Protestant Americans must bid farewell to a dynamic they long enjoyed: majority status in the United States. A study published in October by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that Protestants have dropped to 48 percent of the U.S. population.
That doesn’t mean adults are converting to other religions. According to the Pew survey, it means that many aren’t claiming a religion at all. The study found 20 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation, a 5 percent increase in five years.
Experts have predicted a Protestant minority for years, but the numbers suggest the country may have crossed the line long ago. In 2007, a Pew study reported that 60 percent of people who seldom or never attend religious services still identified with a particular religious tradition. In 2012, that number fell to 50 percent.
For Protestants who believe that regular church attendance is one indicator of serious religious commitment, such statistics suggest their minority status may be deeper than experts think.
While some evangelicals lamented the study, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote about a bigger problem—Christian denominations that have abandoned Protestant principles: “Frankly, we should be more concerned about the loss of a Christian majority in the Protestant churches than about the loss of a Protestant majority in the United States.”
The Chinese government’s embrace of author Mo Yan’s win of the Nobel Prize in literature has some excited that the one-child policy may be coming to an end.
While the author has not been outspoken about the government like 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, Mo’s latest novel, Frog, looks at the horrors of the one-child policy, including forced late-term abortions and forced sterilizations, through the eyes of a rural gynecologist.
“I personally believe the one-child policy is a bad policy,” he said in an interview with Hong Kong–based Phoenix TV in 2010. “If there were no one-child policy, I would have two or three children.”
He said that he compelled his wife to abort their second child in order to maintain his rank in the army and that left “an eternal scar in the deepest part of my heart.”
Despite the book’s controversial topic, Frog passed national censors and went on to win the Mao Dun literary award because of Mo’s whimsical-realist writing style.
Births bottom out
With the economy in a rut, fewer Americans are having babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the national birth rate in 2011 was just 63 births per 1,000 women—the lowest level ever measured. Both the rate and the number of babies born last year (3.95 million) dropped 1 percent from 2010. The decline was steepest among Hispanics, teens, and young women in their early 20s. (Births increased slightly for women older than 34.) The birthrate among teens between the ages of 15 and 19 has fallen 25 percent since 2007: More teen girls are remaining abstinent or using hormonal birth control, including the pill.
While Democratic politicians accused conservatives of politicizing the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, Pat Smith talked about the costs that transcend political concerns: the life of her son.
Sean Smith, 34, was one of four Americans killed in the Benghazi terrorist attack. Armed men also killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both former Navy SEALs.
A month after the attack, Pat Smith told CNN her grief had deepened as information from White House officials grew scant: “I told them, ‘Please don’t give me any baloney that comes with this political stuff. … Just tell me the truth.” So far, Smith said, “They haven’t told me anything. They’re still studying it. And the things that they are telling me are outright lies.”
Discovering the truth about what happened in Libya took a new turn by mid-October, as a Senate committee announced it would investigate the assault. That news came a week after a congressional hearing revealed that the State Department had turned down requests for additional security in Libya before the Sept. 11 attack.
Vice President Joe Biden contradicted that testimony a day later in the vice presidential debate, saying: “We did not know that they wanted more security there.”
Meanwhile, a State Department official told reporters the agency didn’t believe that the attacks were the result of protests against an anti-Islamic video—a narrative the White House propagated for a week before admitting it was a terrorist attack.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to deflect blame from the White House on Oct. 15 by saying that the State Department handles security at diplomatic posts: “I take responsibility.”
But the widening scandal could hound President Barack Obama, as lawmakers—and mothers like Pat Smith—demand answers.
Pakistan’s little hero
Thousands of Pakistanis held candlelight prayer vigils and gathered to protest following the Taliban shooting of Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old whose outspoken support of girls’ education made her an international symbol for Pakistani progressivism. Two gunmen stopped Malala’s school bus Oct. 9 and shot the girl in the head, also injuring two female classmates. Doctors in Pakistan performed surgery to remove a bullet before sending Malala to the United Kingdom for continued treatment. Although doctors were hopeful she would recover from the assassination attempt, a Taliban spokesman said the group still intended to kill both Malala and her father, a girls’ school headmaster.
Malala earned the hatred of the Taliban after she chronicled life in her hometown of Mingora, in northern Pakistan’s Swat Valley, for the BBC’s Urdu-language website in 2009, when the Taliban took control of Swat and destroyed dozens of schoolhouses. She gave numerous interviews with Pakistani and Western journalists, criticizing Taliban militants as “barbarians” who had “destroyed the peace of Swat.” Some political leaders in Pakistan are reluctant to criticize the Taliban movement, but observers speculate Malala’s shooting might rally public opinion against extremism.
Federal lawmakers called for broadening the power of the Food and Drug Administration in the wake of a fungal meningitis outbreak linked to steroid injections. The injections, used to treat back and joint pain and produced in Massachusetts by the New England Compounding Center, were tainted by a fungus commonly found in dirt and grass. By Oct. 15 the shots had sickened 212 and killed 15 in 12 states. Health officials said nearly 14,000 people might have received the tainted injections, putting them at risk for meningitis, a potentially fatal infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Oversight of compounding pharmacies like the NECC currently falls to states. Compounding pharmacies create patient-specific formulations of drugs and aren’t subject to FDA requirements that apply to large-scale drug manufacturers. Massachusetts officials said NECC had violated its license by marketing drugs like a manufacturer.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a pro-life doctor, asked a woman he was having an affair with to get an abortion over 10 years ago, according to a phone transcript The Huffington Post unearthed recently. “You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one,” DesJarlais said to the woman, who was a patient of his, according to the transcript. “If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let’s do it.” DesJarlais didn’t deny the conversation, but said the woman turned out not to be pregnant and thus did not have an abortion. He was married at the time, but going through divorce proceedings. The congressman won a seat from a Democrat in 2010, and for now his current Democratic challenger, state Sen. Eric Stewart, is well behind him in polls.
Man knows not his time
Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter died Oct. 14 at age 82 of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The moderate but often polarizing Specter served on the Republican side of the aisle for most of his 30 years as Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U.S. senator. Crossing party lines, he voted in 2009 for President Barack Obama’s healthcare and economic stimulus bills. The resulting Republican fury spurred him to switch parties, but he went on to lose the Democratic primary, while his former seat stayed in Republican hands. Although he never authored a piece of landmark legislation, he was prominent in Supreme Court confirmation hearings, including derailing Judge Robert H. Bork’s nomination in 1987 but four years later wooing conservatives with his support for Justice Clarence Thomas.