October 30, 2004

AMERICAN TRADITION VS. SECULARISM:

Battle Cry of Faithful Pits Believers Against the Rest (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 10/31/04, NY Times)

Pollsters, political scientists and conservative organizers say the election is the strongest manifestation yet of a two-decade-old shift away from the allegiance of different religious groups to each party toward an overriding gap between ardent traditionalists and the more secular. Rhetoric pitting the most observant against the least is spreading beyond a core of white evangelical Protestants to other denominations, conservative Catholics, black and Hispanic Protestant churches and even some Jewish groups.

Many conservative Christians say part of the reason is the contrast between Mr. Bush's openness and Senator John Kerry's reticence on the subject of faith. They say another reason is the confluence of social issues like same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research with the expectation of vacancies on the Supreme Court. But pollsters and political scientists say that, more than in any other presidential election, the Bush campaign and its allies have tried to capitalize on what some call "the God gap." Although Mr. Bush often emphasizes tolerance and inclusiveness, the grass-roots campaign has in some ways fulfilled the conservative Pat Buchanan's widely panned description at the 1992 Republican convention of a "religious war going on in our country for the soul of America.''

Here in Allentown, the most closely contested district in a major swing state, a Bush supporter independently took out a billboard reading simply, "Bush Cheney 04 - One Nation Under God." Republican party mailings in two Southern states suggested that Democrats would ban the Bible, and the party has retained David Barton, a proponent of the idea that America is a "Christian nation," to speak to groups of pastors.

About a week ago, Mr. Bush met with Cardinal Justin Rigali, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, in his latest attempt to shore up Catholic support in Pennsylvania, and earlier this month officials of his campaign met with African-American pastors in Toledo, Ohio. At the Republican convention, the party was even host to its first gathering explicitly for Orthodox Jews, a sliver of the electorate that has now swung decisively in Mr. Bush's favor.

"It is a very, very concerted effort from the Republican side like we have never seen before," said Luis E. Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, of the efforts to take advantage of the religious-secular divide. "There is no question that Bush and his people have played up and helped to solidify that trend."


Hard to imagine that which divides America from the rest of the West wouldn't divide America itself to some extent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 30, 2004 11:21 PM
Comments

Where does this leave folks like me who are not terribly religious, but recognize that lots of people are and that much of the good in America is the result of people choosing to act in the public square upon what their faith demands, while at the same time fearing a sectarian theocracy for obvious historical reasons?

Posted by: Bart at October 31, 2004 6:58 AM

Though I absolutely abhor Michael Moore, he did say one thing I agree with namely that "Europe is a great place" If I had a choice of spending the afternoon in the french country side or one of Oj's New Jersey shopping malls I can tell you that would not be a hard decision. I wouldn't mind one bit that their GDP growth rate doesn't match ours or that their population isn't growing. Focusing on those two things I think is imbasilic. Oj's demonization of Europe is comical as though they are not even people and all because they don't profess a faith in his god at the governmental level. Bart, if the Republican party fumbles this opportunity then you will be forced to form or join a third party with liberty and religious tolerance as the guiding lights

Posted by: Perry at October 31, 2004 8:02 AM

Perry:

We have billions of acres of countryside just as beautiful--they have no good malls.

Posted by: oj at October 31, 2004 8:13 AM

Bart:

They're left to question why they aren't religious themselves.

Posted by: oj at October 31, 2004 8:19 AM

Hey, I live in NJ and I don't get out to the mall nearly as much as I'd like to. Mmmm... Cinnabon.

My European family members head straight to the mall whenever they come to visit the states.

Given the choice between visiting Thomas Edison's home and going to the outlet mall...well let's just say they go back to Europe with lots of plastic bags that say GAP.

Posted by: NKR at October 31, 2004 8:31 AM

oj,

Being religious and supporting theocracy are not the same thing. Does the name Roger Williams ring any bells?

Posted by: Bart at October 31, 2004 10:12 AM

Bart:

No.

Posted by: oj at October 31, 2004 10:22 AM

He was a Baptist minister who founded the Rhode Island colony in 1636, as a haven for people of any or no relgious faith. The first American synagogue, Touro, was built in Newport.

Another Baptist minister came to mind, Rev. Francis Bellamy, who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance and deliberately kept any reference to G-d out of it because he felt that the equation of G-d and the State was dangerous to the rights of all.

Posted by: Bart at October 31, 2004 10:30 AM

Bart, OJ is being obtuse as usual. I used to fret about the great religious-secular divide, being a secularist, but it is one of those symbolic battles, full of sound and fury, but signifying very little when it comes down to daily life.

On the one hand you have a small group of paranoid religious zealots, like Roy Moore, who, despite being part of a huge majority, imagine that they are being led to the lion's den by scheming atheistic nihilists. On the other hand you have a small group of paranoid secular zealots, like Barry Lynn, who think that atheist children are being oppressed by school teachers wearing yarmulkes and crosses. In the middle are the great majority of people who just want to get along with their neighbors. This is the freest nation on Earth, for both secularists and the religious.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at October 31, 2004 11:02 AM

Bart:

Ah, that one? I couldn't believe you were holding up Rhode Island as any kind of successful experiment.

Posted by: oj at October 31, 2004 11:31 AM

I've never believed that Americans, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote their religion exclusively.

I do my political thinking while driving through the countryside (and I'll match Maui against the best France has to offer), and on yesterday's drive it occurred to me to contemplate homosexuals.

I was somewhat surprised, as I'd never added it up before, that find that more or less open homosexuals occupy 4 of 16 elected offices here. Overrepresented, I suppose.

Even more surprised, considering the homophobic campaigns of 2 Republicans this season, to note that our homosexual legislators divide evenly, 2 Dems, 2 GOP.

Then this morning I pick up my paper and find a letter to the editor from one of the more obtrusively Christian businessmen on the island asking for understanding and votes for one of the GOP homosexuals, on the grounds that, apart from getting caught putting his hand down a cop's trousers, he's done a good job.

Like Robert, I think most of us want to go along to get along. It's the people who want to force me to worship their Big Spook who threaten the Republic.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 31, 2004 2:56 PM
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