Who Are the American Religious?

I was looking at polling data for the religious. Just minor curiosity, on this Sunday morning.

Like the rest of the population, the overall US trend is toward progressivism and liberalism (I wonder what the trend is in other countries and across the world). One poll from Beliefnet was done in 2008.

Beliefnet Poll: Evangelicals Still Conservative, But Defy Issue Stereotypes

It’s probably a little out of date, as the results of demographic shifts are quickly changing and becoming more apparent. In the intervening years, progressives have increased among Evangelicals, although many others have left Evangelicalism. More broadly, religious progressives now outnumber religious conservatives.

Anyway, what interested me was the following section from the above link:

“In some ways, the survey reveals evangelicals to be quite conservative: 41-percent said they were Republican compared to 30-percent who were Democrats; 47-percent said they were conservative versus 14-percent who said they were liberal. Almost 80-percent said they attended church weekly or more than weekly and 84% said the Bible is the “inerrant word of God.”

“Generally speaking, however, evangelicals ranked traditionally progressive or Democratic causes as more important than traditionally conservative or Republican ones. Twenty three percent said their views had become less positive about Republicans, twice the number who said they’d soured on Democrats, though half of respondents said they had become less positive about both parties. Almost 60-percent said they favored a more progressive evangelical agenda focused more on protecting the environment, tackling HIV/AIDs, and alleviating poverty and less on abortion and homosexuality.”

That mirrors the same confusion of labeling confusion as found in the general population. This weird phenomenon creates problems in interpretation. It is rare to see the self-identification data clearly compared and contrasted with public opinion data.

Still, this is far from an unknown social reality, as far as it concerns academic researchers.

Political Ideology: Its Structure, Functions, and Elective Affinities
by John T. Jost, Christopher M. Federico, & Jaime L. Napier

“Since the time of the pioneering work of Free & Cantril (1967), scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology (Page & Shapiro 1992, Stimson 2004). According to this terminology, “symbolic” refers to general, abstract ideological labels, images, and categories, including acts of self-identification with the left or right. “Operational” ideology, by contrast, refers to more specific, concrete, issue-based opinions that may also be classified by observers as either left or right. Although this distinction may seem purely academic, evidence suggests that symbolic and operational forms of ideology do not coincide for many citizens of mass democracies. For example, Free & Cantril (1967) observed that many Americans were simultaneously “philosophical conservatives” and “operational liberals,” opposing “big government” in the abstract but supporting the individual programs comprising the New Deal welfare and regulatory state. More recent studies have obtained impressively similar results; Stimson (2004) found that more than two-thirds of American respondents who identify as symbolic conservatives are operational liberals with respect to the issues (see also Page & Shapiro 1992, Zaller 1992). However, rather than demonstrating that ideological belief systems are multidimensional in the sense of being irreducible to a single left-right continuum, these results indicate that, in the United States at least, leftist/liberal ideas are more popular when they are manifested in specific, concrete policy solutions than when they are offered as ideological abstractions. The notion that most people like to think of themselves as conservative despite the fact that they hold a number of liberal opinions on specific issues is broadly consistent with system-justification theory, which suggests that most people are motivated to look favorably upon the status quo in general and to reject major challenges to it (Jost et al. 2004a).”

It interested me to see this same type of thing in the religious polling. But it isn’t surprising. Confusion abounds, especially when it comes to politics on the left.

By the way, the following are links to some of the data on changes in the religious demographic(s), especially among the younger generations. I’ve seen much of this data over the years. There is a shift that has been happening for a long time. It’s nothing new, but it’s good to keep in mind.

Survey | Generations at Odds: The Millennial Generation and the Future of Gay and Lesbian Rights
by PRRI

Young Evangelicals in the 2012 Elections
by Sojourners

Are Millennials Killing Off the Religious Right?
by Amanda Marcotte

More than half of evangelicals oppose cutting government funds for poor, survey shows
by Electa Draper

Survey shows diversity in political opinion among mainline Protestant clergy
by Mary Frances Schjonberg

Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage
And the Bible isn’t getting in their way.
by Jim Hinch

Young U.S. Catholics overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality
by Michael Lipka

Millennial Christians Are More Socially Progressive Than You Might Expect, Shattering Some Conservative Stereotypes
by Emma Cueto

Why Pope Francis is Polling The World’s Catholics
by Jack Jenkins

If Vatican conservatives are so afraid of gay rights, young Catholics aren’t going to wait around
by Zach Stafford

Young Christians Are Fleeing Evangelicalism—And Here’s Why
by Eleanor J. Bader

Politico: Catholic Republicans Have a Pope Problem
by Courtney Coren

Poll: Americans Prefer Gay President To Evangelical Christian
by Alan

How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation
by CNN

 

Anne Rice: Moderate & Liberal Christianity

I highly respect Anne Rice for being so open about her views. I think people, no matter what their beliefs or change of beliefs, should always be honest.

I was raised as a liberal Christian and so I appreciate liberal Christians like Anne Rice standing up for moderation and humility. Too many religious people act like they have the answer for everything. There is nothing that irritates me more than a fundamentalist who defends their dogma through intellectual dishonesty and/or righteous arrogance.

Just imagine if all the religious liberals and religious moderates of the world (whether Christian, Muslim or whatever) stood up and made themselves heard. I suspect that most religious people are moderate on most issues and my sense is that the numbers of religious liberals is larger than one would guess from watching the mainstream media. The religious fundamentalists and extremists are very loud and very active. They dominate the political narrative about moral and cultural issues. Through evangelism and political organization, they have immense influence. Just consider how the Mormon church influenced (through illegal donations) public opinion about Prop 8 and contributed in no small part to its originally having been passed into law. When liberal and moderate Christians do speak up about civil rights and the public good, about caring for the poor and helping the needy, rightwing leaders such as Glenn Beck attack them.

Anne Rice is the biggest name that has come up in criticism of religious fundamentalism from the perspective of religious moderation and humility. I hope her example will help others to also speak up. I’d love to see someone like Michael Moore make a movie about Christianity in America and it’s relationship to progressivism and the civil rights movement. Few people realize that Moore is not only a Christian but is specifically inspired by Jesus Christ in doing his work as a documentarian and activist. Because liberals are so moderate and humble in their religiosity, they tend to believe religion should be kept as a personal issue. That is a generally good attitude, but I think it’s time to shake off some of that humility and demonstrate that liberal religiosity isn’t something to be hidden.

I’m not religious myself these days. I can’t say I’m fighting for my own conception of true Christianity. I really don’t care what others believe Christianity to be. I’m just tired of the overt politicization of Christianity by the religious right. Going by the polls, the younger generations are also tired of this religious politicization. The liberals and moderates shouldn’t become like the rightwingers in their challenging the politicization of the rightwingers. Unlike what some rightwingers believe, this isn’t a fight where only one version of Christianity can become victorious. I just want all voices to be heard so that there can be sincere discussion about issues that are very important.

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 * Note: I don’t mean to imply that all conservatives are fundamentalist extremists and far rightwingers. In using the term “moderate”, I’m also including moderate conservatives. I’m actually arguing that most people who identify as conservative probably are moderate. To illustrate this, polls show that more Americans identify as conservative than liberal, but if you ask about specific issues most Americans lean towards liberal/progressive views.