Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pietistic Republicanism, a Short History

     Why does the right wing seem to "own" religion and religious issues? People who said that their #1 issue was "moral values" voted overwhelmingly for Bush. So did evangelicals, people who went to church weekly, and protestants. This is no surprise to anyone who's been living on earth for the past few years. But why? In Judaism, when we talk about "moral issues", we usually talk about tzedakah (charity), human rights, treatment of animals, the golden rule (Lev. 19:18), lashon hara (the evil tongue, or speaking negative things about people), and ethics. I'm no expert on Christianity, but I'm pretty sure Jesus's teachings were about love, tolerance, community, the treatment of the poor, and the pitfalls of wealth. (I did find one website, though, where the author called God a 'father' and then modeled God after his own parenting skills. He didn't go quite so far as to say he was God, but I'm sure the message comes across loud and clear.)
     The point is, Republicans have owned the evangelicals long before gay marriage, Terri Schiavo, or even abortion. This history stretches back to before the official start of the GOP in 1854. The slavery issue was being pushed by churches, specifically pietistic ones like the Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers (as opposed to the liturgical churches, like the Catholics or Lutherans or Jews). These were the early Republicans. And these are the current Republicans. The "official" GOP history doesn't include Republican support for Temperance and Prohibition, but because the pietistic churches supported it, do did the party platform. Now the pietistic churches are railing against abortion, gays, euthanasia, Black people voting (jk?). Attend a Baptist church and you've pretty much gotten the GOP party platform.
     But here's why we don't hear from the other religious people who oppose these views: it's the fundamental difference between a pietistic church and a liturgical one. See, liturgical churches rely on the written word. They usually have sets of rules and laws and stay the same over hundreds (or thousands) of years, changing very slowly. There's not a lot of passion in these churches. Discussion over issues tends to be slow and deliberate and thoughtful. You might say that the US Congress was liturgical (until Terri Schiavo) if you wanted to draw an analogy. The law is the law is the law, but we interpret it differently over time.
     Pietistic churches, on the other hand, rely on the spoken word. They are the outspoken ones, the ones with passion. They rely on getting people riled up - if they're not listening, they're not supporting the church. (Heck, if they're not actually in the church, they're not supporting it financially.) In these churches, the law is the law is what the preacher tells you from the pulpit. And if the preacher wants his congregation to stick around, he'd better have some good issues to rile them up with. This isn't about rules - it's about passion! It's easy to see why members of these churches stick out - you know they're religious. It's harder to tell with a Catholic or Jew.
     This is why, when John Kerry said he was religious, the Republicans scoffed (he wasn't their kind of religious) and the Democrats yawned.
Sources: Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885-1930; From Temperance to Prohibition; The Politics of Prohibition: The 1920s


alex said...

Perhaps another reason is that the democratic party has changed more radicly since the early part of this century then the republican party.

Until relatively recently, both major parties were of similar mind on issues of personal morality. Then came the 1972 Democratic Convention, at which secularists—defined as agnostics, atheists, and those who seldom or never attend religious services—seized control of the party and nominated George McGovern. Prior to that year, neither party had many secularists among its delegates. According to a comprehensive study of survey data from the Democratic delegates, the party was badly split between religious and moral traditionalists on one side, and secularists on the other. They fought over moral issues: abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality, the traditional family. What the authors call a "secularist putsch" triumphed, giving us what Richard Nixon mocked as the party of "acid, amnesty, and abortion," and instigating—with help from the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973—the long march of religious and moral conservatives to the GOP, which became the party of traditionalists by default. "What was first an intra-party culture war among Democratic elites became by the 1980s an inter-party culture war."

Survey data from the 1992 national conventions show how thoroughly polarized the parties had by that time become around religious orientation. Only 20 percent of white Democratic delegates (N.B., this secular-religious antagonism is a white voter phenomenon, the authors say) went to religious services at least once a month, while over three times that number of white Republican delegates did. A fascinating set of statistics emerged when questioners polled each party’s delegates on their views of various subgroups among the other party’s activists. Both Democrats and Republicans were "significantly more negative toward groups associated with the newer religious and cultural division in the electorate than toward groups associated with older political cleavages based on class, race, ethnicity, party or ideology." That is, Republican delegates felt much warmer toward union leaders, mainline liberals, blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats than toward feminists, environmentalists, and pro-abortion activists. For their part, the Democrats were more favorably disposed to big-business types, the rich, political conservatives and Republicans than toward pro-lifers and conservative Christians.

In my view for right or wrong democrats are associated with liberals no matter how extreme just like republicans are associated with conservatives of all extremes. So when religious people see liberal groups demanding the 10 comandments removed from goverment facilities and refrences to god removed from goverment documents they associate the democratic party with these postions as a result your more religious christians move away from the democratic party

Sylvana said...

I was watching "King of the Hill" yesterday and LuAnne was teaching some drooling men about the teachings of Jesus. She was explaining the story about how it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven going on to explain that is why it isn't good to have too much money. This must be one of those lessons lost on the religious reich because it doesn't serve their needs.

Ben said...

I think people scoffed at Kerry more because it seemed like he would throw out religious references as non-sequitors, as if he were just trying to make people think he's religious. Saying God a couple of times didn't do it for the evangelicals. Anyways, the right-wing fundies seem to care far more about social conservatism than anything else, thus the GOP of late fits them well.

sideshow bob said...

It is interesting to note that God has supported every single president, prime minister, monarch, tribal chief , etc. in the history of the world, at least according to the regime that was in charge.
God...the ultimate flip-flopper.

Sylvana said...

sideshow bob, that was so true and so FUNNY!

Mike said...

Perhaps it isn't that the Republicans have "taken over" (quotes for emphasis only) the churches. Perhaps people who attend church just tend to migrate more towards the Republican party. You can draw your own conclusions from that. But I can tell you as a regular church goer that all the churches I have attended have not encouraged me to vote for anyone. We do not meet in back rooms discussing politics and gays and abortion. They are public places, you can go see for yourself sometime.

Mainline Mom said...

As a so-called rich religious republican I can tell you that Jesus' teaching on the camel and the eye-of-the-needle is not lost on me at all, or many of the other people like me I know. Nowhere in the Bible does it say being rich is just teaches that having material possessions makes is harder to put you complete trust in God because you have to be willing to give them up.

Jesus' teachings of love and against poverty are sometimes more in line with the Democratic party but the Bible is clear on abortion.

Scott said...

    I don't think the Republicans have "taken over" (quotes used as quotes, plus a little bit of emphasis) the churches. As I said, I think the Republican party was an outgrowth of the pietistic churches themselves. When I said they "owned evangelicals", I meant it in the sense that the evangelicals weren't exactly split between multiple parties. But you're right - people who do attend church do tend to lean more towards the Republican party. It's not a conspiracy - it's the type of religion practiced in those types of churches. Liturgistic churches are much more divided between parties. It's an analysis, not a judgement.
Poo, I really don't think the bible is all that clear on abortion. "Thou Shalt Not Abort" isn't in there. I think the debate rests solely on the definition of when human life begins. See "A Reset of the Abortion Debate" for my comments.

Sylvana said...

Considering that it is for all practical purposes IMPOSSIBLE to get a camel through the eye of a needle, save for throwing it in the ole Bass-a-matic and pouring the goo through (and even then I think that the retention on the hole alone would prevent passage), I think that this story is saying that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a rich man to get into heaven. But spin it how you want.

Mike said...

Well, you have to understand the context of the story. A rich young man was asking Jesus how he could get into heaven. Jesus (being God and all) read his heart and knew this guy loved money and was looking for an easy way to buy his way in. So Jesus told him it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich guy to get into heaven. I won't editorialize. You can draw your own conclusions.