The real challenge about religion and politics

06 Aug 2013 10:44 am
Posted by: Donna

In EJ Dionne’s Sunday Washington Post column he takes a subset of nonreligious liberals to task:

And because I have written favorably about Pope Francis, I get more than my share of angry comments about the Catholic pedophilia scandal, which continues to haunt the church and troubles even its most loyal members.

Getting lambasted doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, citizens talking back to the purveyors of opinion is a glorious aspect of free speech. But my correspondents underscore the existence of a strong anti-religious current within a segment of the liberal community that is both an important political fact and a potential problem for progressives.

This is a typical of the advice atheists get from religious liberals: sure, go ahead and express your opinion but you realize you are going to ruin everything for liberals if you do! Okay. I do have people tell me in real life that they encounter obstreperous, disrespectful atheists all the time and that’s probably somewhat true. I say “somewhat” because I reserve a fair bit of skepticism for such broad claims since atheists, being one of the most unpopular and misunderstood groups in the country, have historically given very little social latitude to be anything other than quiet and deferential to theists. I do not mean to say there aren’t any obnoxious atheists. Of course there are. There are jerks in every group. The problem is that the narrative emerging about (as EJ puts it) “a strong anti-religious current” among liberals implies an equivalence in both militancy and political influence with religious zealots on the Right, which is simply laughable. Atheists, militant or not, certainly don’t have the kind of deathgrip on the Democratic Party that religious conservatives exert on the GOP platform.

Dionne cites some interesting research from the Brookings Institute on religious and political affiliation.

Overall, we found that 28 percent of Americans could be classified as religious conservatives, 38 percent as religious moderates and 19 percent as religious progressives. An additional 15 percent were nonreligious.

Among supporters of the two parties, Republicans were far more cohesive. The analysis found that 56 percent of Republicans were religious conservatives and 33 percent were religious moderates. Only 5 percent were religious progressives and just 6 percent were nonreligious.

Democrats, by contrast, were all over our analytical map: 28 percent were religious progressives, 13 percent were religious conservatives, 42 percent were religious moderates and 17 percent were nonreligious.

Among self-identified political liberals, the proportion of nonreligious — essentially, the folks sending me those messages — was even larger: 31 percent of liberals were nonreligious, 33 percent were religious progressives, 30 percent were religious moderates and 6 percent were religious conservatives.

Liberals like EJ Dionne appear to be needlessly wringing their hands over the specter of abrasive atheists alienating progressive religious allies. They don’t seem to be driving religious moderates or progressives away from liberalism, and certainly not from the Democratic Party. There’s still a religious invocation at every Democratic event I attend and we atheists dutifully stand and bow our heads for it. To me, the real puzzler is the 44% of Republicans comprised of mostly religious moderates (and a small number of progressive religious and non-religious people). What is so appealing about the GOP to them, despite that party’s dogmatic rigidity, bigotry, misogyny, anti-science stances, etc.? Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is not what’s the matter with some atheists but rather what’s wrong with some non-conservative religious people? Why do they continue to vote for a bunch of radical theocrats and help them win elections all over the country?

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