A ‘devoutness divide?’ Hell, no

A ‘devoutness divide?’

: Relevant to the Frist/filibuster/faith fun below, Dick Meyer at CBSNews.com says this is about “devoutness divide.”

What divides Americans politically is not feuds between sects, bigotry or prejudice. The antagonism is not between, say, Jews and Baptists or Catholics and Methodists. It is not between believers and atheists; the vast majority of voters consider themselves religious and believe in God. The gap is rather between churchgoers and non-churchgoers; it is between people who are very orthodox or traditional in their religious belief and those who are more individualistic in their worship or less orthodox. The chasm is not defined by what religion people belong to but how they practice their religion.

There is no God Gap. But there is a Devoutness Divide.

I know he’s talking about voting behavior and stats but I still disagree and dislike the way that is presented with the choice of the word “devout:”

All religious people are not conservatives (and all conservatives are not religous people [and all liberals are not godless]).

I go to church and I’m a liberal. My sister is a minister and she’s a liberal. I know lots of liberals who do, indeed, go to church.

I will also acknowledge that the growth in churches is in the conservative side and that’s a challenge for us liberals. Does that mean that conservatives and fundamentalists are taking over religion or does it mean that liberals are rejecting religion? I don’t know. Is the Republican Party being taken over by the religious? It looks that way, but I don’t know that that’s the case either; the religious right is vocal and organized and have made themselves into a force to be reckoned with, no matter how large that force really is.

But that doesn’t mean that either religion or the right has been taken over by the religious right.

It’s wrong to make gross generalizations that end up rejecting whole swathes of the population to make a point. Plenty of people who believe in God vote Democratic. Plenty of Republicans didn’t like what Delay and the fringe of their party did in the Schiavo matter or, I’ll bet, in Frist’s TV follies.

So don’t fall into the trap of assuming that Democrats are godless and Republicans are all on the religious fringe. It’s fine to fight the religious right fringe; I do; somebody has to. It’s fine for the religious right to fight for their side and use their political wiles to do so. That’s what makes America great.

But let’s not paint America now not as red vs. blue but as churchgoing vs. not. It’s just not true.

: Dick Meyer just emailed me and said I got this completely wrong. (Can’t quote from the email now because I’m challenged, connectivity wise, but I will.) Andrew Tyndall called me on it in the comments, too.

I wasn’t strong enough above, then, saying that I know he’s talking about voting behavior.

What I’m objecting too, in the end, is the word “devout.” As I joked with Andrew, even Unitarians can be devout. I think devout is a loaded word that connotes the idea of being more religious and that is the notion I reacted to and I used Meyer as a launching point for that.

I didn’t mean to get him wrong and I apologize.

: I got around tech limitations at MSNBC and here’s the salient and correct quote from Meyer’s email:

… I indicated quite clearly that the vast majority of American voters are religious. And the most opinionated part of the piece, at the bottom, argued that religious poeple who are both traditional and who are untraditional (liberal and conservative) have much more in common than our politicians and politicized clergy would have us think. And yes, there is no disputing that liberals are religious and church-going, too. But there is also no disputing that the greater the frequency of church-attendance, the higher the odds of voting GOP; sorry, it’s a fact.

So here’s an odd contention: Church attendance is not a measure of devoutness, in my view and I know that is a minority view). Religion is personal and need not be institutional and should not be judged on the basis of such open indications as church attendance or eagerness to talk about religion or willingness to incorporate religion with politics.

That was what I was trying to say. But clearly, I failed. I’m going to blogger hell…

  • Ah, but is the true side of the Liberal Left the same ones who demonstrated against Justice Scalia two nights ago at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central?

  • Jeff–I think you miscontrue Meyer’s point…
    He seems to be implying that, for example, a reform Jew, a liberation-theology Catholic and a gay Episcopalian will have more in common with one another than each would with their own co-religionists–say, a Hasid, an Opus Dei adherent and a Focus on Family type.
    The argument seems to be that in modern America each individual religion contains such a diversity of political orientation, that often the devout (liberal or conservative) find common cause with those of similar political orientation of a different faith rather than their fellow Jews, Catholics, Protestants or whatever.
    Certainly the pro-lifers outside Terri Schiavo’s hospice, Catholic and Protestant, did not seem to care about their deep doctrinal differences.

  • I agree with Andrew’s comments. The voting data is hard to ignore. The question is more one of orthodoxy than one of personal ‘devoutness’. From what I’ve read (don’t remember where) the voting data uses a series of questions to determine orthodoxy, so you may be suffering from a “no one I know voted for…” moment. Orthodoxy is not a question of devoutness to personal beliefs; rather it is a question of adherence to the text (and traditions, though less important).
    I think that when you look at church-attenders you have to be careful to control for denominational theology. If I remember right, you’re Congregational, and that denomination is more on the left of the spectrum. If you want to use church-attendance as a metric for devoutness, I think that you’d have to look more toward a ‘typical’ Willow Creek or Saddleback member.
    An example of what I’m saying: Do you agree that the Bible is either inerrant, or that it is “inspired by God and is without error as originally transcribed”? If not, I suspect that you’d get thrown into the “non-orthodox” category and your voting preferences would end up supporting this idea of a “devoutness divide”.

  • Andrew:
    Then perhaps I object to his choice of words: One can be a devout Unitarian (as much as some would say that is an oxymoron).

  • How very timely, though, that on tax filing day suddenly so many of the supporters of tax breaks for the well off would feel the need for public association with their deity, must be close to penance.

  • jeff–your mental image of the devout Unitarian does indeed seem comical. To illustrate the point that true devotion to the divine can be found at any point of the political spectrum, let’s invoke the Society of Friends. Quakers are renowned for their extreme piety and their extreme liberalism.

  • Andrew:
    Amen. I went to a Friends school for years (and planned to use that to justify my C.O. status in the war….)

  • J. Mark English: the protest was at Vanderbilt Hall at the NYU School of Law. And no, there’s no reason to equate those protesters with the “true side of the Liberal Left” – whatever that means.

  • james

    Fundamentalist Christian fanatics pose as a grave a threat to our nation as fundamentalist Muslims fanatics. Fundamentalism kills.

  • Does anyone else ever consider this divide in terms of people who fall into Piaget’s abstract reasoners vs. people who are operating at a concrete level of reasoning?
    Could this divide be less about faith or devoutness and more about whether you take things literally and have trouble with abstract thought? One of the characteristics associated with abstract thinking is being able to engage in perspective-taking. It strikes me that the literals can’t or don’t do that very well.

  • Linda Edwards

    Food for thought (abstractly, of course).

  • degustibus

    more like
    Old Testament || New Testament

  • Evan

    First we get this statement:
    “It’s wrong to make gross generalizations that end up rejecting whole swathes of the population to make a point.”
    Followed by this:
    “It’s fine to fight the religious right fringe; I do; somebody has to.”
    So what exactly constitutes this religious right ‘fringe’? Support of indecency laws that have been around for decades? Advocating judges that are originalists, versus living constitution judges? Opposition to changing marriage laws to permit gay marriage, which had never been legal in this country? Opposition to on-demand abortion? 3 or more of the above?
    Or does something else make you a member of this ‘fringe’?

  • Evan: I mean it’s OK to fight over the issues. It’s OK to disagree strongly. It’s ok to think somebody else is ruining the party. That’s politics. That’s what I mean (and clearly, I didn’t do well if I have to keep using that phrase). What upsets me is people thinking they are more religious than other people. And that is what is being said in the specific instance of the Frist show.

  • About the fact that Jeff cites in his addendum, that more people who go to church turn up in polls as more likely to vote GOP. Statistics would also show that more young people don’t attend church, and this is going in the obvious direction that younger people are less likely to vote Republican.

  • So basically, you don’t like the language of a “devoutness divide” but you concede that the concept is true? Maybe propose alternative language, and that would make your point more clear.

  • If I interpret your point correctly Jeff, you’re asking the Democrats and the Left to be fair? That may be an oversimplification, but the answer is not – f**k that!!
    We’ve watched as the Right has dug up the writings of supposed ‘radical Leftist academics’, young, outspoken Black comedians and t-shirt makers shopping their wares on an online flea market website, and use their incendiary rhetoric to indict the entire Left as a whole!
    O’Reilly, Hannity, Drudge, Ann Coulter and the Powerline blog have not been punished, let alone admonished, for far worse behavior. When Fred Phelp’s hateful granddaughter appears on Scarborough Country, Conservatives give a platform for intolerance. When Randall Terry’s veiled threats are not challenged on Fox, they give validation to hate groups.
    No longer will I acknowledge someone from the Right distancing or disavowing the actions of James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, because there’s an abundance of evidence of how their party has benefited from it.

  • Jim S

    While I would never say that all Republicans are members of the Religious Right, I will say that they certainly seem to have almost all of the power in the party. Witness Frist’s kowtowing to them. Read the party platform and instead of saying (as I’ve heard moderate Republicans claim) that it’s just a piece of paper that lays out broad principles take it as what they say it is, the core beliefs of the party’s leadership as it is currently constituted.

  • more like
    Old Testament || New Testament
    Posted by degustibus
    …..and which testament is it that supports same sex marriage and/or condones the promotion and support of sexually degrading antics like that of Howard Stern?
    I think the “devoutness divide” is between a cafeteria style religion Man created for Mankind, and the actual Bible based religion God created for us to worship Him.
    We either oppose or advance the will of God while we are on this earth.
    Religion exists to serve God, not Man. “Cafeteria style” serves man.

  • Jim S

    And then there’s the divide between those who are religious but recognize that they live in a society with those who don’t follow their religion (or perhaps simply their version of it) and shouldn’t have to live by it because it’s been implemented as secular law and the Religious Right. Isn’t that what it really comes down to?

  • This “divide” is more about the Bible and the interpretation thereof than any measure of devoutness. Conservative Christians often refer to a “liberal church,” which is meant to describe the National Council of Churches and their member denominations. This is not to suggest that all members of NCC churches are liberal; it’s more to suggest that the policies and practices of the denominations themselves tend towards a liberal view of the Bible.

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    I don’t think this is about the devoutness of anyone. It’s about the religious radicals’ use of government to impose their morals and beliefs on non believers.
    So, are the pollsters asking the right questions? Should they be asking about the role of government in supporting regilious causes above and beyond giving tax exempt status to religious organizations and their buildings?
    As for using church attendance as a measure of devoutness, how many church goers do you know who study the Bible versus the number who just enjoy getting together with friends every week?
    While pollsters do identify voting patterns with church attendance, it’s not clear that church attendance means a whole lot other than a lot of people like to be guided and led by preachers.
    Frist’s decision to smear Dems as anti-Christian is appalling to this conservative, pro choice and pro gay marriage Republican. But the Dems put themselves in the bulls eye by Borking Bush’s faith based judicial candidates. Looks like a wash to me, disgusting from any way you look at it.

  • paladin

    I’m no Hillary Clinton fan, but she has some things to say about how the media is corrupting our children. One of the few things conservative, liberal and MOR parents share is concern about the effect the media has on our children. Sure, Frank Rich and Jeff Jarvis view this as conservative Taliban, but the rest of us want something done. Here are two links to articles by Democrats saying that Democrats must do something about the debasement of our culture to the detriment of our children. http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110006568 and http://www.newdonkey.com/2005/04/parents-kids-corporations-and.html

  • Jim, it’s an unalienable fact this country was founded by Christians, and our government is God based.
    Separation of church and state was meant as a protection to others with different beliefs to assure they would not be persecuted because of them.
    I doubt the forefathers foresaw the day this protection would be used by those with different beliefs to remove God from the very foundation of our government, and that such factions would make it difficult to even have a public Christmas Tree!

  • I believe “devout” is the PC term for “fundamentalist.”
    I believe the current anger on the right towards Iran isn’t based so much on actual policy goals, but rather over theocracy-envy.

  • Linda Edwards

    It needs to be pointed out, often, that many of our countries most influential founding fathers were NOT Christian. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Franklin, just to name a few, were Deists.
    Per http://www.religioustolerance.org/deism.htm
    The word “Deism” is derived from the Latin word for God: “Deus.” Deism involves the belief in the existence of God, on purely rational grounds, without any reliance on revealed religion or religious authority.
    *Do not accept the belief of most religions that God revealed himself to humanity through the writings of the Bible, the Qur’an or other religious texts.
    *Disagree with strong Atheists who assert that there is no evidence of the existence of God.
    They regard their faith as a natural religion, as contrasted with one that is revealed by a God or which is artificially created by humans. They reason that since everything that exists has had a creator, then the universe itself must have been created by God. Thomas Paine concluded a speech shortly after the French Revolution with: “God is the power of first cause, nature is the law, and matter is the subject acted upon.”
    Christianity necessitates a belief in Jesus Crhist, and I find no reference to Jesus Christ in either the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution.
    As we know, the gentlemen listed above had a heavy hand in the preparation of both these great documents. So to say this is a Christian nation founded by Christians for the benefit of Christians (as opposed to the benefit of everyone), is simply wrong.

  • franky

    My God they are taking our Christmas Trees? Dear Lord, don’t they read their bible? “And the baby Jesus was born near a big pine tree that was adorned with the Playstation 2 and Hello Kitty dolls”

  • Linda Edwards

    And even stranger, Franky, Christmas Trees originated from pagan ritual. Go figure.

  • Ray_G

    I think that Evan’s post April 15, 2005 05:05 PM asked a good question that deserves an answer: How do you define “religious fringe”? Is it by the political issues they support or oppose? I think that is a mistake. For instance, I am an atheist, and of the 4 things Evan mentions in his post I definitely agree with 2 of them, possibly 3, and could perhaps be persuaded to support all of them if some one came up with a convincing argument.

  • franky

    Ray_G, you ask a sensible question for the debate – I would suggest the religious fringe is those who attempt to impose the teachings of the bible on the whole population. There really is no difference between these people and those Nigerian Muslims attempting to impose Sharia law on Nigerian Christians.

  • franky

    Yeah right Linda – I bet you’re one of those pagans who doesn’t even know that the Easter Bunny is mentioned frequently in the bible. “And so did a large bunny go forth and hide choclate eggs. And the children did rejoice when they ate the Hershey’s eggs”

  • Linda Edwards


  • hey

    seriously just because people disagree with you doesn’t make them theocrats.
    they have religiously based ideology, but they’re simply trying to get their views enacted. you can be agnostic/atheist and be very comfortable with most of these.
    when dems say that a certain judge is not acceptable because he follows his religious teachings, that’s a violation of the separation of church and state. republicans have not filibustered judges because they are not christian. if they did that would be unconstitutional as well. but saying that the only acceptable catholic is one that does not accept basic catholic dogma is an excercise in anti-clericalism. and this for people who have in the past shown that they will uphold and enforce laws that they morally disagree with.
    yet you complain about theocracy… wow. completely useless.

  • franky and linda e:
    How wrong you are. the original xmas tree was brought inside by the early Normans who lived in huts and in the winter when they closed up the huts needed an insect repellent. (My kids learned to tolerate my announcing it was time for the flea tree.) You did know that firs naturally repel insects?