Monday, November 08, 2004

Religious Polarization

Matthew Yglesias is commenting on the correlation between increasing religious involvement in politics and dropping rates of church attendance. Here is a quote:
America used to be so religious, that it didn't make any sense to make an issue out of religion for campaign purposes. But religiosity has been dropping to the point where there's the sort of roughly-even divide at which it makes sense to mobilize observance (or non-observance) for political purposes.
I think the study basically gets two things wrong because they seem to completely miss the polarization of the American church along conservative and liberal lines. I wrote about that a bit here. The good thing is that the two parts balance out.

The first thing is that they place a lot of importance on the drop in church attendance and then talk about the right wing political Christians. The problem here is that the right wing Christians, by and large, are not seeing a drop in church attendance. It is the left side of the church that is dying out not the right.

The second thing that makes up for it is that they miss the drop in ideological consensus between the political branches of the church. Before the two sides split during the 1960s, there was a lot of consensus within the church over fundamentals like the divinity of Christ. With the split the two sides have moved apart ideologically. See the whole problem with homosexuality in the Episcopalian church for an example of that. So even if the church population wasn't dropping, half of the country still wouldn't be believing what the other half does.

In the end I think that its the decline of Christian ideology that is bothering Christians. I think that church attendance is a bad metric, but their thesis is still fairly sound.

UPDATE: Some people are interpretting this as "the religious culture of America is dying and these are its death throws". Evangelicals like Jeff the Baptist are fighting a lost cause. Nope. What is happening is that the religious culture of the left is dying. This is a well recorded fact. The right is still going fairly strong and, as these articles point out, are getting fired up. So don't wait up for the religious right to be bred out of political discourse.

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