On New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Cee Lo Green re-imagined John Lennon’s atheist anthem to the horror of many. Green performed a soulful version of the Beatles’ “Imagine” with the lyrics changed from “nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too” to “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.”
Twitter was immediately alight with outrage from Lennon fans as well as from the atheist community. Fair enough. Beatles fans are notoriously loyal and changing up lyrics is simply treasonous. And despite Steve Martin’s musical assertion that Atheists Don’t Have No Songs, they do have a precious few… and Imagine was among them, at least pre-Cee Lo.
But the confounding thing would seem to be the deafening silence from the evangelical community. Yes, at least a celebrity took a glancing blow at the godless. But the claim that all religion is true should be as disconcerting to Christian fundamentalists as claims of no god at all.
Activist Christians are pretty adamant there is but one true religion and everyone else is hell-bound. Further, they complain loudly of being victimized, marginalized, and discriminated against at everything from not being wished “Merry Christmas” by Wal-Mart greeters to not being able to teach mythology as science in the classroom. So, why doesn’t Cee Lo’s lyrical twist have their collective white cotton panties all in a bunch?
I guess maybe Evangelicals don’t feel threatened by pantheists? Yet?
The debt ceiling talks appear to have stalled and the August 2nd date of economic doom draws neigh. Wall Street bankers, The Fed, the Treasury Department, and most every economist on the planet believe that hitting the debt ceiling will have dire consequences, and that actually defaulting on the debt would be even worse. Estimates vary in terms of the degree of catastrophe, but virtually no one in a position to be considered an expert on macroeconomics thinks that hitting the ceiling will be no big deal.
Chauncey DeVega, over at AlterNet, thinks the reason is that evangelicals have a strong hold on the GOP, and that the fervently faithful have a mindset that ignores numbers that don’t agree with their ideology. He posits that the Tea Party and other far right conservative groups are running on faith rather than fact. While there may be some truth to that, it doesn’t explain the plurality of Independents or the chunk of Democrats beholden to the notion that banging into the debt ceiling is a non-event.
I personally think there’s also an element here of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Political issues have become so hyperbolic in the media that virtually every issue is positioned as a looming Armageddon of one sort or another. Unless you’re following the minutiae of the debates, you’re bound to get pretty numb to all the doomsaying.
However, presumably our elected officials are above simply blowing in the media wind. They have access to data and discussions those of us in the cheap seats do not. They are in the position to be able to discern hyperbole from actual danger. Yet this would not prevent them from being blinded to facts by faith.
GOP legislators faith-blindness goes beyond the debt ceiling. Similar faith-trumps-data rationale fuels denial of global warming, belief that tax cuts don’t have to be paid for, belief that progressive tax codes constitute class warfare and destroy jobs, belief that trickle down economics is always the answer, and government regulation is always evil.
The problem is that proving that tax cuts actually lower revenue, or that CO2 contributes to global warming, requires many years of data. And even then,the results are subject to interpretation and are not readily understandable by the average Joe.
Should we hit it, the debt ceiling presents an interesting test case. If the experts are right, the impact will be felt in the very short term. It will be widespread, affecting almost everyone, everywhere. And the impact will be felt for awhile. It will be virtually impossible to deny that such an impact was directly attributable to ignoring the debt ceiling. The Conservatives who claimed it would be no big deal will be demonstrably and painfully proved wrong beyond any reasonable doubt.
Should that come to pass, the question is, will that shake the faith of Conservative politicians and supporters in their other sacred tenets? Might they be willing to entertain the reality of global warming given the catastrophic impact of their blind faith in the debt ceiling non-crisis? Or will this be swept under the rug much like the predicted May 21st end of the world predictions. That was also proved wrong, but the faithful seem to somehow have accepted that failure with no apparent impact on their other beliefs. Maybe a sufficiently strong faith is even able to overcome incontrovertible reality.
Either way, if the economy tanks, it should certainly cause the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” crowd to pay attention. Maybe that bodes well for our collective political future if we can at least get the majority of the voters to begin operating from data-based rather than faith-based policies. Although, it would be a hellish way to learn a lesson.
Mashable reports, “Soon after NBC aired a pre-taped segment for a golf tournament that twice omitted the words “under God” from the United States Pledge of Allegiance, the Twittersphere erupted into a fury of controversy.” (See the video here.)
Meanwhile, my better half wondered aloud on her blog today why we consistently manufacture mountains out of mole hills. There’s little to suggest this was an overt message as much as a poor editing choice. As she notes, “one nation” and “indivisible” also get left out at points. And no one is screaming that NBC is advocating a new civil war.
Yet I’d approach the question somewhat differently. What if NBC did do this on purpose? I doubt that’s the case, but so what if it is? The majority of the outrage seems to be coming from Christian groups who are apparently maligned, abused, and oppressed because the phrase “under God” was left out. Really? Just because you can’t force everyone to be like you doesn’t mean you’re being discriminated against. Despite Michele Bachmann’s efforts, this is (not yet) a theocracy. The very fact the words “under God” are in the Pledge are a nod to the reality that some 90% of Americans worship God in one form or another. But it’s not a requirement to be an American.
Even as an atheist, I don’t and won’t advocate for the return of the Pledge to its pre-1954 godless state. This is primarily because “under God” is a harmless and somewhat meaningless phrase when spoken the the context of a mass pledge. It has personal meaning to many people when they say it because they know what they mean by it. Fine. No harm done. But hearing the person next to you say “under God” doesn’t remotely mean they share your meaning. By “God” they could be referring to Shiva, Odin, or the rabbit’s foot in their pocket they happen to worship. Or they might just be reciting it they way they learned in school and the words have no meaning whatsoever. It might be just a rote saying. And if hearing someone say something is meaningless, can it really be meaningful when they don’t?
Americans who believe Jesus will return within 30 or 40 years would seem to have motivation to make different personal and political choices than those who aren’t sure if or when the world will end. And those choices may not be in anyone’s best interest if the world doesn’t end on schedule.
This past summer, a Pew Research Center Study found that 41% of Americans expect Jesus Christ to return within four decades. This was pretty much flat from a similar 1999 study that found 44% of Americans held such a belief. While the specifics of what will happen when Christ returns are not well agreed upon across Christian groups, it’s fair to say there is agreement that secular institutions like governments and banks will cease to be even a little bit important once He arrives. So for all intents and purposes, we can say that 4 in 10 people expect the world to end by 2040, give or take a few years.
If, as an individual, you were convinced you would inherit a fortune from your eccentric uncle before you reached retirement age, you would certainly have little motivation to invest in your 401k, open any IRAs, or save up for that beach villa in Florida. You might even rack up big debts in your middle years, confident you’d have the means to pay those off down the road.
Similarly, if you are convinced the world will end before 2040, there’s little incentive to invest in America’s long term future. Social Security will still be pretty solvent then. We can patch the roads and bridges up to get another three decades out of them. The planet won’t quite be out of oil yet, and the pollution probably won’t have made the Earth unlivable. So why worry? Jesus will return and set it all straight. All that really matters is that your spiritual life is in order to assure you are risen up.
Of course, if the world doesn’t end when it’s supposed to, then we’re all in deep tapioca. The end times have been predicted repeatedly since 30AD, then reached a fever pitch of predictions with the advent of dispensationalism in the mid-19th century. But so far, we’re still here. To those of us remaining uncertain the end is neigh, it seems only prudent to plan for the future.
It might also be expected that some end time believers would hedge their bets for the sake of their children and grandchildren and invest in tomorrow anyway—just in case. But even if that’s half the group, it still means 20% have no vested interest in the future of the country. On the other hand, it would also be consistent for end time believers to simply check-out of politics altogether. After all, why should they care one way or the other.
It’s not clear there is any uniform code of Christian behavior for the final decades. People might conceivably rationalize all kinds of things. But coming to terms with the end, whether you are looking forward to it or not, has to have profound implications for how you live your life. That in turn has to influence how you vote and what political policies you would support or oppose.
It would be very educational if some end time believers would connect some of those dots and illuminate the path they are on for the rest of us. The world might make a tad more sense if we understood how end time beliefs translated into secular world behavior.