A commentary on David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, “God and Caesar in America, Why mixing religion and politics is bad for both”
- Category: Book Reviews
- Published: 03 September 2013
- Written by Gülener Kirnali and Guillaume Silhol
The article “God and Caesar in America: Why mixing religion and politics is bad for both” (Foreign Affairs – March/April 2012) was written by two important political scientists; Robert David Putnam and David E. Campbell. The material in the article comes from the authors’ highly informative book American Grace: How religion divides and unites us (published in 2010 by Simon&Schuster).The book is based on many surveys, but central to its analysis is the Faith Matters Survey which was conducted in 2006 on behalf of Harvard University, the second survey in 2007 with 3100 Americans. On the other hand; the article contains some statistical data from a 2011 survey and certain data from Gallup surveys.
Robert David Putnam is a political scientist and professor of public policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. Putnam is famous for his influential two-level game theory and also his most famous work, Bowling Alone, which argues that the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social, associational, and political life (social capital) since the 1960s, with serious negative consequences.
David E. Campbell is an author and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and the founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy. Campbell writes extensively about politics, religion, and Mormonism. Some of his famous books, "Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life" and “A Matter of Faith: Religion in the 2004 Presidential Election" are controversial works which deal with the relationship between religion and politics.
THEORIES ABOUT RELIGION IN THE UNITED STATES
The interest shown by intellectuals and scholars in religiosity and its implications in the United States is linked to a complex history of dissidence, disestablishment and assimilation, from the Puritan republics and Thomas Jefferson’s rationalistic version of the Gospel, down to the 1952 motto “In God we trust”. The country combines an exceptionally high degree of identification with Christian churches for a Western country, with a formally secular political frame, which is nonetheless more intransigent in the North than in the South. We can survey a few names of works on religion in the United States.
Alexis de Tocqueville’s two volumes Democracy in America (relevant topics for our discussion):
1- Religion provides meaning for individuals outside mundane activities, including politics.
2- It is a powerful element of resistance against isolation and individualism, along with associative involvement and good newspapers.
3- However, a religion which is too closely linked with a State risks its own survival if the State is overthrown.
4- Christianity, which shapes the common sense of Americans, has had to adapt to this pluralistic and democratic situation.
Robert N. Bellah, 1966 article published in Daedalus, “Biblical religion and Civic religion in America”:
1- Work from speeches by Abraham Lincoln and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the symbolical meaning of historical places.
2- Civic religion can be defined as a set of beliefs, stories and practices that sustain public institutions; it often explicitly or implicitly includes the concept of manifest destiny.
3- It has a Pharaoh, the president, a sin (slavery) and its redeemer (Lincoln), and it is not confused with organised religions.
More recent works on the religious justifications provided for the free market, U.S. foreign policy (support granted to the State of Israel by so-called “Christian Zionists”, the Axis of Evil…) and to remnants of the missionary spirit (the politics of values…).
IWHAT IS EVANGELICALISM?
Evangelicalism is a movement, not a church, which originated in the 18th century. It grew out of the religious Revival and the rise of individualism, and it was at first embodied by Methodism in England. For this reason, it is not separate from a personal experience of faith and a particular sense of activism, which were mainly absent from the wishes of the 16th century Reformers, but that John Wesley promoted concretely.
The British historian David Bebbington gives four characteristics to the ideal type of Evangelicalism:
1- Biblicism: the Bible as the infallible, inerrant (or literal) Word of God.
2- Crucicentrism: the experience of Jesus on the cross as the main object of faith (e.g. substitutionary atonement…).
3- Conversionism: the need for a personal, deeply felt conversion.
4- Activism: others can be saved by hearing the Gospel (difference with strict Calvinism).
The Evangelical movement was generally reluctant to undertake contact with Catholicism and Orthodoxy up to the 20th century, when it became established as a pan-Protestant theological current, with separate and rival offshoots.
Three branches refer to Evangelicalism with some differences:
1- Fundamentalism (“Back to the Fundamentals”, often associated with Biblical literalism, creationist beliefs and opposition to ecumenism, e.g. the Bob Jones University).
2- Pentecostalism (stress on personal gifts of faith, glossolalia and spiritual healing).
3- National Evangelicalism (the Moral Majority, the Religious Right).
SUMMARY OF THE ARTICLE
The article mainly argues that in the light of survey data for more than a half century in the U.S.; the relationship between the religious and the political identification of the people has changed and especially in the last decade religious identification has started to determine political polarization. The article puts forward that ,over the last 20 years, church attendance has become the main dividing line between Republican and Democratic voters. (African Americans are a sharp but singular exception; they are both the most Democratic voters and also the most religious ones.)
Therefore; the article comes up with the argument that the so-called “God Gap” between churchgoing Republicans and secular Democrats rose sharply throughout the 1990s and early years of this century. According to the data of the article, among whites, 67 percent of weekly churchgoers voted for Senator McCain, as compared to 26 percent of those who never attended.
The connection between religiosity and political conservatism has become so deeply embedded in contemporary U.S. culture that it is startling to recall just how new the alignement is. In the 1960s, churchgoers were actually more likely to be Democrats than nonchurchgoers.
One Gallup poll question, “Is religion’s influence on American life increasing or decreasing?” has proved a finely tuned seismometer of religious tremors. In 1957, 69 percent of those Americans surveyed told Gallup that they thought the influence of religion in American life was on the rise. Only 14 percent said it was declining.
When it came to the 1960s, there was a dramatic turn in attitudes toward authority and especially toward conventional sexual morality, an issue tightly connected to religious belief. The percentage of Americans who approved of premarital sex doubled, from one-fourth to one-half in just four years, between 1969 and 1973. By 1970, fully 75 percent of Americans surveyed concluded that religion’s influence in American life was waning.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, as a reaction to the 1960s moral earthquake, conservative forms of religion, especially evangelical Protestantism, expanded. As Putnam and Campbell notes: “At the same time as liberal Protestantism and churchgoing Catholicism were virtually collapsing, many Americans who sought a reaffirmation of traditional norms, especially when it came to sex and “family values,” found what they were looking for in evangelical Protestantism.”
With the rise of the religious right, the much-discussed “God gap” between Republicans and Democrats came to the table. Each year, fewer and fewer Americans identify themselves as secular Republicans or religious Democrats.
Faith Matters Survey 2006:
According to the article, politics has mostly determined religious practice. Formerly religious Democrats (except among African Americans) have drifted away from church, and formerly unobservant Republicans have found religion.
Here Putnam and Campbell gives the example of the Tea Party: “Even this ostensibly secular movement has strong religious undertones. A large, nationally representative survey that we first conducted in 2006 (before the Tea Party was formed) and repeated with the same respondents in 2011 casts doubt on the conventional wisdom about the movement’s origin.
It turns out that the strongest predictor of a Republican becoming a Tea Party supporter is whether he or she evinced a desire in our 2006 survey to see religion play a prominent role in politics. Partiers are, on average, more religiously observant than the typical American, but not more so than other Republicans. Rather, they are distinctively comfortable blending religion and politics.”
Surveys exhibit that every year, more people think that religious leaders should not try to influence people’s votes or government decisions, and more people express their convinction that religion and politics should not be mixed. Thus a growing number of Americans dislike the Tea Party who supports religion’s existence in the public sphere.
The last part of the article (Losing my Religion) underlines the fact that especially young Americans have started to be detached from church. According to data; those who report no religious affiliation, have comprised a constant 5-7 percent of the American population (even in 1960s). However, in the early 1990s, the percentage began to increase until it reached 12 percent of the population. By 2011, they consist of 19 percent. And this category is heavily concentrated among people under 30.
According to the authors; this dramatic generational shift is primarily in reaction to the religious right. To them, “religion” means “Republican,” “intolerant,” and “homophobic.”
Therefore; the religious right has created an irony: They supported the religious right with the aim of imposing religion in the public sphere, however, as soon as they were successfull, an large amount of people stood their distance from religion.
So in the conclusion part; Putnam and Campbell makes a last inference that if republicans continue their exclusive alignment with organized religion, they will encounter ever more resistance from moderate voters, especially in the younger generation. “And American public discourse will be impoverished if religion is reduced to a mere force for partisan mobilization.”
RELIGION’S PLACE IN THE 2013 PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
The two candidates, Obama and Romney, both claimed to be committed Christians, with Romney belonging to the LDS Church/Mormons and Obama having a Protestant background. Romney is not the first Mormon to make a run for the presidency but he now enjoys the highest profile of any Mormon candidate, and now as the Republican nominee, he is making the notion of a Mormon president closer to reality.
However, it seems the Catholicism of both vice presidential candidates will raise the most religious issues in the context of a debate. The vice presidential candidates share a common religious tie yet have different political positions. Both Biden and Ryan are committed Catholics. Ryan is a Catholic and an outspoken supporter of Ayn Rand. Rand was not only a notable atheist, but also her economic and social theories seemingly don't correspond to the large robust history of social justice in the Catholic Church. The social justice issue is likely to be raised by Biden as a counterpoint to any discussion of abortion by the pro-life Ryan. Both candidates have issues that push against their Catholic beliefs, and they will have to negotiate them in a debate format. That dynamic makes the vice-presidential debate the real hot ticket for viewers interested in religion and politics.
The Religion News Service reported on 25 September that “President Barack Obama's support among Catholic voters has surged since June … despite a summer that included the Catholic bishops' religious freedom campaign and the naming of Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.”
“On June 17, Obama held a slight edge over Mitt Romney among Catholics (49 percent to 47 percent), according to the Pew Research Center,” the news service reported. “Since then, Obama has surged ahead, and now leads 54 percent to 39 percent, according to a Pew poll conducted Sept. 16.”
Among Jewish voters in 2008, Obama won an overwhelming 78 percent, according to exit polls. This year, the GOP is trying hard to win a larger percentage of such voters.
SOME EXAMPLES FROM THE MEDIA DEBATE
Romney claimed Obama attacked religious people at CNN Arizona Debate
Health Care Reform and contraception
“I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we've seen under Barack Obama. most recently requiring the Catholic Church to provide for its employees and its various enterprises health care insurance that would include birth control, sterilization and the morning-after pill. Unbelievable. And he retried to retreat from that but he retreated in a way that was not appropriate, because these insurance companies now have to provide these same things and obviously the Catholic Church will end up paying for them.”
The Vice-presidential debate on October 11 2012
The moderator asked a question about abortion.
Paul Ryan responded:
“I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life.
Now, you want to ask basically why I'm pro-life? It's not simply because of my Catholic faith. That's a factor, of course. But it's also because of reason and science.
You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born, for our seven week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, "Bean." Now I believe that life begins at conception.
(...) Our Church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious liberties. And with respect to abortion, the Democratic Party used to say they wanted it to be safe, legal and rare. Now they support it without restriction and with taxpayer funding. Taxpayer funding in Obamacare, taxpayer funding with foreign aid. The vice president himself went to China and said that he sympathized and wouldn't second guess their one child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations. That to me is pretty extreme.”
Joe Biden replied:
“My religion defines who I am, and I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who - who can't take care of themselves, people who need help.
With regard to - with regard to abortion, I accept my Church's position on abortion as a - what we call a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in the Church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the - the congressman. I - I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that - women they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I'm not going to interfere with that.
With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear, no religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.”