The Relationship between Religion and Politics in the United States
The relationship between religion and politics continues to be an important topic in modern American society. In a radical act, the Constitution not only guaranteed religious freedom, it also stated that the United States would not have a national church and would not have religious tests for the national office. However, in American political life there are factors that enhance the role of religion in a way that isn’t observed in other developed countries. In the article “How Politics Affects Religion: Partisanship, Socialization, and Religiosity in America,” Michele F. Margolis highlights the theory of the life cycle of religion and politics. Scholars point out that social identities can shape political attitudes and behaviors. This article explores the feedback, whether there are strong sides of party identity in order to influence engagement in a politically important social group. Politics can affect the level of religiosity at a certain time in their lives, “when people are in the process of raising children – a time that encourages many to make decisions associated with their religious identities – their partisanship may in?uence these religious choices” (Margolis 30). The article “Christian Theology and Attitudes Toward Political and Religious Ideological Groups,” examines the influence of Christian theology on the attitudes toward different ideological groups, both political and religious. These articles address some of the problems that arise in different ways between religion and politics. In the United States, religious identity often correlates with political identity, because religious differences are clearly visible in party politics.
Politics is not only a competition for power, and not only a selection of performers; it is a base of values on how to live together. In many ways, today’s America is more Christian than any previous moment in its history. Christianity is responsible for the way our society is organized and for the way we currently live. Christian contribution is extensive to our laws, our economics, our politics, our arts, our calendar, our holidays, and our moral and cultural priorities.
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In the article “How Politics Affects Religion: Partisanship, Socialization, and Religiosity in America,” Michele F. Margolis examines how a party identity affects the involvement of an important social group in politics. Religion is not only identity, but it is often the main component of political views in the United States. The relationship between religion and politics has changed dramatically over the last four decades. A new party coalition is created based on religiosity or religious participation. Religious socialization shows people’s relationships with religion – marked by membership and involvement in formal institutions – change as they develop and age. The religious life-cycle theory “argues that teenagers and young adults distance themselves from both the religion in which they were raised and religious practice in general (Arnett and Jensen 2002; Desmond, Morga, and
Kikuchi 2010; Hunsberger and Brown 1984; Willits and Crider 1989; Wilson and Sherkat 1994)” (Margolis 31). “Across multiple generations, young adults are the least likely to identify with a religious tradition, attend religious services, pray, and report religion being an important part of their lives (Smith 2009), and decreases in religiosity occur across region of residence (Smith et al. 2002), religious denomination (Hoge, Johnson, and Luidens 1993; Uecker, Regnerus, and Vaaler 2007), relationship with parents (Smith 2009), and parents’ religiosities (Myers 1996; Petts 2009; Sharot, Ayalon, and Ben-Rafael 1986)” (Margolis 31). After comparing statistics data, it’s pretty clear that during period from 1965 to 1973, students belonging to both Republican and Democratic parties attended church nearly twice less often (Margolis 35). There is often noticeable return to religion and to religious participation after marriage and during time of educating children, but sometimes it doesn’t happen at all (Margolis 31, 35-36). Religious identity and religious participation are pretty stable at the mature age (Margolis 31).
Party spirit can have an effect on religiosity. “The ‘impressionable years’ hypothesis claims – as the name suggests – that adolescents and young adults are highly impressionable and that outside influences and events can shape young people’s political outlooks, including partisan identification (Abramson 1979; Sears 1975, 1990)” (Margolis 31). The partyhood that is developing in young people’s lives is more than a political party, a powerful identity that often lasts a lifetime and influences other settings and behavior. The partnership generates economic assessments, confidence in the government, a sense of fairness in elections, consumption and spending.
In America the Republican party associated with organized religious groups and religious values, while the Democratic party considered to be less religious and offer more liberal points of view. As religiosity became relevant to politics, religious voters became republicans, and less religious voters became democrats (Margolis 32). The theory of the life cycle explains that politician can form a religious choice of the parties for their advantage in order to get votes. Politics can affect the level of religiosity at a certain time or stage of our life.
George Yancey, Marie A. Eisenstein, and Ryan P. Burge, in “Christian Theology and Attitudes Toward Political and Religious Ideological Groups”, have shown the influence of Christian theology on attitudes towards different ideological groups, both political and religious. The study describes how religious affiliation, behavior and belief in the United States affect voting and political party affiliation. Progressive Christians more often show an unfavorable attitude towards groups with political differences than conservative Christians. “The values of progressive Christians and their denominations have moved from claims of absolutism to an emphasis on tolerance and acceptance (Edles 2013; Roof and McKinney 1987; Wellman 2008)” (Yancey et al. 4). On the other hand, conservative Christians more often show a negative attitude toward groups with religious differences compared with progressive Christians (Yancey et al. 2). Therefore, theological differences between Christians are often divided into different levels of conservatism and progressivism. “Progressive Christians emphasize human [desire] and tolerance as the source of their values” (Yancey et al. 5). Rationality and human wisdom play important role when making choices and facing different social problems. Conservative Christians, as opposed to progressive, rely on “authoritative scripture as the last word of their moral vision” (Yancey et al. 5). They stick to traditional thinking, according to which their beliefs should match with the information in the Bible. The importance of God’s word is a valuable indicator of the various Christian views and they form their attitude towards other political or religious groups. The adoption of the Bible as the greatest authority makes conservative Christians less prepared to be flexible in their search for truth. “This critical theological difference means conservative Christians are less likely to adopt modern social innovations such as same-sex marriage (Baunach 2012; Olson, Cadge, and Harrison 2006; Sherkat et al. 2011), abortion (Hoffmann and Johnson 2005; Strickler and Danigelis 2002), and divorce (Ellison, Wolfinger, and Ramos-Wada 2013; Stokes and Ellison 2010), in part due to their allegiances to traditional values and practices in the Bible” (Yancey et al. 4).
Those who adopt a progressive form of Christianity may prioritize political goals more than those adopting a conservative Christian ideology (Yancey et al. 16). Although the United States is at the same time religiously diverse and very religious, “interreligious relations exhibit more comity than conflict” (Putnam and Campbell, 2010: 494 in Yancey et al. 16). Modern Democrats usually refer to values of justice, tolerance, and the republicans to traditional conservative views.
In America, religion is an important part of social life. Despite the constitutional dividing wall between church and state, national politicians refer to religion in great speeches. The President always asks God to bless America, sending his prayers to the victims of the disaster, accepting religious leaders and praising religious values. Such propaganda of religion is unheard of in Europe, but it may be because the majority is not religious and the native populations, as opposed to immigrants, are not very religious.
The Christians of the United States under the banner of “the moral majority” have made a significant movement to influence political leaders since the 1970s and introduced religion into political debate (Barber). The religious disposition of immigrants mean that they are receptive to the conservative religious message and can be persuaded to vote across class lines. By doing that they support an agenda that favors the wealthy and makes them even poorer.
American politicians talk a lot about religion. Nevertheless, they have nothing to do with theocracy, such as the Taliban. Paradoxically, the US conservatives went to war in Afghanistan to separate religion from politics abroad while strivnig to unite religion and politics at home. Many poor people in America risk losing their economic interests by voting for republican politicians who are interested in further concentrating wealth in the hands of the rich. They do so partially because the republicans appeal to their religious ideology.
Studies show that democrats are less religious than republicans. This pattern arose from the fact that religious beliefs affect political identity, but there is also a reverse relationship. These articles show that religious relations can be formed by political identities. Partyhood tends to crystallize at a young age and early adulthood, when most young people in the United States move away from religion in which they were brought up and religious practice in general. However, when young people move into adulthood, they must decide whether to stay out of religion or return to the religious sphere. Political identity, which for many has been built since the young years, can help to form a new religious identity. The religious belonging increases in uncertain lives of the poor, since difficult living conditions are associated with increased religiousness. The worse their living conditions are the greater chances they will support the leading party. This seems to be another great reason for separating the church from the state.
Party divisions for republicans and democrats do not simply reflect social disagreements, but they also help to create them. Americans can rely on their commitment to religious decisions, as long as parties and party elites recognize differences in issues related to religion and morals. The theory of the life cycle gives an explanation when politics most likely affects religion at the individual level, rejecting the assumption that politics should have a single effect for different types of people.
- Barber, Nigel. “Why Religion Rules American Politics.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 19 Sept. 2012, www.huffpost.com/entry/why-religion-rules-americ_b_1690433.
- Blow, Charles M. “Why Is America So Religious?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 Sept. 2008, blow.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/why-is-america-so-religious/.
- Gutting, Gary. “How Religion Can Lead to Violence.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Aug. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/08/01/opinion/how-religion-can-lead-to-violence.html.
- Margolis, Michele F. “How Politics Affects Religion: Partisanship, Socialization, and Religiosity in America.” Journal of Politics, vol. 80, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 30–43. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1086/694688.
- Stack, Liam. “Christians in U.S. Are Less Educated Than Religious Minorities, Report Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Dec. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/world/christians-educated-religious-minorities-pew.html.
- Yancey, George, et al. “Christian Theology and Attitudes Toward Political and Religious Ideological Groups.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, vol. 13, Jan. 2017, pp. 1–22. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=124231589&site=ehost-live.
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