Have Demographers misidentified the "Religious Right"

Over the past 30 years, much attention has been paid to the 'Religious Right", defined as Evangelical Christians whose faith has led the to support the Republican party wing due it its opposition to abortions and homosexuality. The conventional wisdom being that this groups politics are defined by their religion.

To my mind it is becoming clear that this was a incorrect understanding of this voting block. First much of the Republican agenda staunchly supported by this group are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ (protect the poor, judge not, thy neighbor includes the Samaritan etc.) , and second, the evangelical intensity of African American Churches is at least as strong as their White counterparts but they strongly support the Democrats.

I think a better description of these people would be “white traditionalists”. Under this understanding, under this understanding the groups political motivations wouldn’t be defined so much by their faith but instead by a broader tribalism of which religion is only a part. Under this view the primary motivator is comfort in a way of life in American prior to upheavals of the racial, social and sexual upheavals of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and a distrust of anything that goes against that. Thus secularization, multiculturalism, loss of standing for whites, increased sexuality, feminism, drug use, tolerance of non-traidional lifestyles all became threats that must be fought.

I believe that this voting block became associated strictly with religious fundamentalism for a number of reasons.

First, Most of the white traditions held by the group that has been under attack in the recent decades is the superiority of the Christian Religion. While it used to be safe to assume that everyone you would come across was Christian (or at least Jewish) and more or less believed everything in the bible, this is now no longer the case. So propagation the morality expressed by religious fundamentalism is one of the primary issues with the group.

Second, in traditional America, one of the main leaders that people look to for guidance is the minister. So it was natural that religious leaders would become spokesmen for the defense of the white traditional way of life. Which then leads to the conclusion that the movement is defined by religion.

Third, Religion is an excellent motivator. Most religious wars aren’t actually about religion but are instead about political and cultural differences. However, telling people that you will go to heaven if you kill the infidel/vote Republican is a great way to get people to do what you want despite any negative consequences to themselves as individuals. Also religious belief as a motivation is much more socially acceptable than say xenophobia. So many of the traditionalists will consciously or unconsciously ascribe their motivation for certain political opinions to their faith.

So you have a movement, supporting religious fundamentalism, lead by ministers, and ascribing the motivations behind their opinions to their faith, and the obvious conclusion that its all about religion.

Now if its all the same group of people why does it matter if I call them the religious right or call them the white traditionalist? I think it comes in the understanding of what it likely to change their politics. If their motivations are indeed primarily religious, then all it would take to change their minds would be to somehow take abortion off the table, or convince them that “Jesus was a Democrat”. But if they are as I believe"white traditionalists" then this would only remove a part of a much larger set of issues that motivates them, and approaching them purely on religious grounds will be ineffective.

A few final thoughts regarding this debate:

First, I tried my best to get my ideas across without poisoning the well. I’m not sure that I succeeded. In any case I would rather not have this debate devolve into a “All Republcans and the Religious right are evil” thread. There are enough of those already.

Second, I have very little invested in this theory, and have opened it up for debate precisely to see what other people think of it pro or con. I will be very happy to have someone provide evidence tearing it to shreds, or simply respond that “yes its true, but demographers have known it since 1982 and you aren’t proposing anything new.”

I think this is very insightful, and would be hard to argue with.

Yes, religion for most of these types is simply a cultural identifier, not a rule of life.

I agree. As someone who was a part of that poisonous right-wing evangelical culture, the thing that got me out of it was not necessarily religious arguments, but seeing the cognitive dissonance between 1. how they demand to be treated, 2. how they treat others (namely foreigners and immigrants). I feel like before 9/11, the CD was harder to see. It became much more obvious after that pivotal event, at least for me.

I left the political right-wing before I left evangelicalism. The former was largely due to the hypocrisy of the right being exposed by their response to 9/11.

I’ve been thinking the same. When they talk about deities, they speak of it like a tribe of hunter-gatherers or ancient shepherds who invoke mana to lay waste to other tribes. See how they think that YHVH uses tornadoes to show his displeasure at homosexuality. Make no mistake that when they talk about the US being a Christian country and taking back their country, they mean taking it back to the good old days where everyone had to grovel before WASPs.

Part of it may come from the Spartans vs Helots worldview that came from practicing and defending slavery. If you’re a Spartan, you have to constantly keep your boot on the Helot’s throat and you have very good reason to fear him becoming an equal.

I think one of the main reasons the US didn’t acquire as much of a social safety net as other Western countries is because the rich in the US were able to use race as a wedge issue to turn poor/middle class but especially rural whites against it; You see, the money would have disproportionately gone to those people. It would have meant the WASP tribe giving tribute to other tribes and that’s the opposite of how it should go. They also both had an irrationally high fear of communism or anything that might remotely look like it. The rich had contempt for anything kind of economic equality and racist whites for any kind of racial equality.

Rich Republicans were able to use poor/rural whites as useful idiots since the 50s and especially since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. However, somewhere around the late 2000s, likely as a result of a black president, gay marriage and pot legalization, they got desperately angry, organized and realized that the rich/business wing of the GOP needed them a lot more than they needed the rich/business wing. The actually held most of the power in the GOP. Hence the Tea Party and then Trump.

History is full of high-status rulers who think they can disposably use lower status servants and then find out that those servants have been gradually gaining more and more power until they’re actually stronger than the rulers. You can see this in the shogun effectively replacing the Japanese emperor, the Janissaries with the Ottoman empire or the Zetas going from mere muscle to cartel. It’s why Chinese emperors preferred using eunuchs as high officials.

There’s a thought I’ve seen, and that I’ve somewhat shared, that the group described here are intentionally abusing their status as religious people, as a socially-acceptable way to cover up their true motives. I don’t think it’s that simple, but I also don’t think it’s completely left-field to say it.

Religion does facilitate having the pretention to absolute certainty and authority, both of which are useful if you’re a lying bully.

you know abc/Disney owns what used ot be pat robertsons "family channel " and I guess theres a thing in the contract that says no matter who owns it they have to run the 700 club at least twice a day

And after watching hocus pocus and waiting for hotel Transylvania to come on they ran it and a fairly religious conservative house guest listened to it and asked if pat Robertson still thought it was 1935 politically and socially … cause him and the show was so out of touch with reality ……

… all of which is indeed the case in this situation. My only concern/question is whether it’s truly intentional, in the sense of: Is every Bible-belt Christian a cynical Machiavellian operator, who makes bogus claims of being religious simply in order to further his non-religious agenda? I’m not convinced that he’s not. I’m not convinced anymore that there’s a sincere person among them.

People can fool themselves, especially when they find the lie more pleasant to hear than the truth. Have you never bullshitted yourself about the reasons you did something and accepted your own bullshit rationale without looking too closely? It’s some kind of halfway between intentional and unintentional. Perhaps intentional and unconscious?

I know sincerely religious people from the Bible Belt. They stand in marked contrast to the people described here, whom I wouldn’t trust with my wallet, daughter, or whiskey.

Religious people can have blind spots to inconsistencies. They’re also subject to indoctrination and tribal loyalties: if every preacher they’ve ever known told them that Jesus wanted all of us to be rich, they’re inclined to believe it. Especially if the only people who’ve ever disputed it are liberals.

As a white evangelical, who is somewhat of a Republican (more old school, not Trump), here is my take.

  1. Abortion and Homosexuality are a part of it. Most Christians are not comfortable looking back on their life and admitting that they voted for a leader that believes in killing babies. That is hard to get over. It doesn’t matter that Republicans cannot wave a magic wand and end abortion. It’s the principal of the thing.

  2. You can believe in taking care of the poor and “the least of these” without thinking that the best way to do that is have the inefficient government take money from you by force and then doling it out according to their own criteria. Millions of Christians work in soup kitchens and other charity organizations. The most generous and helping people I know are the Christians in my life, not the non-Christians. They believe is the responsibility of the individual to be giving and helping, not the state who uses force.

  3. With those being said, evangelicals are just people. Most people vote according to their emotion and gut, not well reasoned or even theological arguments. They get trapped in their outrage news bubble, and once you get stuck there, it is hard to see things differently.

I am not necessarily supporting or defending these arguments. I am just relaying from the inside.

There definitely has been identification in the Evangelical vote. There is a difference in the politics of those evangelicals who go to church often, and those who are Christmas and Easter types.
Protestants who attended church weekly or more were more likely to support Cruz in the primaries and those who went less often were more likely to support Trump. Likewise in the primaries 48% of Trump voters identified themselves as strongly pro-life, whereas 68% of Cruz voters did. In a poll done in January 2016 only 5% of evangelical pastors were supporting Trump for President.
In the GOP there are currently three main factions, the social right, the working class, and the establishment. All three are mostly protestant and the first two are mostly evangelicals., but the second is less religious than the others. The working class is what used to be called Reagan Democrats. They are more concerned with immigration than abortion. Trump was able to unite them behind him while none of the other factions were able to unite behind one candidate in time.

This article from Politico describes how the “Moral Majority” was created not to stop abortion, but to defend segregated schools.

Really pertinent article describing this crowd for the most part.

The article describes the ‘white traditionalists’ as part of a Jacksonian tradition, in the context of why American foreign policy is the way it is. I remember reading it about 15 years ago and thinking it was interesting, but it just occurred to me that it describes the “white traditionalists” and the rise of Trump pretty well also.

I sense an unfounded assertion, here. Are you operating from the default assumption that the government is inherently inefficient? Is there biblical support for this view?

As someone who got the principle/principal distinction wrong for much of my life, after a confused 4th-grade teacher’s misteaching, I can sympathise. We can debate the principles of Evangelical Christianity, but their principals are the people that head their religious schools.

But while I’m here, would you help us define Evangelical Christian? OP used that word in his very first sentence, but I see no post in the thread addressing the distinction between Evangelical Christians and the other kind. (I’d be happy to give my own impression of the distinction but would prefer the “Evangelicals” to hoist their own petard, rather than accuse me of strawmanism. :stuck_out_tongue: )

The above was a basic rundown from another thread that I wrote.

For a list of denominations that are one or the other, pew forum has the best list http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/appendix-b-classification-of-protestant-denominations/

As a general rule ‘non-denominational’ churches are almost always Evangelical. Mainline non-denoms exist, but they are very rare. As a very, very general rule, if it’s a church led by a guy in a robe who welcomes gay people, it’s mainline. If it’s led by a guy in jeans or a red-faced man who says ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin.’ it’s an Evangelical.

I would think they would say that the government being inefficient is self-evident. For example, I would think they would say that if you give money to people because they do not have a job, that incentives them not to get a job.

Also, I have worked closely enough with the federal government to know that it is not a monument of efficiency.

The tricky question is “efficient compared to what?” Sometimes you can compare it to the commercial world. I have seen it develop/manage products and thought to myself “if this were a commercial entity, this item would have shipped and been on the shelf three years ago.” However, not all of the government’s services can be compared to a commercial entity.

Can we, as a nation come up with a system that everyone (or a majority) can agree is significantly better? Probably not with the level of distrust within the country.

Senoy, I would say that is a bit of an old-school hardline evangelical to make it more of a contrast with the mainline. I would say most of the evangelicals I meet and are friends with are more like the mainline in that description, but with more of a “born again” philosophy on salvation and the Bible.

Of course every group is different. No doubt that there are some evangelicals out there that fit that description perfectly.

There is no doubt I am beyond salvation when it comes to the English language. There is not enough grace to atone for all those sins I have committed!

Wikipedia has a pretty good description of it as “maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or “born again” experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message.”

Evangelicals see themselves as serious theological studiers (sp?) of the Bible. Of course, between hard-line evangelical on one side and complete mainline on the other, there is a complete spectrum.

Evangelicals would look down on a modern stereotypical mainline church as:

  1. Not much different from modern America. Influenced more by modern culture (e.g. gay-marriage).
  2. Uses the Bible as more like a users manual (not to be taken too seriously). It is great for inspirational quotes and moral stories to tell children. It is not as a supremely important message from God.
  3. Not too interested in converting others to Christianity, probably because we will all go to Heavey anyway so whats the point?

So evangelicals are concerned with their own salvation through “faith” and in spreading a “message”, i.e. denigrating other faiths. Doing good works on Earth and loving one’s neighbors is not the priority. Yes, that’s what I thought.

I don’t see why the correlation between “Evangelism” and right-wingism should be considered at all surprising.