OK, so now I’ve stated the obvious. But I find it has to be said, thanks to the way the blogosphere has been working.
- the Religious Right believes it knows the answers and thus has a right to control what happens.
- the Progressive Christians and the mainline Left talk as if everything anyone in the evangelical sector believes is not only untrue, but is malicious and is the root cause of the many distortions of today’s American politics.
- the outspoken atheists are all too happy to extend the blame — but they also include the moderates and progressives in that blame.
- the media talk about such matters as if they agree with all of the above — Christians in politics is seen as this all-pervasive force that makes the entire rotten thing spin around.
- People in general see people of faith doing nothing but slashing at each other, which leads many of them to blame all of the above for the mean spirit of our current political world.
But is it true? In part yes, to be sure. But not as much as all this talk would indicate. The truth?
- The Religious Right doesn’t have enough voters by itself, in most places, even with their higher turnout, to determine the general elections. They win because there is a sector of people who never set foot in a church who support the same candidates and the same extreme rhetoric. They don’t read the Bible, may not even have one in the house (unless it’s somewhere in a storage box). But they watch Fox News religiously, listen to talk radio, and think Obama is a Muslim.
- Most people are not evaluating the candidates on the basis of faith. (Not even many evangelicals or Catholics.) They are evaluating them on the basis of a fairly naked and poorly-informed form of self-interest. The corollary to this is simple:
- most folks aren’t sitting around with bated breath waiting for us Christians to make up our minds so they can vote accordingly.
- Most decisions that are made by government are not made because of religious faith. Not even the ones where the President flies the flag of faith. They are made because of a complicated set of influences and reasons that revolve around power, freedom, security, and wealth. Faith is a part, but mostly a small part, of that mix. The corollary to this is simple too:
- most of the ugly stuff that happens, which the various religious factions blame on the beliefs of the others, actually happens mostly because of non-religious factors. There are complex sociological, psychological, economic, and cultural influences which made these ‘evils’ possible. Religious faith is a large factor, but is rarely if ever determinative. It is much more likely that the view of the faithful reflects these other influences than is the other way around.
None of this is meant to make light of the influence of practicing Christians on politics or culture. It is potent. But its strength lies in subtext more than in text. It is far too simplistic a thing to blame public and political behaviors on someone’s view of hell or perceived duty to protect the poor or any other such matter. But people of all sorts are doing it. They are saying, ‘you keep saying your faith is the reason everything happens the way it does, so you’re to blame.’
If only something this simple were true. But it is not. Thus we shouldn’t act — or write — as if it is.