More on religion and elections

by Eszter Hargittai on November 4, 2004

Judging from the comments to yesterday’s post on religion and politics, people seem to be quite interested in the topic. So I thought I’d post a pointer to this NYTimes article that discusses a paper by three economists about “Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values”.[1]

fn1. I’d say more, but I have a flight to catch.



Chris Martin 11.04.04 at 3:12 pm

I really wish Democrats would have made more of the fact that Bush doesn’t attend church on Sundays. I was surprised that Kerry didn’t mention that during the debates.


KCinDC 11.04.04 at 3:23 pm

I don’t think talking about Bush’s church attendance would have mattered. Ronald Reagan rarely darkened the door of a church, but he was adored by the religious right who rejected the genuinely Christian Jimmy Carter.

Bush would simply have brushed it off, as Reagan did, by saying he didn’t want to inconvenience a congregation by subjecting them to the security screenings. Of course that didn’t stop Clinton. I saw him at church often, though I did find the metal detectors they brought in on those Sundays annoying.


h. e. baber 11.04.04 at 3:49 pm

Not surprising. Where religious participation is de facto as well as de jure voluntary, church-goers self-select–people become religiously involved because they are committed to a socially conservative agenda which, they believe, churches will support and enforce. They’re religious because they’re socially conservative rather than vice versa. They go “church-shopping” for churches that preach the moral agenda to which they’re committed and when churches don’t give them what they want they leave.

Lots of Americans see churches as the last institutions in the US that support conservative social values. Liberal mainline churches are dying because they don’t do that job. To see the dynamic in action, check out the current debate in the Episcopal Church about gay marriage and the ordination of openly active homosexuals. Most Americans see religion primarily in terms of its instrumental value–supporting “morality” as they understand it.

If this is correct, then Democrats are not going to win hearts and minds by making more religious noises or even citing Scripture to make the case that Jesus would have approved of their program. Even if Kerry had talked Jesus talk throughout his campaign and pulled out the rosary he carried in Vietnam, it wouldn’t have made a whit of difference.

Further support for this, apropos of the last comment, note that the religious right supported Reagan who had no serious religious affiliation against Carter, a serious, committed Baptist.


vernaculo 11.04.04 at 8:35 pm

When I was young there were many more opportunities for encounters with people I didn’t know than there are now. A lot of those people were under the influence of the many different substances then available. It took me far too long to realize that very often, especially in a conversation with another male when females were present, the subject of the conversation, the actual content, had nothing to do with what was taking place.
I’ve seen the left, as represented online, over and over ridiculing the religious right – the creationists and homophobes, the “family values” champions and the deadly anti-abortionists – and backing up that ridicule with brief cogent refutations of the nonsense espoused by their targets.
And I said and kept saying, that it had nothing to do with logic or reason; that they recognized, as the left did not, that this was a struggle for dominance, not truth. Too many of us adopted the codes of the educational system, where the right answer ensures your survival, and the wrong answer – illogic and irrationality – condemns. But in the real world, the one where we just had an election, rationality means very little outside the landscape of mechanical engineering. Power is all, and power has almost no connection to abstract logic. It makes its own logic, as you’ve recently been informed by one of the myrmidons currently preening themselves in Washington – they’re making their own reality. They invented the moral codes you want to apply to them, they own morality, and can bend it however they wish, or dispense with it all together.
The particular subjects – creation, divinity, war, murder, human rights – are all peripheral to the central truth: the winners write the book, there is no deep morality; none deeper than us anyway.
Like those old, stoned, conversations, being the obvious winner of logical, rhetorical competition is the consolation prize. Sooner or later it comes down to who’s willing to battle; and as anyone can see, the outcome of that has nothing to do with morality, at all.


Julius 11.07.04 at 10:51 pm

I think the above writers make an excellent point about power, politics and religion in today’s america…that politics follows religion and vice versa seem to be the crux of this discussion. a very Nietzschen view. the question that needs to be addressed though, once the dust clears, is power for what??? what is the average southern baptist planning on achieving by having a southern republican in power? is the motivation a positive one, in the sense of retaining and maintaining the existing system of individualistic capitalism tied to protestant values, or even recreating and recapturing an idealized american glorious past founded on american republican values backed by military force? or is the motivation negatively motivated, that is, based on fear of “the other” i.e,, homosexuals, blacks, women libbers, immigrants, etc.? the questions seems to be an intransigent one since it may actually be a weird combination of both, in which the conservative voter himself may not be able to give a straight answer, or at least a rational one.

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