Politics & Religion

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This week’s entry is on the far-flung fringes of my assigned topic. (It was “World News” in case you’d forgotten or have become used to my venturing from topic.)

I introduce Rod Dreher. Mr. Dreher is from south Louisiana, a graduate of the THE Louisiana State Univeristy, and an accomplished writer. He is currently employed as an editorialist at the Dallas Morning News.

I’ve never met him, but our families are acquainted. I’ve heard about a “big shot” writer from our little corner of the world that writes at some “big city newspaper.” But not until recently did I realize I want to be Rod Dreher.

This week I am submitting his op-ed piece and if this doesn’t create some message posts, you either didn’t read his work or the only reader of the Saturday post is the writer.

For the right-leaing readers: join me in trumpeting this well-written hard look at the media, politics and religion and flawless dissection of how the media has missed one, huge problem with liberals all along!

For the left-leaning readers: join me in tearing to shreds this illogical, offensive (although well written) myopic view of reality!

Like meat to lions … Enjoy!

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/129/story_12994_1.html

Are the Democrats Anti-Religion?
How the media’s reporting on the Religious Right keeps it from seeing the story of the Secular Left
By Rod Dreher

As a practicing Christian, a political conservative and a professional journalist, I’ve long been amazed at how ignorant and uncurious my mostly intelligent and urbane colleagues are about conservatives, especially religious conservatives. Many have looked at me–their friend, despite my Catholicism and Republican Party registration–with the same slack-jawed incomprehension as elderly Southerners when they step off the tour bus in London and hear a black man speaking with a crisp British accent (I’ve seen this, and it’s a hoot).

People like me–religious conservatives who are reasonably intelligent and sociable–aren’t supposed to exist. You may recall the furor a decade ago when a Washington Post story described Christian conservatives as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” It’s bad enough a reporter for one of the country’s top newspapers made an error like that. It’s staggering that it got through several layers of copy editing. For all the caterwauling about “diversity” in the media, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same uniformity of thinking in any Catholic church on Sunday as you’ll find any day of the week in most American newsrooms.
True story: I once proposed a column on some now-forgotten religious theme to the then city editor of the New York Post. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “This is not a religious city,” he said, with a straight face. As it happened, the man lived in my neighborhood. On his morning walk to the subway, he had to pass two Catholic churches, an Episcopal church, a synagogue, a mosque, an Assemblies of God Hispanic parish, and an Iglesia Bautista Hispana. He didn’t see these places because he doesn’t know anyone who attends them.

In the main, the men and women who bring America its news don’t hate religion. In most cases, they just believe it’s unimportant at best, menacing at worst. Because they don’t know any religious people, they think of American religion in categories that have long been outdated.
My fellow reporters think I’m putting them on when I tell them I’ve been a practicing Catholic for 10 years and have only heard one sermon about abortion and none about contraception. Outside the Jewish community, Israel has no stronger supporters than among American evangelicals. That’s been true for at least a generation, but the news has yet to reach American newsrooms, where there’s a general assumption that these “fundamentalists” are anti-Semitic. Because journalists tend not to know religiously observant people, they see religious activity the only way they know–in terms of secular politics.

So what? Everybody knows that pro-life marchers and churches that resist gay “marriage” aren’t going to get a fair shake from the newspaper. But this phenomenon is both broader and deeper than individual stories. In a media-driven society, the press sets the terms of public debate. It establishes the inescapable narrative of how society reacts to its challenges.
Anti-religious media bias also has profound implications for American politics. In an article published recently in “The Public Interest,” social scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio say that journalists’ parochialism blinds them to one of the biggest stories in American politics: how the Democratic Party has become a stronghold of fervent secularists, and how secularism “is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditional outlook.”

Among political journalists, what you might call the “official story” holds that religious conservatives bullied their way onto the American political scene with the election of Ronald Reagan, and rudely brought into the political arena the culture war that had been raging since the 1960s.

That’s exactly wrong, say Bolce and De Maio, who attribute the “true origins of this conflict” to “the increased prominence of secularists within the Democratic Party, and the party’s resulting antagonism toward traditional values.”

Until relatively recently, both major parties were of similar mind on issues of personal morality. Then came the 1972 Democratic Convention, at which secularists–defined as agnostics, atheists, and those who seldom or never attend religious services–seized control and nominated George McGovern. Prior to that year, neither party had many secularists among its delegates. Democratic delegates were split between religious and moral traditionalists on one side, and secularists on the other. They fought over moral issues: abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality, the family.

But in what Bolce and De Maio call a “secularist putsch,” the non-believers triumphed, giving us what Richard Nixon mocked as the party of “acid, amnesty, and abortion,” and instigating–with help from the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973–the long march of religious and moral conservatives to the GOP, which became the party of traditionalists by default.

By 1992, the parties had become thoroughly polarized around religious orientation. Only 20 percent of white Democratic delegates (N.B., this secular-religious antagonism is a white voter phenomenon, the authors say) went to religious services at least once a month, while over three times that number of white Republican delegates did.

But while the media have thoroughly reported the key role religious conservatives play in Republican Party politics, they’ve ignored the role militant secularists play in setting the Democratic Party’s agenda. “Secularism,” say Bolce and De Maio, “is no less powerful a determinant of attitudes on the contentious cultural issues than is religious traditionalism.” Indeed, Republican traditionalists have not polarized politics by becoming more conservative, as conventional wisdom would have it. Instead, secularists (and to a lesser extent religious moderates) have become more liberal.

The divide has become so stark that the authors have discerned a new kind of voter: the “anti-fundamentalist.” Twenty-five percent of white respondents in a survey called the American National Election Study expressed serious hostility towards religious conservatives, as opposed to only one percent who felt this strongly against Jews, and 2.5 percent who disliked blacks and Catholics to a strong degree. (Ironically, these are people who say they “‘strongly agree’ that one should be tolerant of persons whose moral standards are different from one’s own.”) Eighty percent of these voters picked Bill Clinton in 1996, with 70 percent choosing Al Gore in 2000.
In other words, if the country’s first Catholic presidential candidate, Al Smith, ran for president today, his enemies wouldn’t be the Bible Belt anti-Catholics rustics he faced in 1920, but today’s urbane anti-Christian bigots of liberal coastal cities.

This could be the most important development in American party politics of the past 20 years, say Bolce and De Maio—and America’s two leading newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, have both completely missed it. In a search of the Lexis-Nexis database of domestic political news stories, op-eds, and editorials those papers published from 1990 to 2000, the authors found only 14 stories that mentioned the religious gap between the two parties.

During this same time span, the Times and Post published 392 articles on the gender gap—which represented a 9 percent differential in favor of the Democrats. The average religious gap in these same elections was 42 percentage points.”

But their most striking finding was the near total lack of editorial and news coverage devoted to the increased importance of secularists to the Democratic Party. The numbers are mind-boggling: 43 stories on secularist Democrats, 682 stories on traditionalist Republicans. In 1992, the Times alone published nearly twice the number of stories about Evangelicals in the GOP than both papers did about secularists among the Democrats for the entire decade.
The bias is even worse among television journalists, who filled the airwaves with stories about the “Religious Right” and the Republican Party, but who didn’t file a single story about the Secular Left’s relationship to the Democrats.

I suspect that most reporters, editors, and producers would be shocked by these findings. They really do think of themselves as, to pinch a phrase, “fair and balanced.” Yet Bolce and De Maio cite a poll showing that a majority of TV news directors and newspaper editors felt that Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians “have too much power.” Fully one-third considered these believers to be “a threat to democracy.” The same survey found that only four percent thought nonbelievers had too much influence, and the number of media professionals who perceived secularists as a threat was … zero.

America is a far different place from its newsrooms. Belief in God is, for most Americans, a sign of character. According to a March 2002 national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than half of those polled thought negatively of “nonbelievers.” Only half that number had a low opinion of the “Christian conservative movement.”

Bolce and De Maio wonder if the media elite consciously do the Democrats a favor by not pointing out what, for all intents and purposes, they are: the Godless Party. “Perhaps it is for this reason more than any other,” they write, “that we do not hear in election-night analyses and postmortems that Democratic candidates have shorn up their base among the unchurched, atheists, and agnostics, in addition to the ritualistic accounts and warnings about how well Republicans are doing with evangelicals of the Christian Right.”<a href=”

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8 Responses to “Politics & Religion”

  1. Duane McCrory Says:

    DeJon,

    Not only did I read the article you inserted by Rob Dreher, I also read the article he mentioned, which is at http://www.thepublicinterest.com/archives/2002fall/article1.html

    The public seems to only be getting more polarized and it is great that someone finally gave a name to the secularist stronghold of the Democratic Party. I haven’t really watched from this angle, but I’d be interested to see what a closer look at the self-proclaimed “fair and balanced” news channel, Fox News, would indicate as to whether this news giant has noticed what Dreher points out. My guess is they are no more “fair and balanced” than the other networks, but who knows?

    Thanks for posting this piece.

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Hey, DeJon!!! Thanks for going for broke on fueling a weekend readership for you and I – “politics and religion” ought to stir up something!!! I’m thinking I might ought to try Abu Ghraib next week!

    Anyway…

    I read the editorial twice now, which isn’t nearly enough for a bear of little brain such as myself, but that never has stopped me from commenting.

    If Dreher picked his title as a summation of his article, I would have to answer the question, “No.” Anti-religion means “against” religion, which I see no evidence of myself by just about anyone in this country. In fact, the Democrats seem to me to be the party standing FOR the freedom of religion (though standing opposed to favoring the Christian religion in government). “Want to worship God? Fine. Have at it. Don’t force it on me, though.”

    He goes on to point out that he has seen from the inside a dismissive attitude toward religion from the media (as provinicial, unintelligent, etc.), but I don’t think that makes the Democratic Party anti-religion. No one is pushing to shut down churches.

    The thrust of the article, however, seems to me not that Democrats are against religion, but that it is the party of choice for the irreligious. That is not news to me, however. It seems that the 682 stories about the Religious Right presupposes that the other side is, in fact, the “other” side. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think people in general have to wonder if atheists tend to vote Republican. 🙂

    I have always felt that THE news story in the Religious Right is that a group of Christian people – without a Constitutional leg to stand on (don’t get mad at that statement; I’m just saying the Courts have ruled…) – have sought to mobilize and claim power. In addition to flying in the face of Jesus who turned down earthly political power (see the Temptations story), they make a case that you have to side with them to be a real Christian! More of a smooth P.R. move to me than fact…

    No disrespect intended, but the way I read this article is as another attempt to do just that: pit the Godless Party (Democrats) vs. by implication the Party of God (Republicans).

    I, for one, don’t see much God in either party. And pardon me for being goofy this way, but if the charge is that secularists congregate around you, that was the same charge that got Jesus in trouble, too.

    Just my thoughts… Glad no one but you, me, and Duane are reading… You are both nice people.
    🙂

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Are the Democrats Anti-Religion?

    No, the Democrats are merely clueless. The Democratic Party doesn’t know how to express itself clearly and effectively on religion any more than it does on any garden-variety political topic.

    you’d be hard-pressed to find the same uniformity of thinking in any Catholic church on Sunday as you’ll find any day of the week in most American newsrooms

    No offense, but: hogwash. The only way that’s true is if by “uniformity of thinking” Dreher means to include religious topics in addition to political ones. On political matters, the members of the Christian Right are almost completely fungible.

    I once proposed a column on some now-forgotten religious theme to the then city editor of the New York Post. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

    I’m not sure what that’s supposed to tell us about the Democrats or about “liberal” media, since the New York Post is an avidly conservative paper.

    they don’t know any religious people, they think of American religion in categories that have long been outdated.
    My fellow reporters think I’m putting them on when I tell them I’ve been a practicing Catholic for 10 years and have only heard one sermon about abortion and none about contraception.

    This reminds me a lot of Jewish friends of mine in the North who used to complain to me, as a Southern Christian, that Southern Christians all seemed to think that modern-day, practicing Jews still engaged in animal sacrifices, etc. The fact is, none of us — whether liberal or conservative, religious or irreligious — understand very well people or things we have little firsthand experience of.

    Also, it’s a bit disingenuous for Dreher to say he’s only heard one sermon on abortion and none on contraception. First, the Catholic Church’s teachings on abortion and contraception are fixed and absolute and well known to any practicing Catholic. Second, the reason he hasn’t heard a lot of sermons about them is probably because he’s an American Catholic, and it’s equally well known that the American bishops have been rather at odds with the Vatican on these and other social issues for many years; something conservatives like Dreher loudly and frequently complain about.

    Outside the Jewish community, Israel has no stronger supporters than among American evangelicals. That’s been true for at least a generation, but the news has yet to reach American newsrooms, where there’s a general assumption that these “fundamentalists” are anti-Semitic.

    This is just false. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, in the past 10 years of unrest between Israel and the Palestinians, the media report how strongly the Religious Right supports Israel. It generally comes up in discussions of why American administrations don’t put more pressure on Israel to seriously engage in peace negotiations, or fully honor their agreements, etc. The reason is that Israel has very strong political support in this country from both Jews and the Religious Right. I hear that in the media all the time.

    Everybody knows that pro-life marchers and churches that resist gay “marriage” aren’t going to get a fair shake from the newspaper.

    How does everybody know that? Dreher certainly hasn’t demonstrated it in anything he’s said to this point in the article. And I can tell you that in my local paper (and tv station) and pretty much every local paper in my area or even my part of the country, the defenders of “traditional values” like pro-life and anti-gay marriage are very, very positively represented. The religious activities of religious people (meaning Christians) are the subjects of a large percentage of the stories they carry. When several local churches were recently engaged in the “40 Days of Purpose” thing, we heard about it in the local media every few days for all 40 days.

    It’s a bit ironic. People like Dreher complain that “the media” seem to think everybody is just like them, when in fact it’s Dreher himself who’s ignoring the fact the vast majority of media outlets — which are local — are both religious and conservative in tone. When he says “media,” he’s really just talking about the large urban media outlets — the networks, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. He’s ignoring the fact that all the thousands of local media outlets are “media,” too. So he’s the one acting like all the members of the media are just like the Times or Post (i.e., liberal, mistrustful of religion, etc.).

    secularism “is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditional outlook.”

    I agree. But there’s a difference in the nature of the social attitudes that are engendered. On abortion, for instance, religious conservatism creates an attitude of forcing a view and a behavior on everyone: nobody gets an abortion. Secularism, OTOH, creates not an equal-but-opposite attitude, but an attitude of letting people decide for themselves what they believe about the personhood of the unborn and how they will behave based on those beliefs.

    Ditto on school prayer. The Supreme Court has never said (and no one has ever argued, to my knowledge) that kids can’t pray in public schools. It’s said the schools, since they are a state agency, cannot force kids to pray or sponsor their prayers. What religious conservatives favor is a return to the days when school children, regardless of their religion or lack of it, were expected to participate in school-sponsored Christian prayers. Those 2 positions — the secular one and the religious conservative one — are not identical opposites; they are different in kind. One says, “Everybody will pray and they’ll pray like me,” and the other says, “Bah! Let ’em pray however they want to, if they want to, just don’t bother everybody else.”

    Republican traditionalists have not polarized politics by becoming more conservative, as conventional wisdom would have it. Instead, secularists (and to a lesser extent religious moderates) have become more liberal.

    Bolce and DeMaio’s history is a bit problematic. As any historian of American religion can tell you (and many have, including religious conservatives), there was a shift in political attitudes in large chunks of American Christianity in the latter half of the 20th century. Many traditions that had always preferred (for religious reasons) to keep their distance from politics became progressively more political. This was largely a reaction to what they perceived happening in the culture around them. As these movements became more political, they found candidates more willing to come and listen to them in the Republican Party. And yes, Reagan was among the earliest and most prominent — though the turning point was not in 1980, as Bolce and DeMaio falsely suggest, but in the 70s, when Reagan, as an already prominent figure in the GOP, spoke at a meeting of the Religious Roundtable. It was also in the 70s that people like Richard Viguerie put together huge direct mail lists of conservative Christians and provided them to the GOP.

    When that flood of newly political Christian conservatives came into the marketplace, so to speak, they landed in the GOP. To argue that this large influx of highly motivated, highly active, highly conservative members has not pulled the policies of the GOP further to the right is a patently silly thing to say.

    Has the Democratic Party, along the same timeline, also moved further left? Yes. Many of the neoconservatives started out in the Democratic Party as “Scoop” Jackson Democrats, after all. However, they left not over the cultural issues the Religious Right gets most excited about, but over foreign policy.

    Twenty-five percent of white respondents in a survey called the American National Election Study expressed serious hostility towards religious conservatives . . . if the country’s first Catholic presidential candidate, Al Smith, ran for president today, his enemies wouldn’t be the Bible Belt anti-Catholics rustics he faced in 1920, but today’s urbane anti-Christian bigots of liberal coastal cities.

    Uh, is the irony of that line of argument not obvious? People have good reason to have hostile feelings toward religious conservatives: religious conservatives express hostile feelings toward them, and have a long history of doing so. The targets of their hostility do change over time, though. Like Catholics, for instance. As Dreher points out, Protestant conservatives said horrible, horrible things about Al Smith as a Catholic, and had been saying hateful things about Catholics for decades before that. These days, that particular disagreement has been patched up. But religious conservatives have found lots of other groups to publicly demonize. Why in the world would anybody be surprised to find out a lot of people have hostile feelings toward religious conservatives in return?

    Bolce and De Maio wonder if the media elite consciously do the Democrats a favor by not pointing out what, for all intents and purposes, they are: the Godless Party.

    Again with the irony. Conservatives chuckle loudly at the wall-eyed conspiracy theorizing of some on the left.

    [How’s that for a comment?]

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    And I forgot to mention . . .

    if the country’s first Catholic presidential candidate, Al Smith, ran for president today, his enemies wouldn’t be the Bible Belt anti-Catholics rustics he faced in 1920, but today’s urbane anti-Christian bigots of liberal coastal cities.

    Hmmm, let’s see.

    John Kennedy was Catholic; liberal coastal urbanites supported him, Protestant conservatives opposed him.

    Robert Kennedy was Catholic; liberal coastal urbanites supported him, Protestant conservatives opposed him.

    Ted Kennedy is Catholic; liberal coastal urbanites support him, Protestant conservatives oppose him.

    Daniel Patrick Moynihan was Catholic; liberal coastal urbanites supported him, Protestant conservatives opposed him.

    Tip O’Neill was Catholic; liberal coastal urbanites supported him, Protestant conservatives opposed him.

    Robert Drinan was Catholic (a priest, in fact); liberal coastal urbanites supported him, Protestant conservatives opposed him.

    Geraldine Ferraro is Catholic; liberal coastal urbanites supported her, Protestant conservatives opposed her.

    John Kerry is Catholic; liberal coastal urbanites support him, Protestant conservatives oppose him.

    Dreher’s right. Catholics better watch out for those liberal anti-Christian bigots.

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    And since Al Smith was a liberal Democrat, if he were running for president today his enemies would be exactly the same Bible Belt rustics who opposed him in 1928, while coastal liberals would support him.

    So every Catholic who has ever run for president — right up to and including the most recent presidential election — has been the nominee of the Democratic Party, supported by the liberal “anti-Christian” bigots, and opposed by the “pro-Christian” traditional values conservatives.

    What was Dreher’s point again?

    (Notice how I’m just ignoring the fact that I’m talking to myself now.)

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    What’s really interesting is that religious conservatives are using the same argument today that they used against Al Smith — that America’s traditional Christian values are being threatened by powerful political forces enthralled to an ideology foreign and inimical to those values. Matter of fact, that’s exactly what Dreher’s arguing in this article.

    They could even reuse their campaign slogans. Scratch out “Catholic” and write in “liberal,” and presto-change-o! you’re ready for the 2008 campaign, tiger.

  7. DeJon Redd Says:

    Juvenal – For the record you aren’t speaking to yourself. And while your perspective runs contrary to the group-think of my social circles. I really enjoy hearing. When I agree, I enjoy. When I disagree, I still enjoy.

    I hope you found the time spent commenting worthwhile. I sure did!

    BTW: I’d really love to make your discussion two-sided. But I hope you’ll pardon me for saying “uncle” before the it even begins.

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Hey, I’m just happy nobody’s told me to run up an alley and holler “Fish!”

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