Monday, August 25, 2008

On the Political Centering of Religion

A new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals a clear trend toward an electorate becoming less tolerant of the mixing of politics and religion. This is very interesting data in light of the Democratic Party's recent efforts to chip away at the stranglehold of support Republicans have enjoyed from the religiously inclined for some time.

From the Democratic Candidates Compassion Forum on CNN in April of this year to Barack Obama's venturing into the lion's den of Rick Warren's Saddleback Church earlier this month, it appears as though the political support of religious people is a commodity ever-increasing in value despite what the numbers say.

These opposing observations seem to point to an escalating of the culture wars being waged on the political battle grounds, with Republicans trending toward a less rigid brand of religiosity, while Democrats are simply trending toward more religiosity in general. While these trends no doubt owe their emergence to the political realities of eroding popularity among traditional voting constituencies, they also point to the somewhat homogenizing effect these very trends are having on society at large. Forces now commonly referred to as the religious left and moderate evangelicals have emerged to employ more politically expedient tactics for the upcoming presidential election.

A close look at the agendas of these new coalitions reveals much commonality of aspiration among them. The newer more centrist right now shares with the progressive religious groups of the new left focus on a broad range of issues including hunger, poverty, the environment, AIDS, health care, corporate responsibility, and human rights - issues more traditionally associated with the secular progressive movement.

Oddly, both secular atheists and the religious faithful are likely to claim benefit from these trends. Even though the conservative right wing of the Republican Party is becoming increasingly marginalized as a political force at present, they can nonetheless claim an overall advancement of their agenda by noting the increased courting of the religious by liberal Democrats. Conversely, ever hopeful skeptics would point out that eliminating the extremism of ultra conservatives is simply a must-take, first step on the long road to a more secular society.

Ultimately, the privileged status religion enjoys in this country is not likely to change any time soon, but the redefining of priorities reveals a sense of self-doubt on both sides. Election '08 may yet prove to be a watershed moment for the relationship between religion and politics in America.


  1. Isn't there something referred to as separation of church and state? Correct me if I am wrong?!

  2. Oh yes. That pesky little 'separation' doctrine thingy. These people think what we are after is the removal of religion from public life in general, which is in no way the case. Aren't we - to be quite a bit more accurate - merely after the removal of religion from institutions of government? A big difference, if you ask me.