Every now and then, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken take and I off in one direction when doing a "Crossroads" podcast and then -- boom -- we will suddenly veer off in what at first seems like a totally different direction. Radio is like that, you know. That is certainly what happened this time around, big time. Click here to check out the podcast.
Wilken started out by repeating that question that I have been asking over and over during recent weeks, as the media storm over the so-called Hobby Lobby case has raged on that on.
You know the one: What should journalists call people in American public life who waffle on free speech, waffle on freedom of association and waffle on religious liberty?
The answer: I still don’t know, but the accurate term to describe this person -- in the history of American political thought -- is not “liberal.” Defense of basic First Amendment rights has long been the essence of American liberalism.
So what happened during the discussion?
Well, while we talked it suddenly hit me that this topic was, in a way, the flip side of the topic that I took on this week in my "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate. That piece focused on some fascinating information -- at least I thought it was fascinating stuff (as did Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher) -- found in the new "Beyond Blue vs. Red" political typology study conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Before we move along, readers may want to surf over to the Pew site and take the short quiz that went along with the study. This will allegedly show where you belong on this new spectrum of American political labels.
The quiz is frustrating, but worth the time. Many people, including me, found some of the questions impossible to answer since the options were pushed so far to the political fringes. Take this question, for example:
“Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return”
“Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently”
No, there is no option in the middle that -- hello experts in Catholic moral teachings -- accepts the responsibility for governments to help the poor, yet allows for realistic critiques of whether the resulting programs are effective. In this case, along with the "What would Jesus do?" option, some readers may be left asking, "What would Daniel Patrick Moynihan do?"
There are many more questions that are equally frustrating.
Still it's easy to see what the Pew researchers were trying to do. They wanted to try to draw some defining lines INSIDE the basic left vs. right American divide. The result was some interesting material about fault lines on the political left, much more so than on the right.
No one will be surprised to know that the modern GOP contains people who lean libertarian when it comes to moral, cultural and religious issues, thus clashing from time to time with religious conservatives. However, many journalists may be surprised to learn that there are still millions of voters on the left who have not been convinced that they need to embrace moral libertarianism.
Thus, here is a chunk of my column about this "Faith and Family Left" camp inside the modern Democratic Party. For example, researchers asked if voters agreed or disagreed that it is “necessary to believe in God to be moral.”
Among the voters called “Solid Liberals,” one of three major Democratic Party camps, only 11 percent of those polled said “yes.” People in the emerging “Next Generation Left” felt the same way, with only 7 percent affirming that statement.
However, things were radically different among the voters that Pew researchers labeled the “Faith and Family Left.” In this crowd -- the survey’s most racially and ethnically diverse camp -- an stunning 91 percent of those polled saw a connection between morality and belief in God. ...
Asked if American society is “better off if people prioritize marriage and having children,” 64 percent of Faith and Family Left voters agreed. However, 77 percent of Solid Liberals and 72 percent of the Next Generation Left disagreed with that statement.
These faith-friendly Democrats were twice as likely to self-identify as “religious” than other liberals. Just over half of them said they attend worship services “weekly or more,” compared with 19 percent of Solid Liberals and 21 percent of the Next Generation Left. A slim majority of Faith and Family Left voters opposed gay marriage, compared with only 7 percent of the Solid Liberals. The same sharp divide existed on abortion.
So what's the point for journalists?
Simply stated, while we struggle to find an accurate label for "liberals" who are weak on First Amendment rights, we also need to think about some of the labeling that is going on with voters who are moral conservatives, yet clearly liberal in their political approaches on other issues. Are people "conservatives" simply because they remain committed to centuries of moral teachings shared by traditional forms of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, etc.?
Really? So if Dorothy Day emerged today she would be a "conservative"? Or how about the late Gov. Bill Casey of Pennsylvania? At the global level, is it assumed that Saint John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI are automatically "conservatives"? In what sense of the word? What is the essential difference between the economic or moral points of view among the last three popes?
What does this have to do with religion news? Here is now my column ended:
John C. Green of the University of Akron, a specialist in faith-and-politcs research. However, Faith and Family Left voters -- whether they are African-American Protestants, Latino Catholics or white Evangelicals -- still retain a positive, “populist” view of government, especially when it comes to helping others.
“They are pro-government and pro-safety net,” said Green. “But they are also pro-life, they are pro-religion, they are pro-family, they are pro-morality. ...
“There are a lot of things that unite people in the Democratic coalition right now, but there is a values divide there. On one side are people who are very modern and their values are highly individualistic. On the other side are these people who have an older set of values based on community and tradition and, yes, on religion.”