Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exit Stage Right: Why Religious Conservatives Fear the Future

The Millennial Momentum by authors Mike D. Hais and Morley Winograd

Huffington Post

by Brenda Peterson 9.28.2011

This week, the New York Times ran an op-ed "Why the Anti-Christ Matters in Politics" Is the venerable "gray lady," at last waking up to the very real and troubling consequences of End Times and Rapture beliefs in American politics? During the Bush years, and now as we enter another election cycle, this damaging philosophy again darkens the agenda. It is subtly driving issues -- from foreign rights (Middle East Wars and Israel) to environmental concerns (gut the E.P.A and deny climate change) to education (evolution vs. creationism).

The simplistic answer -- "We, the righteous, are outta here!" -- doesn't help those of us who will be left behind to face our very real problems: finding jobs, educating our kids, reckoning with climate change, terrorism, and finding enough clean water, food, and energy to survive. End Times and AntiChrist paranoia only increases our escapism and anxiety; it doesn't demand the calm foresight we need to imagine other futures than Exit Stage Left -- or should I say, Right?

Many of us who have long been tracking the Religious Right find it anything but rapturous. Here is a dogma based in fear and the ultimate judgment: If you're not with us, you're doomed to being Left Behind to suffer years of Tribulations: plagues, world financial markets crashing, environmental destruction, holy wars, and an Anti-Christ who is popular and evil; he supposedly rules over a One World system that doesn't look very white, evangelical or even American. That's why during his election, so many Internet sites were abuzz with the question: "Is Obama the Anti-Christ?"

In the same way that the illustrations in my Southern Baptist Sunday School lessons painted Jesus as blue eyed and fair-haired and not like an olive-skinned, dark-eyed Jewish nomadic mystic -- the president of our United States doesn't look at all like the pale men who for decades occupied the equally White House. Obama is so obviously not a savior or fiery True Believer; he is a practical and professorial presence. He is more like the meek who might inherit the earth. Flawed and struggling, like the rest of us.

Look now at the Republican candidates -- white, mostly men, mostly conservative Christians, and mostly mouthing the Far Right agenda. The one woman is fiercely anti-Feminist. She's just one of Adam's ribs. It's a blast from the past, not the future.

It's not our real, whole world that is threatened by End Times -- it's the long reign of the Far Right. When the Religious Right looks into the current and future American mirror, they don't see themselves much reflected there. Instead, they see themselves edged out by ethnically diverse, non-denominational faithful, and practically idealistic and bipartisan voters who are claiming their future power. To paraphrase Oprah's words: "most of the country looks like me."

This is borne out by demographic statistics from the last census. In their research on the Millennial Generation (those born between 1982 and 2003), professors Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais explain that at 95 million, "the Millennial Generation is the largest in American history. It is also the most ethnically and religiously diverse."

They cite fascinating statistics: Forty percent of Millennials are non-white. Only 68% are Christian (down from 80 percent) and fewer than half (43%) are Protestant. More diverse themselves, the Millennial are more tolerant of other's diversity -- whether it's religious or cultural. They are collaborative, service and community oriented; they dislike dogma or extreme polarities. Seventy-two percent of Millennial describe themselves as "more spiritual than religious." They are much more interested in practical solutions than holy wars. And they're young enough to believe they still have a future.

All of this does not bode well for the one note samba of the Religious Right. As the next generations dance into their power, their rapture is more about connection than judgment, more community than exclusion, more about sharing the stage than exiting a so-called sinful world. For the young who are just now inheriting the earth, there is the fact that they just got here -- no hurry to leave.

The Religious right, like the poor in spirit, will always be with us. But their reign of terror and blame and meanness is almost over. As the young mature into their own power and vision, the old might consider dropping their immature, polarizing dogmas -- and get along with the rest of us. If the Religious Right and their short-term solutions want to leave this Earth and save only themselves --- let them. That would be some kind of rapture. Then the rest of us could really get to work in saving this world.~

Brenda Peterson is the author of 16 books including the recent memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which The Christian Science Monitor named as among "The Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Books of 2010." 

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