The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life just released its semiannual survey of American attitudes on the role of religion in politics. The survey finds a growing appetite for belief in the ballot box, and politics in the pulpit. These shifts are largely happening on the Republican side of the aisle. And among Republicans, the changes are driven by white evangelical concern that the country is becoming less favorable to religion and, inexplicably, more hostile toward white evangelicals.
First up from the God Machine this week is evidence of a striking shift in public attitudes, especially as it relates to the separation of church and state.
During the Cold War, the United States took deliberate steps towards blurring the church-state line -- the point was to rebuke the "godless" USSR -- with symbolic measures like adding "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" to all U.S. currency. Now that the nation's principal enemy believes in merging religion, politics, and government, might the American pendulum shift once more in the opposite direction?
Apparently not. Christopher Ingraham reported this week on the growing number of Americans who also want to help merge religion, politics, and government.
The results of the Pew Forum's study, which can be found in their entirety here, show sudden reversals in key areas. As recently as 2010, for example, a majority of Americans believed houses of worship should steer clear of day-to-day political disputes, but in 2014, a plurality believes the opposite. The reversal can be attributed almost entirely to self-identified Republicans, who've moved sharply to the right on this issue in recent years.
Indeed, the same report found that GOP voters, unlike the American population at large, increasingly want churches to endorse candidates for elected office, and believe there's "too little" talk about religion from U.S. politicians.
The broader question is why this is happening. Don't rule out the role of reflexive tribalism -- as we discussed in February, Republicans in the Obama era have quickly turned against evolutionary biology, too, not necessarily because GOP voters are more anti-science than they were six years ago, but because of tribal instincts. As Paul Krugman put it a while back, "The point ... is that Republicans are being driven to identify in all ways with their tribe -- and the tribal belief system is dominated by anti-science fundamentalists."
It's quite possible we're seeing a similar dynamic in the new Pew Forum data -- Republicans are suddenly eager to merge religion and politics because they've come to see constitutional principles like church-state separation as "liberal."
If this is driving the shifts, GOP voters may yet move closer to the mainstream at some point in the future.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The Values Voter Summit is the year's biggest gathering of social-conservative activists and Republican politicians, and the event kicked off in Washington, D.C. yesterday. I'm always grateful for Right Wing Watch's timely updated and on-the-spot video uploads from the event.
* President Obama this week recorded, as he does every year, a video address in honor of Rosh Hashanah.
* The Vatican has been busy, Part I: "Pope Francis on Thursday forcibly removed a conservative bishop from a Paraguayan diocese who had clashed with his fellow bishops and promoted a priest accused of inappropriate sexual behavior."
* The Vatican has been busy, Part II: "In his first major appointment in the United States, Pope Francis named Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., on Saturday to be the next archbishop of Chicago, replacing a combative conservative with a prelate whose pastoral approach to upholding church doctrine is more in keeping with the pope's inclusive new tone."
* I suspect this won't be the last time we'll see an SBC schism over gay rights: "A California congregation that decided to 'agree to disagree' about the moral acceptability of homosexuality has been kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest protestant denomination. The SBC executive committee announced on Tuesday that it had decided to oust the New Heart Community Church because the congregation's relatively tolerant take on LGBT issues does not meet the convention's standards of a 'cooperating church.'"