Democrats and The God Problem

A recent study by the Pew Research Center posits an interesting question - do democrats have a God problem?

The role of conservative evangelicals in the last presidential election is no secret. In a generally close contest, they turned out in droves and voted on their bread & butter issues - abortion, gay marriage, etc. - to help Team Bush win. That's not to say they completely ignored non-sectarian issues like the economy or the war, but that they tended to view those issues through the lenses of their own religious and moral convictions.

By contrast, the religious left is smaller and generally less vocal on religious topics. For example, their support of abortion rights is usually stated through messages speaking primarily to women's civil rights and healthcare than whether abortion is morally right or wrong. And when push comes to shove, they're much more likely to support the non-religious sides of any debate. In other words, the conservatively religious view those questions as moral ones while democrats view them as legal ones.

To make this disaprity starker, the religious right tends to be a more monolithic voting bloc, mostly crowded against the farthest right boundary of the spectrum. It's a place where a paranoid siege mentality prevails and acts as the root for many of the religious right's claims of persecution. On the other hand, the religious democrats act like a passel of cats being herded. They're distributed broadly across the religious spectrum from pretty strict to those who view the Bible as a guideline or who value a generalized spirituality more then the trappings of established religion.

I'm not so sure democrats have a God problem so much as an image problem. Many democrats behave as though religion is just one more crazy wing nut idea, rather than being a more selective in their criticisms. For example, I believe democrats' vocal opposition to teaching creationism as the primary scientific theory is valid. Arguing that "In God We Trust" should be removed from currency? Not so much.

Religion has been around for nearly as long as people and it isn't going away. You may not agree with it, but you can't ignore its power. You can't hope to beat it, but you can learn to peacefully coexist with it.

The gut reaction to religion from most democrats is one of disdain. Very few religious democratic party leaders hold much sway anymore. I think most people would agree that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren't indespensable for a democratic win. In fact, they sometimes don't even appear to be sane. Even though I happen to be an atheist, I consider myself a pretty moral person and I think there are quite a few people who might respond well to taking moral positions on issues other than the war. Perhaps if democrats were unafraid to speak to these issues from a moral as well as a legal perspective some of their "God problem" might be eased.

To be sure, I wouldn't expect a huge rush from right to left as a result of this change in thinking. Many of those on the right will never be separated from their prejudices and hardline stance, just like many hardcore lefties will continue to condemn anything that smacks of church. But I believe there is some middle ground where the religious left could help corral more votes. Sure, democrats wouldn't catch millions more votes, but they could catch a few and in these days of an evenly divided country, a few may be all it takes to make a difference.

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, July 11, 2006

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