Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comparing Apples and Bad Apples (Push Polling for Jesus, Part Three)

Religious Freedom in India versus the US, according to Pew

I learned about the recent Pew Research Foundation report on "Global Restrictions on Religion" from one of Jason Pitzl-Waters' regular "Pagan News of Note" updates over at his Wild Hunt blog. The thing that immediately caught my eye was that the report claims that India is one the worst places on earth when it comes to religious freedom. India is ranked worse than, or at best indistinguishable from, Iran, where "religious police" roam the streets beating women who do not conform to medieval dress-codes. India, a constitutional democracy with genuine guarantees of religious freedom and a rich history of religious diversity and tolerance, is ranked much worse than China, a totalitarian state with no pretense of freedom of any kind, let alone religious freedom.

On the other hand, the Pew study ranks the United States as among the paragons of religious freedom in the world. While focussing on what it refers to as the "Hindutva movement in India, which seeks to define India as a Hindu nation," the researchers at Pew completely ignore the fact that a powerful Christian fundamentalist movement exists right here in the United States. Many of these fundamentalist Christians openly declare that the US is already a Christian nation (or possibly a "Judeo-Christian" one), and they vow to fight to keep it that way.

Many American Christians, not just "evangelical" ones, also believe that all other religions are just so many variations on "devil worship", an idea originating not from modern-day big-haired televangelist, but from "early Church fathers" such as Saint Augustine. And most American Christian denominations are "damnationists" who promulgate the noxious idea that all non-Christians should be condemned to eternal torture. And there is at least one state, North Carolina, which infamously bars (in its Constitution!) from elective office "any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God." [I got that from the Wild Hunt, too: here.]

The Pew researchers also failed to take into account actual religious diversity (without which religious freedom is meaningless). The United States is one of the least religiously diverse places on earth, with less than 5% of the population adhering to any religion other than Christianity (according to Pew's own statistics). In India, on the other hand, almost 20% of the population belong to a variety of minority religions, including Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism (stats taken from here). Pew's own research on "religious diversity" in the United States tends to focus almost exclusively on different varieties of Christianity, not on genuine religious diversity. But when it casts its statistical gaze on India, Pew does not recognize the incredible internal diversity of Hinduism.

Possibly the most appalling aspect of the Pew report is its reliance on the so-called US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an organization packed with right-wing activists from groups like the Federalist Society, the Hudson Institute and the Southern Baptist Convention. Whole sections of the Pew report have simply been cut and pasted from USCIRF propaganda. This is especially true when it comes to sections of the report concerning India.

The Pew researchers actually appear to have been obsessed with India, which is mentioned 24 times in the report, far more often than any of the other nations also classified as "very high" in terms of their "restrictions on religion". Saudi Arabia, a country that expelled or killed all who refused to convert to Islam thirteen centuries ago (by the express order of the founder of that religion), and which allows zero religious freedom to this day, is mentioned only 14 times. China, a nation engaged in a genocidal campaign to wipe out one of the major branches of the Buddhist religion, is mentioned only 15 times. Iran, one of the most openly theocratic nations on earth, is mentioned a mere 12 times. Egypt, a nation where a person can be legally put to death for converting from Islam to Christianity, is mentioned 9 times.