The relationship between politics and religion in the United States is a complicated one. On the one hand, there should be a wall of separation between church and state. Wars over religion have never ended well for anyone in history—just ask the Huguenots. It is never as simple as just having a state religion; at some point, individuals will want the so-called “right” version of that religion to be enforced.
That is part of the reason for keeping the wall of separation strong and non-porous.
But if you follow American politics, you’ll inevitably discover just how fragile that wall is. Republican Senate candidate, Roy Moore, for example, has made it clear that he wants a country governed by “God’s laws.” Surely that won’t go over well for his fellow Christians who do not agree with Moore on how to interpret those laws.
As bad as mixing politics and religion is for a pluralistic society like America, it still doesn’t stop many individuals from believing it is the best direction for the nation. Part of this is driven by how some religious groups react to the feeling of being persecuted or threatened.
At The Daily Beast this week, I look at the use of fear and threats in the American political system, particularly as it done by President Donald Trump. For many of America’s mainline religious groups, perhaps those to the left politically, and the non-religious, it may feel like the American political system is driven by conservative Protestant—and particularly evangelical—concerns. It may also feel like the future of the wall of separation is coming down forever.
But this may not be the case.
In my piece, I look at a study coming out of Penn State from Michael H. Pasek and Jonathan E. Cook on the feeling of threat experienced by religious individuals, particularly those with high religiosity (“How Religious Fear is Shaping the Culture War”). I interview Pasek, as well as Robert P. Jones of PRRI, Besheer Mohamed of Pew Research, David Curry of Open Doors USA, and Joshua Stanton of East End Temple in New York.
I ask: why do appeals to fears and threats against religious groups work and what does this say about the future of American politics and society?
As it turns out, it may not be what you think.
“…These shifts in society, however, may not show up on election night right away.
“In fact,” says Jones, “if you look at the demographic makeup of the electorate, it looks about like the country did a decade ago. What happens is that the ballot box functions like a time machine that takes the demographics of the country back a couple of presidential election cycles. So when we’re projecting that forward, it means that it’s gonna be the 2024 election cycle before the demographic changes that have already happened on the ground are fully reflected at the ballot box—if current trends stay true….”