Five Thirty Eight reports:
A few weeks ago, the Democratic National Committee formally acknowledged what has been evident for quite some time: Nonreligious voters are a critical part of the party’s base. In a one-page resolution passed at its annual summer meeting, the DNC called on Democratic politicians to recognize and celebrate the contributions of nonreligious Americans, who make up one-third of Democrats. In response, Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor with close ties to Trump, appeared on Fox News, saying the Democrats were finally admitting they are a “godless party.”
This was hardly a new argument. Conservative Christian leaders have been repeating some version of this claim for years, and have often called on religious conservatives and Republican politicians to defend the country against a growing wave of liberal secularism. And it’s true that liberals have been leaving organized religion in high numbers over the past few decades. But blaming the Democrats, as Jeffress and others are wont to do, doesn’t capture the profound role that conservative Christian activists have played in transforming the country’s religious landscape, and the role they appear to have played in liberals’ rejection of organized religion.
Researchers haven’t found a comprehensive explanation for why the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans has increased over the past few years — the shift is too large and too complex. But a recent swell of social science research suggests that even if politics wasn’t the sole culprit, it was an important contributor. “Politics can drive whether you identify with a faith, how strongly you identify with that faith, and how religious you are,” said Michele Margolis, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity.” “And some people on the left are falling away from religion because they see it as so wrapped up with Republican politics.”
(click here to continue reading The Christian Right Is Helping Drive Liberals Away From Religion | FiveThirtyEight.)
I find this topic fascinating. Speaking of my own experience, after a relatively short bout of religiosity in my early teens (7th & 8th grade), I became an agnostic, and then a flat out atheist mostly due to encounters with right-wing zealots like those discussed in this article. The majority of so-called Christians don’t appear to have read much of the New Testament, nor do they seem to follow the teachings of their messiah.
In other words, the right-wing evangelicals have turned me off of religion; I want nothing to do with their fear-mongering intolerance, their racism, hatred of others, love of violence, and their public displays of (false) piety. Any organization they belong to wouldn’t want me anyway.
Kudos to the Democratic Party for finally acknowledging there are secular people in their party too. For too long the party of Clinton (both Bill & Hillary) was in a race with the Republicans to be Holier-Than-Them, despite all these factors.
Distaste for the Christian right’s involvement with politics was prompting some left-leaning Americans to walk away from religion.
It was a simple but compelling explanation. For one thing, the timing made sense. In the 1990s, white evangelical Protestants were becoming more politically powerful and visible within conservative politics. As white evangelical Protestants became an increasingly important constituency for the GOP, the Christian conservative political agenda — focused primarily on issues of sexual morality, including opposition to gay marriage and abortion — became an integral part of the the party’s pitch to voters, but it was still framed as part of an existential struggle to protect the country’s religious foundation from incursions by the secular left. Hout and Fischer argued that the Christian right hadn’t just roused religious voters from their political slumber — left-leaning people with weaker religious ties also started opting out of religion because they disliked Christian conservatives’ social agenda.
At the time, Hout and Fischer’s argument was mostly just a theory. But within the past few years, Margolis and several other prominent political scientists have concluded that politics is a driving factor behind the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. For one thing, several studies that followed respondents over time showed that it wasn’t that people were generally becoming more secular, and then gravitating toward liberal politics because it fit with their new religious identity. People’s political identities remained constant as their religious affiliation shifted.
Other research showed that the blend of religious activism and Republican politics likely played a significant role in increasing the number of religiously unaffiliated people. One study, for instance, found that something as simple as reading a news story about a Republican who spoke in a church could actually prompt some Democrats to say they were nonreligious. “It’s like an allergic reaction to the mixture of Republican politics and religion,” said David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame and one of the study’s co-authors.
Yes, an allergic reaction is exactly correct. Listening to disgusting hypocrites like Mike Pence and Rick Perry proclaim their faith in the public square turns my stomach. Spending time in church with sanctimonious jerks like Ted Cruz? No way.