Not Good News: no freedom from religion
On the other hand, that poll from the Pew Center I just mentioned is a case of good news-bad news. I told you the good news, now the bad news.
What the survey did was list 16 possible attributes for a hypothetical potential presidential candidate. Attributes included things related to personal background, professional background, ethnicity, religion, political experience, and so on. The question was, for each attribute and assuming the candidate is otherwise qualified, would that attribute make you more likely to vote for that person, less likely, or would it make no difference.
Of those 16 attributes, there were only two where a majority of respondents said it would make them less likely to vote for that person for president: One, with 52% saying "less likely," was if the person had never held elective office. The other, with 53%, was being an atheist.
In fact, even if you add together the "less likely"s, you would be better off, you would turn off fewer voters, if you were a gay pothead than if you were an atheist.
This is just further backup for a study from the University of Minnesota few years ago, which found atheists to be the least trusted minority group in the country and also the minority group which the greatest number of Americans would not want their children to marry.
Last week, in discussing how the media's preference for conflict over fact, I cited an AP poll revealing how that failure had left many of us woefully uninformed on matters of science.
The poll, as do all these polls, included some questions to gather demographic information about those polled. One such question this time was "What is your religious preference?"
The choices were "Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Other, Don't belong to religious denomination, Refused/Not Answered." I you answered "other," you were to be asked "Do you consider yourself a Christian, or not?"
Notice carefully that in that list there is no option to say "I'm not religious, period." The closest you can come is to say you don't belong to a specific denomination. But at one point in my life, I was what I called an "undifferentiated Christian," trying to understand the teachings of Jesus without regard to the interpretations or practices of any denomination. If "religion" is understood to be a matter of faith and of seeking understanding rather than one of rites and rituals, that was probably the most religious period of my life. But I was not a member of any denomination - so not being a member of a denomination and being "not religious, period" are far from the same thing; in fact, they don't have much to do with each other.
Which brings me back to the point: The poll did not allow for the option of not having a religion.
In this country, we a justifiably proud of our freedom of religion. We are free to practice just about any religion we want. But what are not truly free to do is not have a religion. We have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion.
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