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Posts Tagged ‘religious political divide’

            I read an interesting post on the St. Petersburg blog by Karen Cyphers about “interparty” dating.  In 1960 only 5% of people were opposed to people of different political parties dating.  In 2010 that number has gone over 40% – for Republicans it is close to 50%.  Cyphers compared this to the trajectory of approval of interracial dating.  In 1958 only 4% approved of interracial dating.  In 2010 that number grew to 86%.  What is interesting about the graph published on the blog showing this data is that the growth of those against interparty dating has spiked upwards since 2008 – the year the first African American president was elected.

The statistic missing from Cyphers’ blog post was attitudes regarding interfaith dating.  My guess is that the graph for this would follow the trend for interracial dating.  From 1958 until now I believe there would be tremendous increase in the acceptance of interfaith dating.  I think this graph would be a steady increase, rather evenly through the decades as opposed to the spike in approval of interracial dating in the last 5 years.

Some might be surprised that interfaith dating was even controversial.  While it might have never been quite as controversial as interracial dating, Americans today are quick to forget the deep religious prejudices that plagued our country for much of its history.  The KKK had Catholics on its hate list right along with Jews and blacks.  Protestant prejudice against Catholicism was quite deep.  It took a special appearance by John Kennedy and a speech to the Houston Ministerial Association to allay fears enough for Kennedy, a Catholic, to carry Texas in the election.  So Catholic/Protestant dating for the first half of the 20th century was almost as unthinkable as any kind of Jewish/Christian dating.  Today, I cannot imagine much opposition to interfaith dating except for Moslems.  They have not yet gained enough of America’s trust to be THAT accepted.

All of this leads me to another thought.  If dating someone from another political party now creates more objections than interfaith dating, is that a sign that politics is now the new religion?  Allow me to explain.

For most of American history religious affiliation really had little to do with choice of political party.  True, Jews have voted Democratic in consistently high numbers, but that is because of the political needs of the generations of Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century.  Many east European Jews were not religious at all, but were politically active in labor movements.  They naturally gravitated to similar political affiliation in America.  However, it was hard to argue that one should be Democrat based on the Torah.  Further, Jews were and still are a tiny minority of the American religious population.  The greater Christian population was well represented in both political parties.  Although the Catholic vote was once mostly Democratic, that eroded much faster than the Jewish vote, which is still overwhelmingly Democratic.  Those who today identify Evangelicals as Republicans, forget that Democrat Jimmy Carter was really the first Evangelical to inject his faith into the political arena by speaking about how his faith led him to certain political positions.

Now, I venture to say, that a person’s political beliefs influence their choice of faith far more than their faith influences politics.  Unlike the past, if you know someone’s political party, you can probably predict their religion.  It was during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency that the concept of a politician being chosen or approved of by God really got traction in the political arena.  More and more church leaders who leaned Republican began to tell their congregations that if they were truly believers in God/Christ – whatever, they would vote Republican.  In other words the test of their faith was based on a political choice.

What about the Jewish world?  Well, I am sad to say that most non-Orthodox Jews use their politics to define their religion.  I have to constantly remind congregants that agreeing with the platform of the Democratic Party does not necessarily make one a good Jew.  A Baptist minister friend of mine joked that mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream with manure.  The ice cream will not improve the manure and the manure will surely spoil the ice cream.  I will leave you to decide what in this analogy is the ice cream and what is the manure.

We seem unable to understand is that religion and politics, if operating properly, are operating in separate arenas.  Religion is supposed to connect one with what is divine in our world.  It is supposed to make us God oriented and God sensitive.  Along the way it points to moral and ethical problems along with our need to live morally.  Our faith sensitizes us to need.  Our choice of politics only represents the policy choice we make to address that need.  There is no political mandate in religion.  Allow me to give an example.

In this week’s Torah portion we are given some instructions as to how to alleviate suffering.  Deuteronomy 24:17 – 22 teaches not to subvert the rights of strangers and the fatherless; to leave some of the gleanings in the fields for the destitute along with fruit from trees and vines.  Since very few of us own fields, orchards, or vineyards how should we carry out these commandments which, in summary, tell us to do our part to relieve the suffering of the poor?  Politicians will give various ways to solve this.  Democrats will urge social programs.  Republicans will insist on a combination of the free market providing work opportunities along with individual charity.  Religion, including Judaism, does not mandate the details of solutions.  It only commands that we care enough about the poor to find a solution.

So I conclude that our political affiliations are now the most defining  boundaries in our country.  Few people really care about what church or synagogue you attend.  In fact affiliation rates are dropping fast for all religious denominations.  No, identities are more defined by the church of Democrat and the church of Republican.  And don’t you dare bring home someone from the other side to mom and dad.

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