There may a rational, evidence-based case for allowing all high school sports to be played during the coronavirus pandemic. But that is not what you can expect from Mark Curran, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, who prefers that you trust the dictates of his religion rather than the counsel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“My son found out today his football season is canceled,” he informed his Facebook followers. “The Devil is about fear and isolation. Does he own you? How much more of his childhood are we going to steal? Death will eventually come for everyone. Your soul will have an eternal destination.”
Curran seems to think we shouldn’t let the prospect of death postpone Friday night lights. He also imagines that the Almighty has selected him, along with Donald Trump, to help save America. The former Lake County sheriff says: “At Republican events, we ask, ‘Does God make mistakes? Do you think there’s accidents in the world? Does providence play a part in our lives?’ ” He suggests that he got the nomination thanks to divine intervention.
Like the president he extols, Curran is a toxic narcissist who exhibits little knowledge of federal policy issues. But unlike Trump, Curran is in the grip of a type of religious delirium not uncommon among conservative politicians and their supporters.
“We will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime,” said former GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota last year. “I think God was behind the last election,” evangelist Franklin Graham has surmised.
But if God has put Himself behind the Republican Party, or right-wing causes in general, he might reconsider, because something is not working for Him. Religious belief is on the wane around the world, even in the nation that many Christians believe enjoys his special favor.
For years, the theory that societies would become less religious as they modernized didn’t pan out. There was a global resurgence of faith in the late 20th century and the early 21st. But not anymore.
“Since 2007, there has been a remarkably sharp trend away from religion,” writes University of Michigan professor Ronald Inglehart in Foreign Affairs. Based on surveys of how important people say God is in their lives, he and colleague Pippa Norris found that between 2007 and 2019, the vast majority of countries grew less religious. Only five became more religious.
Ours is not one of them. Since 2007, Inglehart notes, “the United States has shown the largest move away from religion of any country for which we have data.” On a scale of 1 to 10, the U.S. average has gone from 8.2 to 4.6 — “an astonishingly sharp decline.”
Some 23% of Americans now say they subscribe to no religion — making them as numerous as Catholics or evangelical Christians. More than a third of millennials (born from 1981 to 1996) fall into this group.
Inglehart cites various causes. “In a world where people often lived near starvation, religion helped them cope with severe uncertainty and stress,” he writes. “But as economic and technological development took place, people became increasingly able to escape starvation, cope with disease and suppress violence.” As a result, they felt less need for faith.
Politics, however, has also played a role. The association of evangelical Christianity with Trump, who exhibits no Christian virtues, has been a turnoff. The GOP’s claim to be the political instrument of Jesus Christ has made nonbelievers and non-Christians feel unwelcome.
It’s not so much that people lose their faith and then move left politically. It’s more that they move left politically and then lose their faith — repelled by the sanctimonious and even bellicose religiosity of some conservatives. “Quiet religion rarely bothers anyone,” Boston College political scientist Alan Wolfe told me. “Not so with loud religion.”
Trump ally Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor, has pronounced Democrats “a godless party.” In reality, two-thirds of Democratic primary voters have a religious affiliation, and Democrats showed no qualms about choosing a devout Catholic as their presidential nominee. But the party is open both to non-Christian believers and to nonbelievers — who, at a Republican convention, might have flashbacks to the Salem witch trials.
By treating Trump, political conservatism and Christianity as inseparable, Republicans have driven non-Christians away from the GOP and nonconservatives away from religion. They should hope God will help them, because they are not helping themselves.
Steve Chapman blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at www.facebook.com/stevechapman13.