Over the years I have put a lot of study into the difference between religion and politics. (A difference denied by many but I’ll spare you that for the moment and begin with the presumption that religion and politics are different things.) Given that – we have all heard increasingly forceful admonitions that we shouldn’t let our religion shape our politics. (For myself, I can’t imagine why we shouldn’t – a future post!) But a spate of recent studies seems to indicate exactly the opposite has occurred in my generation and the generations immediately following i.e., our politics have shaped our religion. Michelle Margolis is among the most prevalent and readable proponents of this thesis. You can check her larger work – From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity or a shorter article in the New York Times Online – When Politicians Determine Your Religious Beliefs or any of a great number of interviews, articles, etc. by Margolis.
Margolis does not contend this has always been the case. She points to a shift beginning in the 1970’s. Here are some of the major data-points underlying Margolis’ conclusions.
Margolis has performed several experiments like the following seeking confirmation.
Participants (all religious barring a control group) are shown a flier – either a partisan flier for their own political party or a non-political flier and then answer a series of questions. The results are consistent: Republicans shown the partisan Republican flier felt closer to their religion. Democrats shown the partisan Democrat flier felt more distant from their religion.
Margolis concludes that down to the early Boomers, religion shaped politics. Beginning with late Boomers and probably magnifying in the generations that follow, politics has shaped religion.
In trying to understand this I mean no disrespect to my brothers and sisters of either or any political persuasion and I don’t know that politics making us feel better about our religion is any more to be desired than politics making us feel worse about our religion. If Margolis is right, I regard it as equally bad news for everyone. More on that later. But I’d be glad to hear what anyone thinks.
Let me jump right into the blogosphere with a rant on the (I think) one-dimensional nature of most shared Facebook items. For instance – consider this one shared by a few of my nearly 1700 Facebook friends.
White Evangelicals are the least Christ-like according to a new poll of religious people. Was it really necessary to take a poll?
Well of course not! We all know about those white evangelicals. Right? Full disclosure: I am white. I do not consider myself an evangelical (something I may take up in a later blog).
The post seems to have originated with political personality – Tim Hagan.
The post honestly acknowledges that the conclusion is based on a ‘poll’ not a scientific study.
So, I looked up the poll. Perhaps you will be surprised to discover that in the poll itself there is no mention of Christ-likeness or reference to any Scriptures as guiding principles. Nor does the poll concern itself with what any believer thinks of any other believer’s spiritual state. What participants were asked about was their attitude toward government programs, government actions and individuals in government. Since, apparently, white evangelicals showed more antipathy toward government efforts to ‘help the poor’, ‘protect minorities’ etc. than ‘mainline denominational Christians’, in spite of Jesus’ clear emphases on such things (Jesus and Scriptures mentioned boldly now in the poll’s conclusions), obviously those white evangelicals are less Christ-like. In fact, the poll is interpreted as revealing that ‘non-religious’ people are the most Christ-like of all!
Well, OK. Shame on those rotten white evangelicals for hating the poor! But I noticed the poll did not investigate the amount of money and volunteerism given by those same white evangelicals where non-government efforts to aid the poor and protect the helpless are concerned. It seems like that might be worth looking into. After all, the basis for the poll’s conclusions is that Christ-likeness correlates with a heart for the poor and helpless. I missed the part explaining why hundreds of millions of dollars given, buckets worth of sweat equity poured into, and deep personal commitment to corporate, church-led, or personal projects do not count.
I don’t mean to speak for white evangelicals (as I do not count myself one) but it seems to me that the conclusion drawn from the poll has less to do with white evangelical attitudes toward the poor and more to do with white evangelical attitudes toward government projects and policies. Other conclusions are possible and I stand ready to hear them.
But – back to the beginning of this post. I don’t share anything I see on Facebook without researching it first. The few times I have violated that policy persuade me I should never violate it again! I share very little anyway. I tend to post my own words, thoughts, conclusions, and the activities of myself and the congregation I shepherd. But I get it – nothing with so many words as this blog post is going to do well on Facebook. Punchy slides on colored backgrounds that can be read in 3 seconds are the ticket. But it seems plain to me that no such posts can fairly state or evaluate such complicated issues. The wrong tool for the job!
Glad to hear what anyone else thinks! Please leave a comment.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church