Religion Today

Monday, November 26, 2012

How did People Vote? The Religious Breakdown

America’s voters are overwhelmingly Christian: 78 percent of voters identified themselves as Christians in exit polls Nov. 6. That is down just 3 percent from 81 percent, the highest Christian participation in the previous three elections. Despite some of the pre-election rhetoric about the nation being overrun by non-believers of various stripes, this obviously did not happen.

Of the remaining 22 percent of voters, 9 percent followed other religions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Twelve percent fell into the “unaffiliated” category, which includes atheists and agnostics, but primarily consists of people who are religious but did not choose to identify themselves with a particular religion.

Further study of this information from polls conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals several important conclusions.

First, white evangelical Protestant voters continue to punch above their weight. Even though they make up only 19 percent of the nation’s population, they accounted for 23 percent of the voters. The same held true for mainline Protestants, although to a lesser degree; their 15 percent of the population resulted in 16 percent of the electorate.

Both Protestant groups voted for Romney, the evangelicals by a margin of almost 4-to-1. Despite theological misgivings about Romney’s Mormonism, they actually gave him a higher percentage of their vote than they did to McCain four years earlier. This also was a point higher than he gained among the Mormon population.

Second, white Catholics voted for Romney in percentages similar to mainline Protestants. While mainline Protestants preferred Romney 55 percent to 44 percent, white Catholics voted for him by a margin of 59 percent to 40 percent.

Third, minority religious voters favored Obama. More than 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for Obama, while 95 percent of black Protestants did so. Together, they accounted for 14 percent of the electorate, compared to 61 percent of the white Christian vote.

Nothing is particularly surprising in these numbers. They are similar to the voting preferences for Republican and Democratic candidates in the previous three elections.

One religious trend within the country’s population did not play out as expected. The role organized religion plays among the U.S. population has been decreasing. This year, for the first time, the number of people who report themselves as unaffiliated with any religion has hit 20 percent, according to Pew’s pollsters. While this group went overwhelmingly for Obama, they did not actually vote in large numbers. They made up only 12 percent of the voters on election day. This poor turnout indicates that neither party is addressing their concerns.

A third of young people (ages 18-28) belong to the unaffiliated crowd, those who check the “none of the above” box when it comes to religious identity. Many pundits have identified this as a problem for the Republican Party, fearing that this identification will continue as these voters get older. This will probably not be the case. College-age people, as a group, always rebel against their parents when they leave home and dropping out of church is part of that. When they marry and have children, they tend to join churches and other religious institutions again.

The real problem for the Republican Party is its identification with religious policies and views that are insensitive to women. The reopening of the debate over reproductive matters has alienated many female voters. The suggestion that workers at religious institutions should have fewer health-care rights than those employed at other businesses does not sit well with many women. Similarly, the views on rape expressed in religious terms by some male Republican candidates further damaged the party’s image among women.

In the end, it seems that people largely voted for the party that made them feel welcome. Republicans attracted those who were white, Christian and male, winning their votes by large numbers. Democrats attracted majorities among those voters who did not belong to all three of these categories. Add these results to the roughly 40 percent of the white male Christians who voted for Obama, and that explains the election’s outcome, at least from the religious perspective.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different: Video-Game Religion

You may have missed it in the run-up to the election, but one of the most anticipated video games of the fall was released. No, not “Halo 4” for the Xbox, but “Assassin’s Creed 3,” which actually is the fifth game in the series.
In these games, the main character spends a lot of his time climbing up buildings, running across roofs and leaping the gaps between them. And what buildings they are! Set in medieval Jerusalem and Damascus as well as Renaissance Venice, Rome and Constantinople, the games are based on detailed 3-D photos of the historic buildings in these cities. It is quite an experience to scale the wall of the Blue Mosque’s minaret, to leap across the parapets of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and to crawl spider-like up the Pantheon’s ceiling in Rome -- even if only in a video game.
“Assassins Creed 3” represents a significant change from previous games. The action takes place during America’s Revolutionary War, and the main character’s initial goal is to protect George Washington from assassination attempts. Along the way, he takes part in the Boston Tea Party, works with Paul Revere and appears in numerous events of the Revolution. This is historical fiction reshaped quite smartly as an interactive video game.
The new story line takes the action out of the urban settings of the previous games and places it in the countryside (think “Red Dead Redemption”). Most of the climbing takes place in trees, on cliffs and on boulder piles left by glaciers. When buildings are involved , they rarely rise higher than two or three stories.
But the biggest change actually happens with the role of religion in the story. It has essentially disappeared. Only the Native Americans are shown doing or saying anything even vaguely religious, and that is quickly passed over. The towns contain churches, but they are largely ignored -- although the Old North Church of Paul Revere fame gets attention.
By contrast, the plots and the settings of the previous games were steeped in religion.
The first “Assassin’s Creed” takes place during the Crusades, with Christian and Muslim armies in great battles. The main plot features two shadowy groups, the Assassins and the Templars, both of which have secret mystical and religious leanings that allow them to position members on both sides of the war. Many of the key buildings are religious shrines, mosques and churches, standing alongside castles and other fortifications.
The next two games, AC2 and AC Brotherhood, take place in Renaissance Italy, with the plot featuring conflict within Christianity. The struggle between the Templars and Assassins ultimately rises to involve the papacy and “Brotherhood’s” move to Rome, enabling the play to encompass the many churches and other religious buildings of Rome, as well as ancient structures such as the Forum and the Coliseum.
The fourth “Assassins’ Creed” game, known as “Revelations,” occurs in Constantinople (i.e., Istanbul) a few years after its fall to Muslim armies. The fights between the Templars and Assassins happen against the background of dynastic struggles within the ruling Ottoman family. But religion remains an important component of the game’s physical setting, with action taking place in the Hagia Sophia church (by then converted to a mosque), Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque, as well as many lesser known mosques.
The continual presence of religion in the first four “Assassins’ Creed” games makes its absence in “Assassins’ Creed 3” quite striking. Eighteenth-century America was filled with a variety of Christian groups, from Congregationalists and Presbyterians to Quakers and Anglicans and even a few Jews and Catholics -- to say nothing of the Deism of many colonial leaders. Although the Revolution was political, it had deep theological underpinnings.
While I applaud this game’s role-playing opportunity, which gives its players ring-side seats at the American Revolution, I am disappointed that its recreation of historical realism is missing a key component of the society.
Why would the game’s creators make such a radical change, given their approach to previous games? I can only guess, but I suggest two reasons.
On the one hand, the different Christian groups came to America for religious freedom; that freedom revealed the differences and vitriolic disagreements among them. To present a realistic picture, the game would need to show difference, rather than the unity with which the country faced the British.
On the other hand, current debates over the role of religion in today’s American culture would have latched onto any display of religion at the time of the nation’s founding and used it to their own advantage. These present-day cultural fights over the role of religion inspired the game’s creators to avoid controversy altogether and edit out the religious circumstances of the time.
(Note: Thanks to Conor McCracken-Flesher for his gaming expertise.)

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