Friday, November 30, 2007

Religion in American Politics [UPDATED]

Are Democrats the Party of Disbelief simply because they don't blatantly pander -- as much -- to the religious fundamentalists in this country? Arthur C. Brooks of the National Review thinks so.

It will surprise nobody to learn that the American left is much less religious than the rest of the U.S. population. The General Social Survey tells us that in 2004, liberals were less than half as likely as conservatives to attend a house of worship weekly, and nearly three times as likely as conservatives never to attend. Furthermore, the American left is becoming more secular still: While 27percent of American liberals attended church weekly in 1974, only 16percent did by 2004. In contrast, the percentage of church-attending conservatives rose over the same period from 38percent to 46percent.There are still some religious liberals left in America, but today they are outnumbered by religious conservatives by about four to one.

Secular liberals, and especially those who are explicitly nonbelievers, have become a major force on the political left. Researchers have found, for example, that delegates to the Democratic National Convention — the politically-active folks who nominate the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency — are more than twice as likely to be completely secular as the population-at-large.

Further, secularists are by far the most politically active liberals at the grassroots level. In the 2005, the Maxwell Poll on Civic Engagement and Inequality revealed that those who never attend religious services are just 11 percent of the adult population in America. But they are 21 percent of self-described liberals, 27 percent of liberals who contribute money to political causes, and 33 percent of liberals who attend political rallies and events. The bottom line is that the Democratic party — at least at the national level — depends critically on nonbelievers. They have influence over American liberal politics that extends far beyond their actual numbers in the population.

In some cities in the United States, the secularist community has attained European proportions — and the politics in these places has followed suit. Take San Francisco, which the Bay Area Center for Voting Research ranks as the ninth most liberal city — out of 237 — in America, and where just 12 percent of voters are registered Republicans. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey shows that in 2000, San Franciscans were more than three times as likely as the overall U.S. population to have “no religion.” Or consider Seattle, the sixteenth most liberal city. Seattleites are only about half as likely as the rest of the nation to attend worship services regularly.

The truth is that secularists have nothing to complain about when it comes to political power. Their representation in American liberal political activity is disproportionately high, it is increasing, and it utterly dominates the political scene in many places. What secularists might legitimately complain about is the fact that liberal political leaders rarely acknowledge their contribution. To my knowledge, for example, Senator Clinton has never thanked the atheist community for what will no doubt prove to be energetic support for her presidential candidacy. Why is this? Nonbelievers might justifiably ask Mrs. Clinton and other Democratic leaders for the credit they truly deserve.

Being a secular liberal is not the same as being a non-believer. Atheists account for only about 3% of the US population. I have no stats of this, but I'd guess that atheists are in both parties. Most secular liberals do believe in God, they just aren't fundamentalists or literalists when it comes to reading the Bible. Secularists simply believe in the First Amendment's separation clause. Nothing wrong with that.

Me thinks Brooks and the other conservatives who make this argument are just plain wrong.

UPDATE: This new Harris Poll makes me glad to be a secularist, and mostly an atheist:

The poll of 2,455 U.S. adults from Nov 7 to 13 found that 82 percent of those surveyed believed in God, a figure unchanged since the question was asked in 2005.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin's theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin's theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual's theory of "natural selection."

There are unsurprising differences among religious groups.

"Born-again Christians are more likely to believe in the traditional elements of Christianity than are Catholics or Protestants. For example, 95 percent believe in miracles, compared to 87 percent and 89 percent among Catholics and Protestants," according to the poll.

"On the other hand only 16 percent of born-again Christians, compared to 43 percent of Catholics and 30 percent of Protestants, believe in Darwin's theory of evolution."

What is perhaps surprising is that substantial minorities in America apparently believe in ghosts, UFOs, witches, astrology and reincarnation.

If being a "believer" means believing in a red guy with horns, ghost, witches (not Wiccans), miracles, and other such nonsense, I'm happy to be a non-believer.


Unknown said...

I don't think that Brooks' interest in right and wrong is, at best, down the list of what he's up to.

This is a statement in the use of code words. Conservatives like to use San Francisco in a liberal argument [Even though it is ninth, and not first, in the survey the writer is using] because it evokes ideas of homosexuality, anti-family, liberal excess and decadence.

Atheist are brought up in relation to Hillary Clinton to connect the two politically when Brooks knows full well why Hillary won't be giving special thanks to Atheists. It is for pretty much the same reason that the Republican nominee for president won't be giving thanks to small groups attached to it: Because the fight in an election is for the middle and one doesn't want to offend the majority of the electorate.

This is all about picturing the Democrats as the ungodly and, thus, immoral and unethical ones, in direct contradiction to what those of us who pay attention to the political scene have seen, in the Dem-Rep struggle, for the last many years.

Jay Andrew Allen said...

And that's a point that needs to be repeated, over and over. You can be politically secular, and yet a devout believer.

The same can be said for the other word commonly paired with secular, i.e., "humanist." In this regard, it's interesting to look at the statistical makeup of Unitarian Universalism. Add up the totals of the various denominations in the "Profile" section, and you'll quickly see that someone declaring themselves a "Humanist" or Agnostic doesn't exclude them from claiming membership in other faith categories.

william harryman said...


Yeah, I saw his main argument in the subtext. Secularist = atheist = evil people. But it's fun to actually shoot down his obvious statements as well.


I used to attend an Unitarian Church -- and most of the people were Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, or some other main religious faith. It was a fun crowd.


Unknown said...

Re your update: Bad going, pal. Santa's going to fly his reindeer right past your house.