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Reasons behind growth of religious frenzy

True or false: A) The United States was founded on the principle of separation of church and state; B) Six out of 10 Americans want politicians with strong religious beliefs; C) Almost half the people want their churches to weigh in on political issues.

If you said “true” to all of the above, consider yourself well informed on cultural values in your country.

We want to eat our cookie and have it too. We’re proud of our religious tolerance and our commandment that government stays out of religion, but, seemingly, we also seek political leaders who agree with and practice our personal beliefs. (But no snake handlers, please.)

Much of what passes for conventional wisdom today insists America is a secular nation and religious values are under assault, persecuted by the federal government.

But according to a massive new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, that’s not necessarily true. About 78.4 percent of Americans consider themselves Christian. Of those, 51 percent are Protestants. Catholics, 24 percent of the population, are increasingly dependent on immigrants to keep up their numbers.

The Pew survey, of 35,000 Americans 18 and over, found that 59 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats want their church more involved in politics. That works out to 49 percent of all Americans, up from 40 percent four years ago.

Folks, this desire for melding religion and politics is a slippery slope. Worldwide, it’s really scary.

More foreign governments are being pushed by Islamic extremists to restrict individual liberties. While most of this has nothing to do with the true precepts of Islam, millions, particularly women, are suffering because of the perverted use of religion.

Thousands of educated women who once eschewed being covered head to toe, held jobs and walked freely down public streets without a male relative now cower fearfully behind closed doors. Modern women are being stoned to death for supposed “religious” transgressions. A 12-year-old Pakistani girl was nearly murdered for advocating that Muslim girls be educated.

U.S. state legislatures, increasingly controlled by politicians with strong religious views, are restricting women’s reproductive rights and trying to legislate their version of morality. The Supreme Court ruled employers’ religious beliefs can justify not paying for female employees’ contraception through health insurance.

What in the world is going on?

Part of the global “religious” frenzy is desperation born of poor economic conditions and a yearning for a mystical past that seems far more stable and secure than it ever was.

The Census Bureau reports middle-class Americans are worse off financially than they were 15 years ago. Inflation-adjusted median household income in 2013 was up only $180 from 2012 - eight percent below 2007 and even further below the 1999 peak. Young people do not expect to live as well as their parents.

Part of the search for yesteryear is worldwide disaffection with political leaders. President Obama, who inspired global hope in 2008, widely is perceived as weak, lacking in judgment, clueless, overwhelmed by crises, exhausted and unable to communicate the optimism we pine for. We’re depressed not to have a superhuman leading us.

Failing the impossible, with a collective sense of helplessness, billions around the world put their hope in a higher power.

But if 49 percent of Americans seek openly religious leaders, that means half the population does not want churches more involved in politics.

We are not people who give up. By nature, we’re not negative, without hope and accepting of failure. We are resilient, optimistic and determined to succeed. And we want to help those who need a hand.

Technology is linear; history is cyclical. We don’t need politicians forcing their personal religious views on everyone. We need public servants reminding us there is every reason to think better times are ahead – if we make them better. Have faith.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune. Readers may send her email at amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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