A new survey shows who believes what and how it differs from what Americans believe as a whole.
- The newest survey of congressional religious beliefs shows our representatives aren't quite like us.
- Members of Congress are much more religious and more Christian than the general population.
- The effects of this disconnect are debatable.
The demographics of Congress and their constituents<p> A whopping 88 percent of Representatives and Senators are Christians. Breaking this down, 55 percent of them identify as some sort of Protestant, and another 30 percent are Catholic. Mormons make up around 2 percent of the legislature, with Orthodox Christians following at just above 1 percent. This puts them well behind the Jews, which 6 percent of the body identified as. </p><p>Behind them came the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Humanist, and Unaffiliated members. Each of these categories amounts to under one percent of Congress by themselves, for a collective total of 12 members. </p><p>Eighteen members refused to answer the survey; many of them also refused to answer two years ago—speculation as to why this is and what they actually believe continues elsewhere. </p><p>For comparison, only 65 percent of the general public identifies as a Christian. Beyond that, only 20 percent of the population is Catholic, and another 43 percent Protestant. People with no religious affiliation make up another 26 percent. Judaism is three times as common in Congress as it is elsewhere in the country, with only 2 percent of the population identifying as such. </p><p>Mormons and Orthodox Christians enjoy nearly propositional representation, as they make up 2 percent and just under 1 percent of the population nationally. The remaining represented religions are in a similar situation. They are under-represented but not nearly as much as the non-religious—Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus each make up about one percent of the general population. Unitarian Universalists are seated in Congress at the same rate as the aforementioned faiths but are just under one percent of the population. </p><p>Some trends emerge in this data. Since 1961, the year this survey was first sent out, the percentage of Christians has fallen, though by far less than the population overall. Like the rest of Protestant America, members of Congress are increasingly likely not to name a denomination, such as Lutheran or Baptist, but to instead identify with the more general term of Protestant. </p><p> It is also worth mentioning that there may be more to this topic than these questions can reveal.</p><p>Many Jewish people identify as such while also being agnostic or even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_atheism" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">atheistic</a>. It is possible that the degree of actual belief among some of the members of Congress using the term varies dramatically. Likewise, the one "unaffiliated" member has stated before that they don't want to be bound by <a href="https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2012/11/09/breaking-kyrsten-sinema-is-not-an-atheist/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">labels</a>, further reducing the usefulness of a survey that tries to label everybody.</p>
Why might this be?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Yz8VbAxkaDw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> In addition to the previously mentioned difficulties of having an entirely representative legislature, some religious groups are still more electable than others.</p><p>A recent <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/285563/socialism-atheism-political-liabilities.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gallop poll</a> demonstrates that only about 60 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified atheist and that only a few more would support a similarly capable Muslim. While these numbers have increased over time and differ greatly based on party affiliation, it is probable that many non-Christian potential candidates justify not running on the grounds of these numbers. </p><p> Before you point out that these are majorities, that is who is <em>willing</em> to vote for such a person at all, not a list of people who <em>would</em> for sure. You'd probably want better numbers than that unless you're sure you can get all of them. </p>
What does this mean for legislation?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KS7pnPlQLcY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> It doesn't necessarily need to mean anything. Representatives of all faiths or lack thereof can govern in a secular manner that doesn't favor any particular worldview.</p><p>The Congressional Freethought Caucus, dedicated to fostering science and reason while defending the secular nature of <a href="https://secular.org/governmental-affairs/congressional-freethought-caucus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">government</a>, has 14 members. It is, obviously, impossible for all its members to be non-religious. Its members represent a variety of faiths and denominations of Christianity, including humanism, while supporting all people's rights.</p><p>A remaining concern is that the disproportionate representation could lead to specific points of view not being <a href="https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2021/01/04/the-religious-makeup-of-the-117th-congress-includes-a-few-surprises/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heard</a>. There are no atheists in Congress to articulate their viewpoints on legislation that concerns others like them. This lack of representation is <a href="https://www.teenvogue.com/story/why-representation-in-politics-matters" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">something</a> that <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/campaign/297143-why-our-representation-in-government-should-look-more-like-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">can</a> and <a href="https://genderwatch2018.org/scaling-womens-political-representation-matters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has</a> been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/oct/04/few-us-politicians-working-class" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> for <a href="https://www.voanews.com/usa/why-arent-more-native-americans-members-us-congress" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">other</a> demographic groups both now and at different points in our history. </p><p>In any small body representing a larger one, there will be strange demographic mismatches by necessity. In the case of the United States Congress, these differences are rather pronounced. While they may have only a limited effect on legislation, there may be other, less tangible ways that this disconnect causes issues. </p><p>Or, it might be nothing more than a statistical curiosity. </p>
"The function of private media is to make money for the people who own the media. It is a business," Sanders said.
- Over his four-decade political career, Senator Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken critic of mass news media.
- In a 1988 speech, Sanders described how it's virtually impossible to meaningfully discuss substantial political issues in 30-second sound bites, and how the consolidation of news outlets makes it harder for alternative views to reach the public.
- Surveys show that America's trust in mass media has been declining for years.
Media consolidation<p>Three decades later, Sanders said: "In 1983, the largest 50 corporations controlled 90 percent of the media. Today, as a result of massive mergers and takeovers, six corporations control 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read [...] These powerful corporations also have an agenda, and it would be naive not to believe that their views and needs impact coverage of issues important to them."</p><p>The consolidation of media companies was accelerated by changes to the Federal Communications Commission, with two major deregulatory shifts that occurred under Reagan and then Clinton, whose administration passed the 1996 <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/research-reports/National_050905_Fallout_From_The_Telecommunications_Act_2.pdf" target="_blank">Telecommunications Act</a>. That law raised the cap on the number of local news stations and newspapers media corporations could buy.</p>
Fewer Americans trust mass media<p>What also adds to the homogeneity of news media is shrinking revenues and a trend toward click-bait content. Big Think's Reuben Jackson <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/news-media-consolidation" target="_blank">recently noted</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"One effect of the contraction of the news industry is that journalists are networking with fewer peers and sources. In one <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305120926639" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently published study</a>, "Sharing Knowledge and 'Microbubbles': Epistemic Communities and Insularity in US Political Journalism," researchers from the University of Illinois explore the extent to which groupthink bias is increasingly being built into the content we consume."</p><p>These factors may help explain why Americans' trust in news media is declining. A <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/321116/americans-remain-distrustful-mass-media.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2020 Gallup</a> survey found that six in 10 Americans have "not very much" trust (27 percent) or "none at all" (33 percent) trust in mass media. It's not a new trend: Gallup notes that trust in mass media hovered just above the majority level until 2005, and since it hasn't risen above 47 percent.</p>
Google's "Year in Search 2020" results reveal a year when "why" was searched more than ever.
The year of coronavirus<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MzA5NzI1OH0.vimp4BokTC01Fl9fIWkplEKWdHpO6aX-TSFdnmzynMc/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="64208" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a78d75a3c2cc81a2b421296fdd831f89" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The new national pastime<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk1NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzc5MzQ3M30.sfNgt_x0PrynD5Brdku6L045lxOuU7PVYw3n9598Dlk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="82bbe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3e30b2180da0cd13e0f6a011d006ae1f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
The Electoral College recently cemented Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election. Congress is scheduled to confirm the votes on January 6, 2021.
Livin' in virtual insanity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MzMxNjUyOX0.x-ttrIxjl9_LfCN9GNNGy5ZocwjtsUYd0kZN--Yeut4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C345%2C0%2C345&height=700" id="4e759" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dc71bbeb7cd9423709008b3bd8ab2b23" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
New York students returned to school for in-person learning this December.
Personal growth becomes personal beauty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk2NDUwNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjIxNjcxMH0.Ng9pn9K_jbVQCZZY7o7i0HpfHPI6o8OzV5nEvLPS57Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="e4b04" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8477605b3cc2e1d8682fbc94e07f5f44" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="at-home haircut" data-width="7360" data-height="4912" />
Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Adobe Stock<p><a href="https://www.bigthinkedge.com/5-things-to-learn-about-personal-growth-and-how-to-achieve-your-own/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Personal growth</a> and health habits typically have a strong standing in Google's "Year of Search," but in 2020, diets and mindfulness took a backseat to the how-to's. How-to questions became trending searches thanks to Americans being cut off from amenities such as beauty parlors and nail salons.</p><p>Most of the trending how-to searches were for hair care. How to cut men's hair and women's hair. How to plop hair, <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/does-hair-dye-cause-cancer" target="_self">color hair</a>, and style curtain bangs. Americans clearly pined for their stylists in 2020. </p><p>Other notable how-to's included dermaplaning, washing hands properly, sewing a face mask, and rocking sweatpants with style. And if that list doesn't signal just how difficult 2020 was, then what else does?</p>
Mother Nature pushes back<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9bb94f5d5a58d40f03e1515f3c2e467c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gzksqQDI_kE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Well, science news may. 2020's trending science searches centered on natural disasters. Americans googled "fires near me" as conflagrations devoured the West Coast, destroying <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/too-many-trees" target="_self">forests</a>, neighborhoods, and even <a href="https://www.usnews.com/news/top-news/articles/2020-09-09/explosive-western-us-wildfires-threaten-oregon-towns" target="_blank">whole towns</a> as they went. <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/hurricane-laura-live-updates" target="_blank">Hurricane Laura</a>, a Category 4 storm, also trended after slamming into Louisiana this August.</p><p>All told, 2020 witnessed <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-running-list-of-record-breaking-natural-disasters-in-2020/" target="_blank">record-breaking levels of natural disasters</a>, many hitting with a force more devastating than previous years. This <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1075142" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rise in climate emergencies</a> is part of a two-decade trend that scientists have linked to climate change and increased global temperatures.</p><p>When not worrying about natural disasters, Americans were fretting over "murder hornets," another trending term. Entomologists discovered the murder hornets—actually named the Asian giant hornets—in Washington state this year. Because native bees have no natural defenses against this <a href="https://bigthink.com/kevin-dickinson/invasive-species-how-the-tegu-lizard-could-invade-the-southern-us" target="_self">invasive species</a>, their colonies can be massacred by a few dozen hornets in mere hours. While one murder hornet's nest was discovered and destroyed near Blaine, Washington, experts worry there may be more.</p><p>At least there was that baby platypus to enjoy. Except no. In true 2020 fashion, <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/the-incredibly-cute-baby-platypus-that-went-viral-has-a-dark-secret-you-ought-to-know" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that picture was bogus</a>—although, not to be a total buzzkill, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhVCwtW6gQ0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">real platypus babies</a> are darn cute.</p>
Aiming to make 2021 a better year<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk1ODk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjM4NzcyNn0.9p5TuitsBtuKblWPCM_mR8DCL7mxoBdrcfMyncrj9vk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C215%2C0%2C215&height=700" id="78c31" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="240158cc13d58aab62156ce4be124409" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Students line up to receive food aid packages provided by the charity Secours Populaire in France.
It was a concept borrowed from the Iroquois, and one that America never quite mastered.
- Most people know the basics of American history and may even be able to name all 13 colonies, but where exactly did the idea to form a union come from?
- Political writer and essayist Richard Kreitner explains how Benjamin Franklin learned the concept from the Iroquois Confederation. When he tried to introduce it to the colonists, however, they "thought it was essentially equivalent to tyranny."
- The idea eventually caught on, but not without land disputes and issues of representation, which explains why the US House of Representatives has 435 voting seats while the Senate has just two seats per state, equal for all states regardless of population size—it was a compromise. Kreitner argues that this imbalance may one day rupture the US political system.
Recent American presidents have all faced a crisis of legitimacy in a trend that threatens the health of our democracy.
U.S. presidential candidates Bill Clinton (L), Ross Perot (C) and President George Bush (R) shake hands with the panelists at the conclusion of their final debate on 19 October 1992.
Credit: J. DAVID AKE/AFP via Getty Images
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate and vice president Al Gore march to the Florida State Capitol to rally against the Florida legislature. 2000.
Credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images
Credit: Scott Applewhite - Pool/Getty Images
This combination of pictures from October 22, 2020 shows US President Donald Trump and now President-elect Joe Biden during the final presidential debate.
Credit: JIM WATSON and Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images