classified houses of worship alongside restaurants and movie theaters as “nonessential," distinguishing them from “essential" services such as medical offices, pharmacies and grocery stores. But in late fall and again in February, a majority including the newly appointed religiously conservative Justice Amy Barrett struck down such orders. In so doing, they ruled that states must treat houses of worship no worse than the most favored category of essential services.

Redefining religious freedom

In prioritizing religious liberty claims over health and anti-bias concerns, the Supreme Court's conservative majority has, to my mind, promoted a skewed conception of what religious freedom is.

Religious freedom has traditionally meant more than simply the ability to practice one's beliefs unencumbered, free from state interference. It is a condition that lives alongside other important democratic values – such as equal rights and a separation of church and state.

But the Supreme Court's conservative majority has come down on the side of a narrower interpretation of religious liberty to mean the right of individuals or groups to practice their faith as they see fit.

The court's new emphasis on protecting religious liberty has redefined the conventional understanding of the free exercise clause. Traditionally, that has meant the government could not impose a substantial burden on one's ability to practice religion, but that lesser restrictions on that practice – such as adhering to health or safety regulations – were not unconstitutional.

But under the current Supreme Court, the degree of burden is less important than whether the state is treating religion differently from secular counterparts. Furthermore, in the view of another Trump appointee, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, religion deserves most-favored-nation status.

In this way, religious entities cannot be treated any differently in the pandemic from the most essential service – but they would be able to discriminate against customers or employees in a way the essential services cannot. It is, I believe the legal equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.

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Steven K. Green, Professor of Law, Director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy, Willamette University

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

How evangelicals got fixated on gender roles

by Susan M. Shaw, Oregon State University

Prominent evangelical leader Beth Moore, who announced in March 2021 that she was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention over its treatment of women, among other issues, recently apologized for supporting the primacy of the theology of “complementarianism."

This belief asserts that while women and men are of equal value, God has assigned them specific gender roles. Specifically, it promotes men's headship or authority over women, while encouraging women's submission.

As a scholar of gender and evangelical Christianity who grew up Southern Baptist, I watched how complementarianism became central to evangelical belief, starting in the late 1970s, in response to the feminist influence within Christianity.

The start of the doctrine

In the 1970s, the women's movement began to make inroads into a number of arenas in the U.S., including work, education and politics. Many Christians, including evangelicals, came to embrace egalitarianism and to champion women's equality in the home, church and society.

In response, in 1977 evangelical biblical studies professor George Knight III published a book, “New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women," and introduced a new interpretation of “role differences."

Other evangelical biblical studies professors, such as Wayne Grudem and John Piper, began to write about submission and headship in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, making the claim that women's submission to men was not, as many Christians at that time believed, a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit.

Rather, they argued, the requirement for women's submission was part of the created order. Men, they explained, were created to rule and women were created to obey.

Southern Baptists incorporate the belief

Evangelical leaders began to hold secret meetings, conferences and evangelical associations to work out, and then promote, a fully developed framework for complementarianism.

In 1987, a group including Piper and Grudem met in Danvers, Massachusetts, to prepare a statement that came to be known as the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It set out the core beliefs of complementarianism.

Among other things, the Danvers Statement affirmed the submissive role of women. It said, “Wives should forsake resistance to their husbands' authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands' leadership."

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was created at the same time. The goal of the council was to influence evangelicals to adopt the principles of complementarianism in their homes, churches, schools and other religious agencies.

Within a decade, the council and the Danvers Statement began to have significant influence among evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Entrenched evangelical beliefs

The Southern Baptist Convention soon incorporated these beliefs into its confessional statement – a document of generally shared beliefs. In an amendment in 1998 to the “Baptist Faith and Message," the convention included the complementarian language.

The amended section on “The Family" stated, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

For some, the theology of complementarianism became so deeply entrenched in evangelical belief that they came to see it as an essential doctrine of the faith. As Piper said in 2012, if people accept egalitarianism, sooner or later, they're going to get the Gospel wrong.

While Moore has not entirely renounced complementarianism, she has now decried its use as a first-tier doctrine. First-tier doctrines are the ones that evangelicals believe people must accept in order to be Christians. For some evangelicals, however, complementarianism remains a litmus test for theological faithfulness, right alongside belief in God and acceptance of Jesus.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation's newsletter.]The Conversation

Susan M. Shaw, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University

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

Christian author renounces his faith in emotional video: 'I love myself for the first time'

A prominent Christian blogger has renounced his faith -- and says he's never felt happier.

Desiring God contributor Paul Maxwell, an author and former philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute, tearfully told his Instagram followers that he's "not a Christian anymore" and looking forward to reconnecting with the people around him, reported FaithIt.

"I love you guys, and I love all the support and friendships I've built here [Instagram]," Maxwell said. "I think it's important to say that I'm just not a Christian anymore, and it feels really good. I'm really happy…I'm really happy."

Maxwell, author of The Trauma of Doctrine: New Calvinism, Religious Abuse, and the Experience of God, joins a number of other Christian influencers in renouncing or walking away from their faith, including musicians Jon Steingard and John Cooper and author Joshua Harris.

"I can't wait to discover what kind of connection I can have with all of you beautiful people as I try to figure out what's next," Maxwell told his audience. "I love you guys. I'm in a really good spot. Probably the best spot of my life. I'm so full of joy for the first time. I love my life for the first time…and I love myself for the first time."

Paul Maxwell Leaves Christianity www.youtube.com

MAGA minister goes on rant claiming Jesus was 'tough guy' unlike the 'effeminate, almost homosexual' church

Evangelical pro-Trump minister Jeff Jansen denounced the Christian church of the 21st century, calling it "effeminate, almost homosexual," in comparison to Jesus Christ, who, he says, was "a man," "a tough guy."

Jansen, author of "Trump: The Destiny of God's America: The Great Awakening and Battle for Our Country's Future," delivered his declaration "at a 'Reign' conference at Ignite Faith Church in Redmond, Oregon, over the weekend, where he bragged that the ushers at his church all carry guns and will not hesitate to kill anyone who even thinks 'about starting something,'" according to Right Wing Watch's Kyle Mantyla.

"Jesus wasn't a wimp," Jansen told parishoners. "He was a tough guy. He was a man. OK? He was a man. When they were selling in his Father's house, he went and he braided a whip. Now, that takes time. He's braiding a whip, and he's like, 'I'm coming for you, coming for you.' … He was very deliberate, and he was mad. He's a man. He whipped them. Sorry. Just whipped them. 'Oh, Jesus wouldn't do that.' The heck he wouldn't," Jansen ssaid.

"He was a man. But the church—the ekklesia, the government of God—has been so neutered and so turned effeminate, almost homosexual," he added. "I'm just telling you straight up. It's just ridiculous. Where are the men? Where's the maleness? Where is the 'I will defend the children, I will protect the family'? My ushers at my church, they all pack. I mean, they all pack. You come to my place, and you think about starting something, you're dead. They'll kill you. They'll shoot you because they're gonna protect everybody else. You try to pull something, you're dead. I said, 'Listen, guys, if I'm up there preaching and somebody comes up running, make sure you get them. Just kill 'em. Just shoot 'em dead.'"

Watch:

Legal reporter reveals how the Supreme Court 'radically altered' a key part of US law in the dark of night

A perfect example of how much Justice Amy Coney Barrett has moved the U.S. Supreme Court even more to the right came late Friday night, when the High Court blocked California's pandemic-related ban on religious gatherings in private homes. The decision in Tandon v. Newsom was a 5-4 ruling, and Barrett was part of the majority in a case that might have had a different outcome if the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were still alive.

After Ginsburg's death in 2020, then-President Donald Trump nominated Barrett — and when the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed her, a liberal was replaced by a far-right social conservative along the lines of Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Barrett was expected to make socially conservative rulings, and she did that with her decision in Tandon v. Newsom.

Journalist Mark Joseph Stern, analyzing the ruling in Slate, explains, "Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, as did the three liberal justices, making Tandon yet another COVID decision in which Justice Amy Coney Barrett's vote made the difference. Although the conservative majority's decision was unsigned and ran just four pages long, it radically altered the law of religious liberty."

Stern goes on to explain why the Tandon ruling is a departure from the High Court's 1990 ruling in Employment Division v. Smith.

"Since 1990's Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court has not interpreted the 1st Amendment's free exercise clause to require religious exemptions to laws that don't discriminate against religion," Stern notes. "In Tandon, however, the majority effectively overturned Smith by establishing a new rule, often called the 'most favored nation' theory. Under this doctrine, any secular exemption to a law automatically creates a claim for a religious exemption, vastly expanding the government's obligation to provide religious accommodations to countless regulations."

On the Monday following the Supreme Court's Tandon ruling, Stern discussed the decision with University of Texas School of Law Professor Steve Vladeck and Lewis and Clarke Law School Professor Jim Oleske — who told Stern, "Smith says the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment protects against the government targeting religious practice for disfavored treatment, but does not grant a right to exemptions from general law. Almost immediately after Smith, there were efforts to read into it a broader 'most favored nation' theory that said: Any time the government grants an exemption to a law, it has an obligation to grant a religious exemption, too, unless the government meets strict scrutiny. But that was not the law of the land until Friday night."

Vladeck told Stern, "Friday night was the seventh time this term that the Supreme Court has issued an emergency injunction pending appeal. All seven were in COVID free-exercise cases…. Those who like these decisions are getting increasingly comfortable with the court flouting and defying its own internal standards and rules for this kind of relief simply because they like the result. In the process, they attack critics for being insufficiently sensitive to religious liberty. And that's a preposterous claim."

Trump held steady among believers at the ballot — it was the nonreligious vote he lost in 2020

For all the predictions and talk of a slump in support among evangelicals, it appears Donald Trump's election loss was not at the hands of religious voters.

As an analyst of religious data, I've been crunching data released in March 2021 that breaks down the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by faith. And by and large there was very little notable change in the vote choice of religious groups between 2016 and 2020 — in fact, for most faiths, support for Trump ticked up slightly. Instead, it was among those who do not identify with any religion that Trump saw a noticeable drop.

Despite exit poll data initially pointing toward a drop in white evangelical support for Trump in 2020, the latest data shows this not to be the case. The data is based on the Cooperative Election Study, which has become the gold standard for assessing vote choice because of its sample size and its ability to accurately represent the voting population of the United States.

In fact, with 80% of white evangelicals backing Trump in 2020, support actually ticked up from the 78% who voted for him four years earlier. Trump also saw two-point increases in the vote of nonwhite evangelicals, white Catholics, Black Protestants and Jews compared with four years ago.

These differences are not statistically significant, and as such it would be wrong to say it definitively shows Trump gained among religious groups. But it indicates that among the largest religious groups in the U.S., voting patterns in the November 2020 vote seemed to hold largely steady with four years earlier. Trump did not manage to win significantly larger shares, nor was winner Joe Biden able to peel away religious voters from the Trump coalition.

Losing the nonreligious

However, there are some interesting and statistically significant trends when you break down the data further. Nonwhite Catholics shifted four points toward Donald Trump. This fits with what we saw in places like the heavily Hispanic and Catholic Miami-Dade County, Florida, where Trump's overall vote share improved from 35% to 46% between 2016 and 2020.

Trump also managed to pick up 15 percentage points among the Mormon vote. On first glance this would appear a large jump. But it makes sense when you factor in that around 15% of the Mormon vote in 2016 went to Utah native and fellow Mormon Evan McMullin, who ran in that year's election as a third-party candidate. Without McMullin in 2020, Trump picked up Mormon voters – as did Joe Biden, who did slightly better than Hillary Clinton had among Mormons.

There is also some weak evidence that the Republican candidate picked up some support among smaller religious groups in the U.S., like Hindus and Buddhists. Trump increased his share among these two groups by four percentage points each. But it is important to note that these two groups combined constitute only about 1.5% of the American population. As such, a four-point increase translates to only a very small fraction of the overall popular vote.

What is clear is that Trump lost a good amount of ground among the religious unaffiliated. Trump's share of the atheist vote declined from 14% in 2016 to just 11% in 2020; the decline among agnostics was slightly larger, from 23% to 18%.

Additionally, those who identify as "nothing in particular" — a group that represents 21% of the overall U.S. population — were not as supportive of Trump in his re-election bid. His vote share among this group dropped by three percentage points, while Biden's rose by more than seven points, with the Democrat managing to win over many of the "nothing in particulars" who had backed third-party candidates in the 2016 election.

Looked at broadly, Trump did slightly better among Christians and other smaller religious groups in the U.S. but lost ground among the religiously unaffiliated. What these results cannot account for, however, is record turnout. There were nearly 22 million more votes cast in 2020 than in 2016. So while vote shares may not have changed that much, the number of votes cast helped swing the election for the Democratic candidate. A more detailed breakdown of voter turnout is due to be released in July 2021 by the team that administers the Cooperative Election Study; that will bring the picture of religion and the 2020 vote into clearer focus.

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

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

How non-religious voters became a key part of Trump's downfall

by Ryan Burge, Eastern Illinois University

For all the predictions and talk of a slump in support among evangelicals, it appears Donald Trump's election loss was not at the hands of religious voters.

As an analyst of religious data, I've been crunching data released in March 2021 that breaks down the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by faith. And by and large there was very little notable change in the vote choice of religious groups between 2016 and 2020 – in fact, for most faiths, support for Trump ticked up slightly. Instead, it was among those who do not identify with any religion that Trump saw a noticeable drop.

Despite exit poll data initially pointing toward a drop in white evangelical support for Trump in 2020, the latest data shows this not to be the case. The data is based on the Cooperative Election Study, which has become the gold standard for assessing vote choice because of its sample size and its ability to accurately represent the voting population of the United States.

In fact, with 80% of white evangelicals backing Trump in 2020, support actually ticked up from the 78% who voted for him four years earlier. Trump also saw two-point increases in the vote of nonwhite evangelicals, white Catholics, Black Protestants and Jews compared with four years ago.

These differences are not statistically significant, and as such it would be wrong to say it definitively shows Trump gained among religious groups. But it indicates that among the largest religious groups in the U.S., voting patterns in the November 2020 vote seemed to hold largely steady with four years earlier. Trump did not manage to win significantly larger shares, nor was winner Joe Biden able to peel away religious voters from the Trump coalition.

Losing the nonreligious

However, there are some interesting and statistically significant trends when you break down the data further. Nonwhite Catholics shifted four points toward Donald Trump. This fits with what we saw in places like the heavily Hispanic and Catholic Miami-Dade County, Florida, where Trump's overall vote share improved from 35% to 46% between 2016 and 2020.

Trump also managed to pick up 15 percentage points among the Mormon vote. On first glance this would appear a large jump. But it makes sense when you factor in that around 15% of the Mormon vote in 2016 went to Utah native and fellow Mormon Evan McMullin, who ran in that year's election as a third-party candidate. Without McMullin in 2020, Trump picked up Mormon voters – as did Joe Biden, who did slightly better than Hillary Clinton had among Mormons.

There is also some weak evidence that the Republican candidate picked up some support among smaller religious groups in the U.S., like Hindus and Buddhists. Trump increased his share among these two groups by four percentage points each. But it is important to note that these two groups combined constitute only about 1.5% of the American population. As such, a four-point increase translates to only a very small fraction of the overall popular vote.

What is clear is that Trump lost a good amount of ground among the religious unaffiliated. Trump's share of the atheist vote declined from 14% in 2016 to just 11% in 2020; the decline among agnostics was slightly larger, from 23% to 18%.

Additionally, those who identify as “nothing in particular" – a group that represents 21% of the overall U.S. population – were not as supportive of Trump in his reelection bid. His vote share among this group dropped by three percentage points, while Biden's rose by over seven points, with the Democrat managing to win over many of the “nothing in particulars" who had backed third-party candidates in the 2016 election.

Looked at broadly, Trump did slightly better among Christians and other smaller religious groups in the U.S. but lost ground among the religiously unaffiliated. What these results cannot account for, however, is record turnout. There were nearly 22 million more votes cast in 2020 than in 2016. So while vote shares may not have changed that much, the number of votes cast helped swing the election for the Democratic candidate. A more detailed breakdown of voter turnout is due to be released in July 2021 by the team that administers the Cooperative Election Study; that will bring the picture of religion and the 2020 vote into clearer focus.

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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.

Why the Christian right has been on a crusade against children's rights

Republicans, having lost their decade-long fight to prevent same-sex couples from getting married, are now targeting an even more vulnerable population for the next round of culture war hysterics: Trans children.

The GOP is clearly convinced that the way to win the 2022 elections is by stirring people up with lurid, false tales of predatory trans people. They've recently passed a slew of state-level bills attacking trans rights, especially in public schools. The victims are some of the people least able to protect themselves: Minor children, many who are already struggling with difficulties stemming from being trans, queer, or otherwise gender nonconforming — a category so broad that it could capture most kids, depending on the interpretation.

Last week, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed two executive orders meant to bar trans kids from playing sports. On Tuesday, the Arkansas state legislature overrode a veto from Gov. Asa Hutchinson to pass a bill banning people under 18 from receiving any gender-affirming medical treatments, even though minors often do little more than take puberty blockers to give them time to make more permanent decisions. Now the North Carolina legislature is considering a bill that would not only do all of the above, but would also require schools to immediately report to parents if a student "has 17 exhibited symptoms of gender dysphoria, gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor's sex." As many commentators pointed out, "incongruent" with someone's sex is an extremely subjective standard.

Especially in the eyes of rigidly sexist conservatives, most Americans have some behaviors that are incongruent with their assigned gender. Boys who like sports like basketball or soccer more than football? Girls who like books more than boys? Boys who exhibit discomfort at misogynist jokes? Girls who talk back when sexually harassed? Boys who cook breakfast for younger siblings? Girls who don't like makeup or like it more than Christians deem "modest"? Anyone could be targeted for behaving in a way a sexist school official feels is "incongruent" to their assigned gender. As Sarah Jones at New York's Intelligencer wrote, "co-sponsoring legislators have in essence devised a way to punish gender thoughtcrime."

The primary targets of this onslaught of legislation are trans kids, of course, who are in serious danger of being denied medical care and being bullied by institutions in ways that can be severely detrimental to their mental health. Trans kids are at alarmingly high risk for suicide, but medical treatment and accepting environments can do a lot to save their lives. By trying to deny kids these things, Republicans are sending a strong message that they would rather these kids die than live as their true selves.

The broad language in the North Carolina bill also points to a secondary purpose behind these bills: It's part of the long-standing GOP war on children's rights.

It doesn't get a lot of media attention, but for decades now, conservatives — especially the Christian right — have been on a crusade against any kind of children's rights or children's welfare policies they see as a threat to patriarchal authority or white conservative cultural dominance. Children exist, in this mentality, to be shaped into little right-wing automatons and certainly have no rights to be protected from abuse, to think for themselves, or to be educated about the larger world outside of the right-wing bubble.

The U.S. is the only member state of the United Nations, for instance, to not have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which, as Karen Attiah reports for the Washington Post, "supports protections for children from forced labor, child marriage, deprivation of a legal identity, and grants both able-bodied and disabled children the right to health care, education, and freedom of expression." The reason the U.S. refuses to adopt the treaty is simply that American conservatives flat out do not believe children should have these protections. Groups like the Family Research Council tend to forefront fears that ratification will mean parents can no longer spank children, but the larger concerns are about children having freedom of thought and expression. Religious conservatives strongly believe that parents should be able to force children to adhere to their religious beliefs or to prevent children from learning about American history, science, or other topics where the facts might interfere with right-wing narratives.

Indeed, a major way that the GOP war on children has manifested in the past decades is in the fights over school curricula. When Barack Obama's administration embraced a set of national education guidelines known as Common Core, the American right lost their minds, claiming that coastal elites were trying to indoctrinate children.

"We don't ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children," then-governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley said in 2014. In response, a report from the Brookings Institute argued, "No employer or educator claims that algebra, computer science, or chemistry is different in California than in South Carolina (or in South Korea). Employers today hire based on what you know and what you can do, not on where you grew up."

Setting aside the technocratic framing of education as simply a matter of job training, the reason this argument falls on deaf ears for conservatives is precisely because they fear that education will free up children to grow up and move to California or South Korea. While conservatives would never say it in those words, "ignorant" is the kind of quality they're interested in cultivating in young Americans, because it makes youth easier to control. It's why 6 out of 10 Republican voters have a negative view of higher education, compared to 67% of Democrats who believe college education is a good thing.

Sex and gender issues have long provided conservatives an opportunity to stir up hysteria and drum up support for their hostile approach towards children's rights. For instance, Republicans have been able to pass laws in most states requiring parental notification or even permission for girls under 18 to get abortions. Under the George W. Bush administration, the federal government strong-armed the majority of school districts to replace sex education with "abstinence-only" programs that demonized contraception use, spread misinformation and shamed people who have premarital sex — a category that includes 95% of Americans.

These kinds of policies get passed because a lot of Americans, even ones who are more moderate or even liberal, have lingering hang-ups about adolescent sexuality and are easily persuaded by arguments that teenagers are "too young" to handle information about or access to reproductive health care. But these policies also create a backdoor way for conservatives to chip away at the very concept of minors having rights to education and autonomy. The results are horrific: higher teen pregnancy and STI rates and the sexual abuse of minors who are too ignorant of biology and disempowered to report on adults who hurt them.

The war on trans kids is more of the same.

A lot of Americans are ignorant about the realities of trans lives, and so are easily duped with lies about kids being "recruited." Conservatives then pass laws that allow them to both terrorize trans kids and use the power of schools to force their rigid notions of gender performance on everyone. It's a classic right-wing twofer, promoting both transphobia and the idea that minor children have no rights whatsoever, not even to their own private thoughts.

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