Overall, Americans Are Seen as Prudish and Delusional Religious Nuts by the Rest of The World – Are They Right?
In America, say all the hateful stuff you want and invoke the First Amendment while you’re at it. If you can’t be legally implicated for inciting violence, you’re in the clear.
Cultural differences exist across borders, and because monoliths are mostly fantasies, often within them, too. That said, America, in particular, is culturally perplexing, and even confounding, to a lot of the rest of the world. I am not, as Americans are wont to do, laboring under the delusion that people in other places spend all that much time thinking about us. We are all, as a species, just trying to get through this thing called life. The conservative American notion that people with far better healthcare, civil rights laws and gun control “hate our freedom” is a wishful imperialist delusion. Worse, it’s not fooling anybody at this point.
That said, if all the world’s a stage, America is a prime player: a rich, loud, attention-seeking celebrity not fully deserving of its starring role, often putting in a critically reviled performance and tending toward histrionics that threaten to ruin the show for everybody else. (Also, embarrassingly, possibly the last to know that its career as top biller is in rapid decline.) To the outside onlooker, American culture—I’m consolidating an infinitely layered thing to save time and space—is contradictory and bizarre, hypocritical and self-congratulatory. Its national character is a textbook study in narcissistic tendencies coupled with crushing insecurity issues.
How to reconcile a country that fetishizes violence and is squeamish about sex; conflates Christianity and consumerism; says it loves liberty yet made human rights violations a founding principle? In conversations with non-Americans, should the topic of the U.S. come up, there are often expressions of incredulity and bewilderment about things that seem weird when you aren’t from here. Talk and think about those things enough, and they also start to seem objectively weird if you are from here, too.
That perception is held even by countries that share similarities with America. The Pew Research Center rounded up surveys from recent years that point out some of the ways American and European attitudes diverge, not infrequently widely. Obviously, there’s plenty of cultural difference among European countries, and surveys aren’t necessarily nuanced in describing how the citizens of entire countries see the world. But these polls do tell us something about the things large swaths of those countries agree on, as well as how those popular ideas tend to differ from pervasive notions and sensibilities within America.
It’s fairly common knowledge that Europeans, overall, are less religious than Americans. U.S. presidential speeches always end with a perfunctory “God bless America,” our athletes thank a god who apparently prefers rigging sports competitions to curing cancer, and there are odes to the lord on our money (America’s Real Highest Power™). A Pew survey released last year found that almost 75 percent of Americans across denominations say religion is at least “somewhat” important to them, with 53 percent calling it “very” important. That’s higher than in every European country polled, a list topped by Poland, where just 28 percent—close to half America’s total—answered in kind. France, in what we’ll see is pretty consistent, came in dead last in Europe, while Japan and China, to borrow a conservative phrase, are even more “godless.”
The U.S. tally is down a bit from 2007, when 26 and 56 percent of people said religion was “somewhat” or “very” important, respectively. In the seven-year gap between polls, there was a 7.8 percent decline in the number of self-identified Christians, counterbalanced by simultaneous increases among other religious affiliations. The biggest leap was among the “unaffiliated,” a group that includes atheists, agnostics and “nothing in particular.” Last year, Pew also found that white Christians are now a minority in this country. At this news, somewhere, a Trump supporter sheds a single tear.
No indicator exists in a vacuum, so it makes sense that America’s religiosity impacts its sexual mores—or its purported ones, anyway. In a 2013 survey, 30 percent of Americans said sex before marriage is “morally unacceptable.” Pretty much every country that placed a lower importance on religion found premarital sex less of an abomination, although Russia’s in a dead heat with us on this one. France, where just 6 percent held this opinion, tied for last place with Germany.
This is pretty much a case of do as I say and not as I (pretend to) do, considering that a 2006 Guttmacher Institute survey found 95 percent of Americans have had premarital sex. It should be noted that this is not a sudden new development. The study indicates that “even among women who were born in the 1940s, nearly nine in 10 had sex before marriage.” Just over 60 percent of American teenagers have had sex by age 19, while another 2011 study found that even 80 percent of unmarried evangelicals age 18 to 29 had indulged their carnal desires.
“This is reality-check research,” study author and Guttmacher domestic research head Lawrence Finer said. “Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades. The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage.”
Finer points out the results prove we should stop kidding ourselves and pouring government dollars into abstinence programs when “it would be more effective to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active—which nearly everyone eventually will.” Plenty of European countries have decided to dwell in reality, providing useful sexual health education to youth instead of lessons in sexual repression, with the end result that most European countries have teen pregnancy rates at a fraction of our own. (Britain, which sits on the pruder side of the European sex continuum, comes closest to us in teen pregnancy numbers, but still falls far short.) In fact, the U.S. maintains the highest teen pregnancy rate among all wealthy countries.
America’s original Protestant invaders, who sought salvation through wealth accumulation and believed selfishness was next to godliness, exert an enormous amount of cultural influence in other ways, tooo. Most obviously, in the very existence of the U.S. capitalist state. What other country’s preachers could have come up with the prosperity gospel, which never giveth, but taketh hand over fist? More than any European country, Americans, at 57 percent, said they disagreed with the idea that “success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,” though Britons, for shared historical reasons that aren’t hard to guess, came closest, at 55 percent. In general, wealthy nations were more likely to disagree with the statement than poorer countries, with a few notable exceptions. Venezuelans actually disagreed more than anyone, at 62 percent.
The notion of hard work as a primary predictor of life success—another Protestant hand-me-down—remains big with Americans. Seventy-three percent of U.S. denizens polled by Pew in 2014 agreed that “hard work is very important for getting ahead in life,” a statement only 35 percent of Europeans overall agreed with. While no one’s denying that hard work contributes to doing well, the American version of this idea—a Horatio Algerian fantasy that involves strapping on your proverbial boots and climbing corporate and class ladders—is both naive and empirically, factually and statistically wrong. Americans work the longest hours of those who inhabit the richest countries, but for all their diligence, the wealth gap in this country is now the widest it’s ever been and growing. The 400 individual Americans at the top of the wealth pyramid have more money than the 61 percent of Americans at the bottom. The Nation notes the 20 richest Americans, who could comfortably “fit into a Gulfstream G650 luxury jet,” possess more wealth than the 152 million poorest Americans. Turns out what you really need those boots for is wading through the thick swamp of bullcrap that is the myth of the American Dream.
It’s fairly ironic that Americans, far more than Europeans, so steadfastly believe in the idea of work as a panacea for poverty, since the average American worker is particularly unlikely to strike it rich. Following the conclusion of four studies on this topic by the University of Illinois in 2014, researchers concluded:
“[P]articipants overestimated the extent that Americans can move up or down the social class hierarchy. In terms of upward mobility, participants overestimated, over a ten-year period, the extent that working 1,000 extra hours would improve their income standing, the number of individuals who would move from the bottom 20 percent to the top 20 percent of income, the amount that some college would move people out of the bottom 20 percent of income, and the number of students from the bottom 20 percent of income families at top universities. Participants also underestimated the extent that students from the top universities are from the top 20 percent of income families, suggesting again that participants overestimated the extent that universities are open to Americans from lower income levels.”
Rags-to-riches stories do happen, but they happen less in the U.S. than in many other countries. A 2012 Economic Policy Institute study found there’s far less class mobility in America than in other wealthy European countries, as well as Canada, Japan and Australia. Business Insider cites a Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study that concluded a lot of us are essentially walled in by the class barriers that surrounded us at birth. Researchers note that “45 percent of American adults who are in the bottom 20 percent in income were born to parents who were also in the bottom 20 percent; nearly half, 45 percent, of adults in the top 20 percent had parents who were also in the top 20 percent. Most Americans who were born in the middle 60 percent had parents who were also born in the middle 60 percent.”
The study concluded that “if you were born in the bottom 20 percent, your chances of ending up in the top 20 percent are about one in 20: 5 percent. If you were born in the top 20 percent, your chances of ending up in the bottom 20 percent are about one in 20: 5 percent.”
Truth and fantasy have a fraught and difficult relationship, though, and perception often supersedes reality in the public mind. In a country that believes it manufactures self-made (mostly) (white) men with enviable regularity, anything is possible, including mass delusions that cast blue bloods as salt-of-the-earth everymen. George W. Bush is remade a down-home average Joe, instead of the scion of a long line of plutocrats; Donald Trump becomes a model of entrepreneurism and not a trust fund kid with a penchant for pissing off creditors. The consequences of this misguided thinking, as we are seeing again in horrifying real-time, are positively dangerous.
If in America’s collective vision, getting ahead is mostly a result of getting the most done, falling behind is the deserved consequence of not working hard enough. Therein lies the root of American ideas about the poor being lazy, shiftless do-nothings. Throw a bit of racism in the mix and you have the perfect toxic fertilizer for growing policies and practices that openly flaunt hostility for the poorest and most vulnerable U.S. citizens. And in a country where everyone believes they’ll be rich someday—an opinion many Americans hold despite every contradictory indication—inequality becomes someone else’s problem. The social safety net be damned: nearly 60 percent of Americans told Pew it is “more important that everyone be free to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state [than] the state play an active role in society so as to guarantee that nobody is in need.”
This is good news for the rich and bad news for common sense, as well as everyone else. Red states, the poorest and neediest in the country, are the recipients of the most federal dollars. Those conservative sections of the country vote overwhelmingly for politicians who want to cut Medicare and Social Security or who believe we should increase the retirement age, a craven work-around for screwing over people who already work too much for too little. A sizeable portion of working-class Americans oppose higher taxes on the rich and their corporations, funding education programs that would keep America competitive, and “socialist” institutions such as unions, the slow demise of which has greatly contributed to income inequality. Only in America could politicians convince so many poor people that universal healthcare—which isn’t “free” since their own hard-earned tax dollars would largely underwrite it—is some sort of Soviet takeover.
Perhaps the one way in which much of the world is united, based on Pew’s polling, is in support of the right of citizens to speak out against their governments. In every country surveyed, a majority of respondents agreed that people should be able to openly criticize the powers that be. That was true for 95 percent of Americans and people from Tanzania (80 percent) to Chile (94 percent) to South Korea (70 percent) to Spain (96 percent).
Americans were more tolerant than their European counterparts of speech that would be considered offensive to religions and minorities. When asked if “people should be able to make statements that are offensive to your religion or beliefs publicly,” 77 percent of Americans responded affirmatively. A majority of the UK, France and Spain agreed, while Poland, Germany and Italy did not. When Pew asked respondents if “people should be able to make statements that are offensive to minority groups publicly,” 67 percent of Americans said yes. Again, majorities of France, Spain and the UK co-signed the opinion, while Poland, Italy and Germany—the historical reasons being blindingly obvious here—said no.
Most Americans fall far short of being constitutional scholars, but everyone is fairly well acquainted with, and supportive of, the First Amendment, so these answers seem pretty self-explanatory. In many European countries, hate speech can earn you legal rebuke and a fine, as it did John Galliano for his disgusting, drunken anti-Asian and antisemitic tirades, and Brigitte Bardot for her Islamophobic remarks. It’s illegal to go around waving the Nazi flag in Germany, and if you’re an up-and-coming neo-Nazi in places like Canada, you’ll have to get your hate materials from groups in America. No need to shove, we’ve got plenty of them here.
In America, say all the hateful stuff you want and invoke the First Amendment while you’re at it; if you can’t be legally implicated for inciting violence, you’re in the clear. Just remember that the First Amendment makes no guarantees you’ll get to keep your lucrative cable TV show or movie career. But if you do decide to take it one step further, we’ve got almost no regulatory gun control to aid you in your mission. That’s the American way!
Kali Holloway is a senior writing fellow and the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Image by Mor via Flickr and a CC license
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Watch: Pope Francis Says Homosexuality Is ‘A Sin’ But Not ‘A Crime’
Pope Francis, whose tenure has been marked by a kinder and gentler approach than his predecessor, reiterated Catholic church doctrine that homosexuality is a “sin” but not a “crime,” urged local bishops to welcome LGBTQ people into the church, and called for an end to anti-LGBTQ laws and discrimination.
“Being homosexual is not a crime. It’s not a crime,” the Pope told The Associated Press in an interview released Wednesday morning (video below). “Yes, it’s a sin. Well, yes, but let’s make the distinction first between sin and crime.”
The Pope urged anti-LGBTQ bishops to change so they recognize everyone’s “dignity,” the AP reported.
READ MORE: Pope Francis Sends ‘Powerful Message’ by Elevating Liberal Bishop Over Archbishop Who Banned Pelosi From Communion
“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” Pope Francis said, calling for “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
Francis also said the Catholic Church, which he heads, should work to end laws that criminalize homosexuality.
“It must do this. It must do this,” he said.
The AP adds that “Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.”
“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said.
While some of Pope Francis’ remarks are not new, some, including Jesuit Priest James Martin, SJ, editor at large for America Magazine, pointing to the decriminalization portion, called them an “immense step forward.”
“In some 70 countries, homosexual relations are still a crime,” Martin notes. “in a few countries, a person can be executed for being gay. This is a historic step forward for the church, and the Pope’s clear statement today will help to lessen violence against LGBTQ people and save lives.”
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As NCRM has previously reported, Pope Francis continues to oppose marriage for same-sex couples. He has a lengthy record of vacillating between making compassionate statements about same-sex couples and gay people, while denouncing in the strongest possible terms affording them the same rights and responsibilities as those in different-sex marriages. He has also taken a strong stance against transgender people.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” he said two years ago, in remarks that were seen as highly-confrontational by conservatives. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
His remarks were part of a call he made saying he supported civil unions for same-sex couples, comments the Vatican was quick to claim were taken out of context, and stressed did not alter church doctrine.
The Vatican not only quickly walked his statement back, it insisted that LGBTQ people having a “right to a family” only meant acceptance by their own families – not a right to form families, and not a right to marriage.
In 2014, Pope Francis called same-sex marriage “anthropological regression.”
One year later he said same-sex marriage threatened to “disfigure God’s plan.” He later called marriages of same-sex couples “disfigured.” Also in 2015 he announced support for constitutional bans on marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.
But the following year Francis said the Catholic Church and Christians “must ask forgiveness” and “apologize” to gay people. In 2018 the Pope reportedly told a gay man, “God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”
Also in 2016 Francis called transgender people an “annihilation of man as the image of God.” That same year he said teaching children about transgender people is “indoctrination” and “ideological colonization.”
Watch the Pope’s remarks below or at this link.
Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are. The pontiff called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church. #TheAPInterview https://t.co/bNIKm0dg9X pic.twitter.com/V76gScc3RR
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 25, 2023
Freedom of Speech?: Supreme Court Rules Anti-LGBTQ Group Should Have Been Allowed to Fly Christian Flag at City Hall
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed down a stunning unanimous decision, finding that Boston violated the First Amendment free speech rights of an anti-LGBTQ group that had requested the city fly a Christian flag at city hall. That group, Camp Constitution, says part of its mission is to “expose some of the abuses and perversions that have brought our nation and economy so far down.”
Like the Supreme Court’s very narrow decision in the Masterpiece Cake Shop case, the ruling, which is very specific, runs the risk of being used by the right to initiate more religion-based attacks against minority Americans.
The decision, written by retiring justice Stephen Breyer, disturbingly also cites Boston allowing the LGBTQ Pride flag to fly in front of its city hall as an example of how the city granted many other groups’ requests but engaged in discrimination against the Christian group.
“Between 2005 and 2017,” the decision reads, “Boston approved the raising of about 50 unique flags for 284 such ceremonies. Most of these flags were other countries’, but some were associated with groups or causes, such as the Pride Flag, a banner honoring emergency medical service workers, and others.”
The ruling favored Camp Constitution not on the grounds of religious liberty (although other justices wrote concurring opinions that pointed to religion) but on free speech grounds. In short, the ruling states that because the city regularly allowed many other groups to fly various flags, denying one group that “right” violated its freedom of speech.
“Boston’s flag-raising program was aimed at promoting diversity and tolerance among the city’s different communities,” Reuters reports. “In turning down Camp Constitution, Boston had said that raising the cross flag could appear to violate another part of the First Amendment that bars governmental endorsement of a particular religion.”
Reuters adds that the current Supreme Court, with a 6-3 right-wing majority, “has taken an expansive view of religious rights and has been increasingly receptive to arguments that governments are acting with hostility toward religion.”
Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion, which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Alito and Justice Kavanaugh also wrote separate concurring opinions, both of which essentially telegraph how they want to reshape the country’s understanding of the First Amendment to favor religion.
Kavanaugh wrote that “a government violates the Constitution when (as here) it excludes religious persons, organizations, or speech because of religion from public programs, benefits, facilities, and the like.”
Conservative Justice Alito, citing various other cases, wrote that “excluding religious messages from public forums that are open to other viewpoints is a ‘denial of the right of free speech’ indicating ‘hostility to religion’ that would ‘undermine the very neutrality the Establishment Clause requires.'”
The ruling overturns lower court rulings against Camp Constitution.
The case, Shurtleff v. Boston, was brought by Camp Constitution’s Hal Shurtleff. The attorneys who filed it were from the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel.
Here’s one of Shurtleff’s recent tweets:
Is the ‘Gay Manifesto” Now U.S. Public Policy? https://t.co/KfkHYSIGqr
— Hal Shurtleff (@Freedominboston) April 1, 2022
It links to a post that wrongly takes a well-known satirical opinion piece from the 1980’s and claims it as an actual “manifesto” of the LGBTQ community.
Former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, a well-known law professor and MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst says the Supreme Court is “further blurring the line between church and state.”
MSNBC’s Pete Williams:
‘Don’t Go Condemning’: Pope Blasts US Bishops Over Attacks Against Biden
Pope Francis is offered up strong criticism against America’s conservative bishops for their attacks against President Joe Biden, a devout Catholic, over his stance on abortion. The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion, among many other acts, but U.S. bishops have singled out Biden’s pro-choice policy and are moving to refuse him the holy sacraments, such as communion, as punishment for it.
“What must the pastor do?” Francis, The New York Times reports, said when a reporter asked him about President Biden and abortion. “Be a pastor, don’t go condemning. Be a pastor, because he is a pastor also for the excommunicated.”
While President Biden, only the nation’s second Catholic to be elected president, personally opposes abortion, he strongly supports a woman’s right to choose and does not believe it is the government’s right to interfere in that personal and constitutionally-protected decision.
“I have never refused the eucharist to anyone,” Pope Francis also told reporters.
The Times adds, “Bishops should be pastors, he said, not politicians.”
Back in June the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) overwhelmingly voted to move toward chastising President Biden for his abortion stance, despite the Vatican issuing a clear warning they were not to do so.
“Some leading bishops, whose priorities clearly aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line — especially with a liberal Catholic in the Oval Office,” The New York Times reported in mid-June.
“If we look at the history of the church, we will see that every time the bishops have not managed a problem as pastors, they have taken a political stance on a political problem,” the Pope told reporters on Wednesday while on a plane returning to Rome.
The Pope also told reporters, “communion is not a prize for the perfect,” and “the eucharist is not the reward of saints but the bread of sinners.”
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Catholic Org Ramps Up Attack on Biden: Policies Are ‘Assault on Life, Marriage, Family, Sexuality’ That ‘Create Confusion’
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