Religion in Politics

In the last post, I mentioned that a big problem with Ted Cruz is that I don’t think he changes the red/blue electoral map enough to dig the GOP out of their current electoral hole. You hear about the GOP having a demographic problem, but if you ask me that demographic problem is society getting more and more secular, not less and less white. The strategy of running strong religious social conservatives, often from the south, and tailoring the campaign around themes that will please bible belt and heartland voters will at some point not work. This strategy has weakened the GOP’s position among rust belt voters. So what’s the rust belt? Basically the old industrial and mining areas of the north, probably best outlined by this map:


Rust belt voters are turned off by overtly religious candidates. Marco Rubio spends a lot of time talking about religion and talking about his faith. So does Ted Cruz. That’s a big part of how both of them got bested out by Kasich in northeastern state. All Trump has done is say he’s a presbyterian and flub a few bible verses here and there. That’s not much of a bone for a dedicated bible belter, but it’s enough for most rust belters. Rust belt voters still want their candidates to be religious, but not too much. They are skeptical of candidates who wear their religion on their sleeves. It’s a hard thing to explain, but was probably best summed up by Glenn Reynolds more than a decade ago, expressing some skepticism about a religious revival:

After all, skepticism about religious talk, and religious talkers, is also an American tradition. Back in the comparatively pietistic Eisenhower years, when my mother told her father that she was planning to marry a seminary student, his response was pithy: “Preachers are a sorry lot.” Remembering the preacher who used to help himself to the best pieces of chicken when he dined with my grandfather’s large and impecunious family (as a child, my grandfather always got stuck with the feet or the neck when the preacher visited, and he remembered that his whole life), he regarded preachers as socially acceptable parasites, who would be better off earning a living out in the world, as he had always had to do, instead of dressing better than their parishioners and telling other people how to live.

That’s a longstanding strain of American thought, too. In fact, the traditional American attitude toward religion — and especially religion in politics — might be summed up this way: “Religious, but not too much.”

This kind of attitude is most definitely found more prominently among the working class or recently working class rust belters. The more politicians sound like preachers, the more this very deep and old instinct gets triggered. Then you get working class voters not turning out for the GOP in Ohio and then another four years of a Dem in the White House. Trump, born wealthy and having gone to elite schools may not be one of them, but he’s speaking their language, and channeling their deep anger at what they think has been done to their country by both parties. If the GOP can figure out how to recapture rust belt voters in large numbers, you could see states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania very reachable for the GOP. That would change the map in a way that would make the Democrats have to climb out of a hole every election. They could get there, but they won’t pandering to religious conservatives.

If Trump wins the nomination, and then the White House, the GOP will never likely be the same again. Whether it will be better, I can’t say, but it’ll definitely be different.

54 thoughts on “Religion in Politics”

    1. “Government is not God.” – Interesting choice of words, perhaps just not nuanced enough, because that’s how I see liberals acting, whereas conservatives, want a government that works in service to [their vision of] god.

    2. Bingo. The places the evangelicals are strongest, aren’t likely to go blue anyway. It’s getting very hard for any Democrat to win any race here in the South, even on the local level, where there’s generally zero difference in the preferred policies of the candidates. Seriously, how much does the party of the Coroner or the License Commissioner matter generally?

      1. Two words: Ken Cuccinelli.

        The *impression* that Mr. Cuccinelli would be open to out-there religion-based policies, based on his spectacularly misguided decision to defend a law whose wording put going down on your spouse in the same moral category as bestiality, was IMO a major factor in his loss. In a Southern state. And I can tell you that such nonsense wouldn’t be any more kindly received here in NC than it was in VA.

    3. Of course, that Constitution you claim to revere didn’t come out of a moral vacuum, Islam, or Hinduism, either.

      1. “Of course, that Constitution you claim to revere didn’t come out of a moral vacuum…

        But neither did it come out of the bible, despite what revisionist historians like David Barton may have told you.

        1. Actually, it did come out of a culture where 95%+ of the population was actively religious and Judeo Christian. If you don’t think that makes a difference, look at what came out of the anti-religious French Revolution.

          Or are you going to claim that respect for the Constitution and rule of law have improved because of 60 years of anti-theists such as yourself?

          1. “Or are you going to claim that respect for the Constitution and rule of law have improved…”

            It’s been a mixed bag in my opinion. But in some ways, yes. When I was in first grade in public school agents of the state (aka “teachers”) chided me for saying the Lord’s Prayer the “wrong” way, i.e., in the way they had “established” was correct. My wife was openly ridiculed by the same sorts of state agents for adhering to a religion they had “established” was not acceptable.

            That the courts said they can’t do that anymore is an improvement in recognition of the First Amendment. I will not even bother to modify that with an “in my opinion.”

          2. I thought I’d add that the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, of which its “Declaration of Rights” provided a model for most of the later federal Bill of Rights, was largely authored by Thomas Paine, an atheist. He wrote it in collaboration with Benjamin Franklin, and the point is not that Paine’s atheism was somehow “better” than Judeo-Christianity, but that Judeo-Christianity was not a necessary ingredient for the concepts of liberty conceived in those days.

            The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776

            On the birthday of Benjamin Franklin I think it appropriate to review a particularly progressive collaboration between he and Thomas Paine – the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. This document is considered by some historians to be the most “democratic” legislation to emerge from revolutionary America. This was the first legislation drafted that directly echoed the Declaration of Independence and further enunciated and protected the freedom of every person to “natural rights” including the right to worship “according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Also, the language of this document presents a situation wherein all men, no matter race or creed were free to vote. This being penned in 1776 was a little too radical for the time. In 1790 it was amended by conservatives in that state to be more inline with the other state’s constitutions.

            1. No, Thomas Paine was not an atheist, he was a deist or something similar.

              “The opinions I have advanced … are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God.”

              -Thomas Paine

          3. “Actually, it did come out of a culture where 95%+ of the population was actively religious and Judeo Christian.

            While we’re at it:

            Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding

            Among the most enduring themes in American history is the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. A pervasive narrative in everything from school textbooks to political commentary, it is central to the way in which many Americans perceive the historical legacy of their nation. Yet, as Steven K. Green shows in this illuminating new book, it is little more than a myth.

            1. Opinions vary. Again, has America been improved by moving to the anti-theism of the Left?

                1. Since it never has in all it’s history, only away, you are assuming “facts” unsupported by evidence.

              1. Yes.

                Strong state support for a specific religion, by necessity marginalizes minorities who don’t toe the line. Anti-gay state(and Federal) laws were created by conservative Christians, not liberal ones or atheists.

                State laws that prohibited holding any government office without believing in god, even “a” god, immediately is discriminatory towards religious people who aren’t theistic(such as Buddhists), agnostics, and atheists.

                By any stretch of the imagining the weakening of state support of religious discrimination has been a net gain for civil liberties.

                1. I think you might be mistaking Leftist “anti-theism” for a Centrist “non-theism”.

                  The latter is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Everyone is treated based on their human qualities, and their religious preferences simply don’t factor. This is in line with First Amendment protections.

                  The former ridicules and marginalizes religious people, treating them as “lesser” beings for their beliefs. “Bitter clingers”, and all that.

                  Just keep in mind that Leftist “anti-theism” is itself a religion. Call it Humanism, characterized by worship of man/self, exaltation of State power, denial of the existence of a God (any god), and the perception that any alternate religions are threats that must be eliminated.

                  This is not in line with First Amendment protections. They are free to believe whatever they want to believe, but leveraging the power of the State to suppress other beliefs is a bridge too far.

                  I can agree that strict adherence to theism could result in abuses, but I’d argue that the abuses resulting from anti-theism (a.k.a. Humanism) are far worse. Little (if anything) positive can come of this belief system.

  1. Michigan is a Republican state already. While we elect Democrats to federal office, the state house, senate, and the governorship are all controlled by Republicans.

  2. I hear this all the time.The GOP ought to drop biblical people. Why? For What? The libertarians? The religious have certain cultural norms they want to retain. Not be trashed. Not have their children taught otherwise. One of those norms is to retain guns.

    Why the hatred of the religious? Why can not gun right people be tolerant?

    1. It’s not really a matter of dropping biblical people. It’s more of a stylistic issue. I would still say that any GOP candidate needs to take the following positions if they don’t want to screw themselves with GOP leaning voters:


      That’s basically what Trump has done, but he hasn’t laid it on thick. Now I don’t believe Trump, because he was pro-choice up until he decided to throw his hat in the race, but it doesn’t matter if you get the style right. Trump has the style.

      I should note that I’m not supporting Trump in the race. If Pennsylvania’s primary was next Tuesday, I’d probably vote for Fiorina.

        1. If Rubio becomes President and 30 million new Democratic voters legally hit the rolls, it won’t matter how hard you fight.

      1. Since those happen to be Ted Cruz’s exact positions his whole political career….

        Oh, you can wrap one more around all of them: pro-Constitution.

    2. Because they are intolerant and want candidates to use government to promote (not just respect) their religious beliefs.

        1. Actually I think most religious christian want to be able to live their life and promote their values to the children without government interference IN other words to be left alone. Heck the first colonist came for the same reason But the left keep imposing their values and tells them what to think and they call the christian right intolerant?

          1. While that’s true of many/most Christians, it’s the authoritarian minority that brought us Prohibition, the Comstock Laws, restrictions on contraception, and TV/movie/music/game/Internet censorship that generate the pushback. I know plenty of Christians who are very respectful of others’ rights, but the minority who aren’t also tend to be the ones grabbing the microphones and mugging for the news cameras. And it’s not just the Christian Right; the Christian Left also has some viciously anti-liberty voices.

            Honestly, if we could get everyone on both Right and Left back to shrugging and saying “it’s a free country…” when they see something they disapprove of, we would have a far more civil (and free) society.

            1. We would do well, however, to remember that these have been and are Progressive notions. Progressives, whether they are religious or not, are far more into dictating what we can do and what we can believe, than any given religious person.

  3. This has been the establishment argument for a while. In many ways they’re the Afro-Americans of the Republican party – they won’t vote Democrat, so they can be taken for granted.

    The problem is that they will stay home as they did with Romney. Furthermore, the moral issues are important to another group – the Catholic vote. When given no discernible difference on the traditionally religious subjects of pro-life, and homosexuality they will break for the Democrats whose socialistic policies line up more with their religious doctrine. It’s impossible for Republicans to win rust belt states without the Catholic vote.

    Cruz is running to get the evangelical vote which is the largest part of the Republican base. However, if he manages to grab the nomination he will also likely tone down (though not ignore) his appeal to the religious voter.

    1. A lot of us religious conservatives (at least in my AO) already know that Cruz is a moral, religious man.

      Carson and Rubio are also moral, religious men. All three have established their religious bona fides.

      If any of them got the nomination, they could run a purely secular campaign to reach non-religious voters, and unless they changed their position to something immoral, they’d still have the religious vote locked up. We already know their background; we don’t need to be reminded over and over.

      I like to think religious voters, just like gun voters, have longer memories than that.

      1. As a follow-up, it occurs to me that we as voters don’t like to be confused or uncertain where we stand with a particular candidate. THAT is the biggest “sin” a politician can commit.

        We can disagree on (some) policy decisions and still support a candidate. We can disagree on (some) religious or moral points of view and still vote for him/her.

        What we CANNOT stand is being told one thing at one time and being shown another later.

        Long memories notwithstanding, we may or may not remember a candidate who opposes us if they do so honestly, but we never forget one who betrays our trust and/or opposes us using deceit and outright lies.

        Just my $0.02.

  4. Along with being very much of the “rust belt” mentality characterized by Sebastian, as an activist in my time I worked with many “Christian Right” sorts, and had nothing but bad experiences with them, to the extent that I eventually labeled them “The Bear False Witness for Christ Crowd.” That very much influenced my political attitudes today, and if the Republican Party doesn’t like the outcome, they can thank all the “stealth” activists, candidates, and front organizations that gulled us for the last several decades.

      1. No, I found what was brought to me. Of more correctly, came looking for me.

        Perhaps not me, specifically, but for naive saps who could be exploited to advance the stealth agenda.

  5. They “got bested out by Kasich” in a northeastern state by talking about their faith?. Kasich, the guy who says you’ll go to hell if you don’t agree with him is the one who appeals to secular voters? Not following you there.

      1. I won’t vote for Kasic for the same reason I won’t vote for Huckabee or Santorum: They won’t leave people alone. All I ask is the same courtesy.

    1. I’ll admit, I haven’t paid too much attention to the Kasich campaign because he bores the ever loving hell out of me. I stand corrected.

  6. I get tired of the intolerance of the libertarians. I agree with a lot of libertarian philosophy. But a lot of them are atheist and want to impose that on me.

    I am pretty agnostic. I have found the Christians to be a lot more tolerant especially the Catholics. My son is pretty much atheist or agnostic and he went to Catholic high school and they did not care. Sure he had religion classes so he was educated, but they loved his contrarian viewpoint. So they were very tolerant .

    I do not see that same tolerance here with the call to rid the GOP of religious Christians.

    1. I’m a religiously tolerant libertarian. I just don’t think it has much place in public policy. I get pro-life folks believe abortion is murder, and that the state does have a role there, if you believe abortion is murder. That’s one reason I don’t think there’s a compromise on that issue.

      1. I understand what you say But it usually gets translated to shut up about your faith in comments and opinion pages.

        Law is based on morality Thou shall not steal , thou shall not kill. Religion is to enforce morality From Jewish stricture to Christian doctrine to Islam sharia law. So religion is always part of public policy since it is a system of morals to ensure the people follow Gods Law.

        Gay people are angry about being thought of violating God’s Laws They are decent people, so why is their sexuality wrong? But they demand that God’s Law be changed. That is a big problem with people who believe in God’s Law. How can humans change God’s Law?

        Answer is we can’t . So it goes from being tolerant to enforced approval of a lifestyle. That is not freedom. Brendon Eich is perfect example.

        Humans can change human law but to require that people like, love or approve of something they think is wrong is not tolerant.

        There are a lot more people that are believers than atheists. Atheists requiring believers to leave a political party is just ignoring reality

  7. I have talks to several people from public high schools and they hate Christians I wonder where they are taught that.

  8. Libertarians like to straddle the fence . That is getting more difficult.

    Gun rights are not accepted among Democrats Never had. It used to be marginally accepted in the GOP. It is a plus that the GOP has come out so strong for gun rights. So if gunnies want their gun rights to be supported they better support the GOP despite that the GOP is alao supported by religious people.

    1. I course that is why no state religion. Remember all the contention was between different sects of Christians. My mother hated Papists. I do not care. Still the big difference is between moral and immoral what is each. Most of us do not even agree on the definitions.

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