Saturday, June 12, 2021

When Politics Become Religion

I've been gloomy of late about the prospects for the republic to the south of us. Molly Worthen -- an historian at the University of North Carolina -- offers some perspective on what can happen to political and religious divides over time:

The analogy between political sectarianism and religious faith goes only so far. I don’t mean to suggest that every crackpot political opinion deserves the status and legal protection of a religious doctrine or that all dogmatic mind-sets are morally equivalent. It should be possible to hold one party responsible for voter suppression and the Capitol riot while recognizing that pseudoreligious ideologies and purity cults have multiplied on both ends of the political spectrum. This is a commentary not just on the polarization of politics but also on the persistence of humans’ metaphysical needs, even in a secular age — and a nudge to reappraise our prophecies of apocalypse or salvation from a humbler perspective.

We live in an age where political divisions have become the equivalent of religious divisions seventy years ago:

In the late 1950s, when Gallup asked a random sample of Americans whether they wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat or a Republican, 72 percent either didn’t respond or said they didn’t care. Back then, religious divides seemed to matter far more than party lines: 19 percent of Americans who married before 1960 chose a spouse from a different religious group, according to the Pew Research Center. In recent years, the figures have shifted radically. The same Pew survey found that 39 percent of Americans who wed since 2010 were in an interfaith marriage, and a 2016 survey by Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist at U.C.L.A, found that only 45 percent of Americans didn’t care about the political affiliation of their child’s spouse. I suspect that if researchers asked that question now, after years of hatred and disinformation stoked by the Trump White House, the figure would be much lower.

History suggests that those divisions can fade with time:

When today’s hatreds seem ineradicable, it’s heartening to remember how far Americans have come since, say, 1960, when John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign prompted evangelical Protestants to organize a media blitz warning voters that a Catholic president would be a pawn of the Vatican, that fecund Catholic families were taking over the country and that patriotic Protestants shouldn’t let charges of anti-Catholic bigotry keep them from sounding the alarm. “Are we moving into an era of Roman Catholic domination in America?” Harold Ockenga, a prominent evangelical pastor, asked in a rousing speech several weeks before the election. “Will there be a denial of rights, freedom and privileges for non-Roman Catholics?”

Today, Joe Biden's Catholic faith is a non-issue because

over the decades, a complex series of socioeconomic, cultural and ideological shifts smoothed the way for Protestants and Catholics to recognize one another as fellow humans capable of cooperating in the democratic process and even merging their families. Young lay believers contributed at least as much to interfaith understanding as bishops and theologians did. Protestants and Catholics funded by the G.I. Bill sat next to each other in college classrooms after World War II; they marched side by side in the civil rights movement; they worshiped together in the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when Pentecostal-style revivals swept all Christian denominations and made a special impact on college campuses.

It’s crucial to see that young Catholics and Protestants were not merely emissaries of inevitable generational change. In the interfaith friendships they made, the spouses they chose despite their “ethnic” last names — in the innumerable small, compassionate interactions that distinguish a thriving civilization from a crumbling one — they made deliberate decisions to reject the prejudices and assumptions of older generations.

Let's hope we can do the same thing with the political dogmas of our own age.

Image: AZ Quotes


The Disaffected Lib said...

I was caught on this passage from her essay - "Biden has been warning us, in his frank and ecumenical way, that Americans have become a bunch of idol worshipers. He’s right. We have transformed political hatreds into a form of idolatry. A team of researchers analyzed a range of survey data and concluded that “out-party hate” now seems to shape American voting decisions more than race or religion do. “The foundational metaphor for political sectarianism is religion,” the researchers wrote in the journal Science last fall, based on “the moral correctness and superiority of one’s sect.” Political hatred has become Americans’ animating faith, a chief source of existential meaning."

Sounds like tribalism to me.

Owen Gray said...

Precisely, Mound. And it has led to a new Dark Age.

the salamander said...

.. In Twitter World I don't catch much 'religion' flying by or descending or arising. Lorne might have a different perspective.. dunno, but would like his take on the matter. I like the rough and tumble of Twitter, the give and take Wild West seems to chase the zealots away. Twitter seems 'about politics' mainly plus 'opinionation'. Twitter is also a venue and gateway to creativity and the arts.

I guess what I'm saying is 'religion - politics' does not thrive in Twitterland.. Probably because the combo hasn't a leg to stand on. I had to laugh the other day on reading a tweet that asked 'As a teen were you ever hit on by someone over 40 ?' I was about to shrug & shuffle along.. but I stopped and thought. Back in my mind something was ticking and suggesting I think about that. It seemed such an irrelevant question to me - personally.

Of course not ! I would never tolerate such bizarre behaviour back when I was 9-13 or so. Not a chance ! Who would be that stupid ? Then I remembered being an altar boy.. The 'grooming' attempts were constant at the church and at school.. and my Irish Catholic aunts, uncles and grandparents would assault me if I complained about a priest or nun or brother. Mys sister and I were adopted as mom n dad disappeared to restart their lives multiple times and fight off the Catholic Church and the associated politics of the day

To me today as an old codger in the making I see how religion is camouflage .. a kind of faux respectability .. a flag to fly for partisan political savages or deeply disturbed zealots. Thus when I see the combination of religion & politics and stirring in of money & power - my snarl deepens - back away from me !!

Owen Gray said...

When I was going to school in the American South, Sal, I came to the conclusion that discussing politics and religion was a waste of time. Nowadays, it seems that's all they talk about.