This rather breathless column by the sometimes sane William Raspberry caught my eye. The traditional American willingness to compromise is threatened, he reports, by the usual suspects, evangelicals, and frequent church-goers:
What, in my view, threatens to test the American tradition of working things out are issues closely tied to religious faith: abortion, homosexual marriage, the teaching of evolution.
And not just in my view. Public Agenda has just published the results of a survey that serves to make the point. Support for compromise on issues that involve religious principles is diminishing among all Americans. It is diminishing most rapidly among the most religious of us -- self-described evangelicals, for instance, and people who attend religious services every week.
You can read the survey results for yourself in
this pdf. The Public Agenda people are hyperventilating about it almost (but not quite) as much as Raspberry.
I interpret the data a little differently. On many dimensions, there has been a small (3 - 7%) increase in the percentage of those surveyed who think that elected representatives should base their votes on their religious views; in every case, this remains the minority position. Whats interesting to me is that in every case as well, those who thought that representatives should vote their consciences (yes, thats what I would call it) overwhelmingly affirmed (by ratios of roughly 4 - 1) that stance "even if their religious views were totally different from yours". Those supporting the unwillingness of politicians to compromise on matters of conscience were in this respect remarkably tolerant of conscientious differences. Stated another way, theres been an increase in respect for religiously-formed consciences, even if those religiously-formed consciences dont yield positions identical to ones own. To my mind, this isnt worrisome, its a heartening sign of maturity.
This is consistent with other results in the survey: There was, for example, a decline from 40% (2000) to 34% (2004) in the percentage of those who said they would be less likely to vote for politicians who regularly voted their consciences (my language, not Public Agendas), and a concomitant increase from 29% to 35% who said, in effect, that how a representative arrived at his or her position didnt matter (again, my language, not Public Agendas). This too seems to me to be a heartening sign of political maturity, with fewer people regarding deep religious faith and conviction as being politically out of bounds.
In addition, 61% of those surveyed said that they thought that our political system could easily handle the involvement of religious groups in politics. We are not a nation of Chicken Littles when it comes to religion in politics. And I think that Ill be indulged if I thank God for that.