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.