Secularism, Religion, Politics

Four interesting posts / articles were published yesterday about secularism (and religion) in America. First read this article at The American Prospect by Paul Waldman. Next, read this post by Ross Douthat (at The Atlantic, and this post by Jonah Goldberg at NRO’s The Corner. Lastly, read this post by, again, Ross Douthat (in response to Jonah’s post).

Also read this article (PDF warning). It is quite interesting to see that evangelicals tend to vote for socially conservative if they are surrounded by more non-believers. In other words, ‘interaction’ or ‘communication’ between evangelicals and secularists does not make evangelicals more moderate: it makes them more conservative. The same cannot be said for secularists: their voting behavior does not change.

At The American Prospect Paul wonders:

So the question now is whether non-believers will, in large numbers, begin to define themselves as a tribe of their own … Whatever the answer is, the possibility does seem real for secularism to achieve a new awakening of its own as a political and social movement.

Ross links to an article he which appeared in the latest Atlantic and explains:

The argument, in short, is that just as the elite-level secularization of the 1960s and ’70s (in the intelligentsia, the Courts, and the Democratic Party) produced backlash in the form of the religious right, so now that backlash has bred its own backlash, in the form of a mass secularism whose attitudes toward religion, politics, and church-state separation are more European than anything we’ve seen before in American political life. This, not the supposed right-wing religious revival that conservatives champion and liberals dread, is the newest new thing in American political life, and the trend that’s likely to have the most impact on the culture wars over the next decade or so.

Jonah Goldberg, then, tries to put two and two together and reasons that communists (and alike) were very well organized and that they were quite a godless bunch. However, many Americans strongly opposed communism and considered secularism to be an important part of it: thus, communism discredited secularism as well as itself. As Jonah puts it: “Perhaps Communism did us a great favor by partially discrediting, or at least tamping down, the appeal of secularism and cosmopolitanism.”

However, now communism has “crumbled,” secularism might revive. Suddenly, to most people, communism and secularism are not twinbrother – secularism simply forms a possible (and credible) alternative.

Ross, then, explains that it is important to “distinguish the American experience from the European here.” Communism certainly was “a tribal phenomenon in the American context,” but it “was never a mass phenomenon in the way that the new secularism seems to be, or seems capable of becoming.” In Europe, however, communism (or Marxism) most certainly was a mass movement.

Ross’ conclusion: new secularism is here to stay.

It is a very interesting discussion. In Europe, secularism has become so ‘normal’ that we do not even talk about it anymore (except for when we deal with immigrants). Secularism is ‘accepted.’ We almost never hear politicians talk about their faith, and we most certainly do not hear our Prime Minister say “God bless the Netherlands,” or that the Netherlands is chosen by God to do great things. There are exceptions on the rule: we have Christian parties, such as the CDA (the biggest party in Parliament right now). Its members sometimes talk about religion, but when they do, they still do so with moderation and explain how their faith influences their political views / policies.

It will be interesting to see whether America will secularize during the coming decade or so or not. If I look at the data, I’m in the camp that believes that the current ‘wave’ of secularism might be a response to the (influence of the) religious right and that it, therefore, is a temporary phenomenon.

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4 Responses to Secularism, Religion, Politics

  1. Michael

    I too think all of the phenomenon the influence of the religious right will pass too. I’ve discussed this with friends of the more secular nature in the past couple of years, people who like myself are spiritual, but not religious.

    Before Bush went into office, if you look back at old NY Times bestseller lists for non-fiction you would find a wealth of “new age” type or secular spirituality books on the bestseller lists. This shifted when Bush and the fundamentalists took over. The shift is trending back again towards the secular.

    The whole rightwing assertion of secular people being “Godless” is so absurd.

  2. Ginny Cotts says:

    One of the psychological actions at play here is called compensatory conviction. When someone’s sense of self, long held beliefs, etc are threatened, they become even more convinced of their position and overdefend themselves, or someone they think needs help.

    Being a devout, born again secular humanist, my sense of ‘the mix’ right now in America is the base of evangelicals – 25%or so- are in sort of compensatory conviction phase they will probably take to the grave.

    One study I read in the past few years found 25% are not affiliated with a church. The rest are in various stages of conviction that is not so strong in the younger generations and more so as you get older.

    So, a lot like the change in attitudes towards homosexuals, secularism is becoming more acceptable as time goes on and new generations form different beliefs than their parents and grandparents.

    There is still a powerful group that keeps the 25% base of convicted in fear and loathing of the rest of us and the future. I think some of their sway is undermined by the revelations of people who worked on faith based programs leaving the administration.

    And I always keep in mind that Jefferson thought America would abandon religion within a century.

  3. Darrell Prows says:

    In the U.S., the religious right is fracturing over things like “stewardship of God’s creation”. Religion in general is fracturing over the desire of many mainline Christians not to be lumped together with the unChristlike actions of so many “evangenicals”.

    What is constant here, for reasons that I personally can’t fathom, is that folks flock to some form of religion in a steady strem. The deck may get shuffeled some, but church goers are still going to have a lot of seats at the table.

  4. Jim Withee says:

    The organizing principle of most religions is undemocratic, in other words hierarchical, as well as many would say based on superstition rather than reason. There are good works done by religious people but it still falls within a top-down structure that is not good for the majority.