At the First Things site, I have an essay on the religious divide opening up in American politics, between Democrats and Republicans. Based on the increasing number of Nones among party members, Democrats are becoming the non-religious party, and Republicans the religious party. This divide would have been unknown at earlier periods of our history; Tocqueville, for example, famously commented on the absence of religious division in American politics. I predict what our new religious politics may mean for religious liberty. Here’s a snippet:
In short, a new sort of divide appears to be opening up in American politics: Republicans are the religious party, and Democrats are the non-religious party. This new divide may not be stable, of course. The racial and ethnic divisions among Democrats, which closely track the divide between the religious and the non-religious, may cause fissures within the party. African-Americans and Hispanics may press white progressives to make more room for traditional believers. And over time, Nones may make headway in the Republican Party. If current trends continue, though, religion will become a marker of political difference in a way it never has been before.
The new religious divide seems likely to make American politics even more bitter than it already is, particularly with respect to religious liberty. People’s commitment to religious liberty depends on whether they think religion is, on balance, a good thing for individuals and society. If people come to see religion as an obstacle rather than an aid to human flourishing, they are unlikely to sympathize with calls for the free exercise of religion. By definition, Nones reject traditional, organized religion as harmful or, at least, unnecessary. Their growing dominance in the party suggests that arguments in favor of religious freedom will have less and less appeal for Democrats. The divide is likely to be self-reinforcing, as Democrats come to see religious freedom as something only the other party cares about—and therefore something to be resisted. If Tocqueville came back to visit America today, he might not be so surprised.
You can read the whole essay here.
It was only last week that Mark noted University of Edinburgh historian Brian Stanley’s book on Evangelicalism. Well, Professor Stanley has been busy, because he also has a second new book, Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History (Princeton UP). In American law, the twentieth century saw major changes as respects Christianity. Christianity is far and away the predominant religion in the United States as a historical matter, and nearly all of the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause firepower was directed at it in the twentieth century (as I discuss in this paper). It would be interesting to see what Professor Stanley has to say about the American situation in this new book.
Christianity in the Twentieth Century charts the transformation of one of the world’s great religions during an age marked by world wars, genocide, nationalism, decolonization, and powerful ideological currents, many of them hostile to Christianity. Written by a leading scholar of world Christianity, the book traces how Christianity evolved from a religion defined by the culture and politics of Europe to the expanding polycentric and multicultural faith it is today–one whose growing popular support is strongest in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, China, and other parts of Asia.
Brian Stanley sheds critical light on themes of central importance for understanding the global contours of modern Christianity, illustrating each one with contrasting case studies, usually taken from different parts of the world. Unlike other books on world Christianity, this one is not a regional survey or chronological narrative, nor does it focus on theology or ecclesiastical institutions. Rather, Stanley provides a history of Christianity as a popular faith experienced and lived by its adherents, telling a compelling and multifaceted story of Christendom’s fortunes in Europe, North America, and across the rest of the globe.
Transnational in scope and drawing on the latest scholarship, Christianity in the Twentieth Century demonstrates how Christianity has had less to fear from the onslaughts of secularism than from the readiness of Christians themselves to accommodate their faith to ideologies that privilege racial identity or radical individualism.