For Goodness’ Sake: Why So Many Want Religion to Play a Greater Role in American Life
Data presented by:
Deborah Wadsworth, President, Public Agenda
Steve Farkas, Director of Research and Senior Vice President, Public Agenda
Andrew Kohut, Director, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
Rev. Eugene F. Rivers, 3d, Co-Chair, National TenPoint Leadership Foundation
Michael J. Sandel, Professor of Government, Harvard University
Matthew Spalding, Director, Lectures and Educational Programs, The Heritage Foundation
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, the Brookings Institution and Co-Chair, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
I want to thank you all very much for coming. This is a wonderful audience. In fact, looking at all of you, I’ve decided that while we have a very distinguished panel, we also have about as distinguished an audience, and we want to bring you into the discussion as quickly as we can, and I’ll tell you in a moment how we’re going to organize this discussion.
If I can paraphrase the good General Stockdale: who are we and why are we here? The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts. I want to welcome Kimon Sargeant and Luis Lugo of the Pew Trusts. I’ve always said that wherever two or three are gathered in his name there is Lugo, and we’re very happy to have Louis here.
And it is a project supported by Georgetown University, it’s a cooperative project between the University of Chicago Divinity School and the Brookings Institution. I won’t go on about the Forum except to say that the Forum takes very seriously religion’s role in American public and civic life, believes it is part of our history, and believes it is here to stay. And the Forum also understands that once you’ve said that, there are immense differences in the country about what that means, how it should be interpreted, and we intend to be, if I may use the term, a broad church, or a big tent to carry out discussions on a subject which I think will only grow in importance in the coming years.
And I think this distinguished panel reflects the power of this argument, because there are so many people coming from different points of view, and different lines of work, if you will, in support of this project, and to further today’s discussion. If you have any questions about the Forum, Melissa Rogers, our distinguished executive director — Melissa, where are you? I just saw you a moment ago. Melissa is in the back. And if anyone wants to talk about the Forum afterward, please approach Melissa.
Staci Simmons, the associate director; Amy Sullivan, the editorial director; and also Ming Hsu of the Brookings Institution are all here. So anyone who wants to chat with them, please do.
We are very grateful to be doing this presentation on the Public Agenda’s study for the Pew Charitable Trusts. Now I have been debating whether you pronounce this, For Goodness’ Sake or For Goodness’s Sake, and is it deliberately ambiguous. Public Agenda is a well-known research organization. It was founded in 1975 by Cyrus Vance and Daniel Yankelovich, and I won’t take up any time in describing this study. There are a lot of fascinating findings here.
What we’re going to do is have Deborah Wadsworth, the author of this study, by the way, is Steve Farkas, and we’re very glad to have him here. Deborah of Public Agenda, she is the president of Public Agenda, and she has a long resume which I could make available. Most recently, she assumed responsibility at the Markel Foundation for projects which focus on the impact of mass communications on the political process. Deborah is going to do a presentation of the data within about 10 or 15 minutes. You have the study available to you.
And then I will call on our distinguished panel, whom I will introduce briefly here. The Reverend Gene Rivers many of you know as the founder of the TenPoint Coalition in Boston. He has written, preached, organized and saved a lot of people in the course of his career, and, Gene, you might save us a little bit today.
Andy Kohut is head of the Pew Research Center, one of the great pollsters of our nation, and he will comment next.
Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation has done some fascinating work. I am personally particularly interested in Matthew’s work on the social gospel because it shows something has changed when somebody at the Heritage Foundation becomes interested in the social gospel, and so God bless Matthew for that.
And, finally, Michael Sandel, one of our nation’s truly — and this is true and not podium exaggeration — one of our nation’s most distinguished political philosophers. Michael is the author of a line I use about once every three months, it’s at the end of his book Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, where he says, when politics goes well we can know a good in common that we cannot know alone. And I take that as both an empirically accurate observation, and also a correct value laden observation. And so Mike will bat clean-up.
And then we will turn immediately to the audience. We invite your questions and your comments. If you want elaborations on the data, please do that. I am very pleased and grateful to introduce Deborah. And if you’d like to come up here, please do.
Now that E.J. has given you two cents’ worth about Public Agenda, and I will leave Steve to fend off all the sharks in terms of a discussion of the methodology, in the interest of time, I guess, I would like to just add our appreciation to Kimon and to Luis, and to their other colleagues at the Pew Charitable Trusts who have not only supported us financially in this study, but have given us enormous encouragement, and it’s great fun working with the new Pew Forum, and I hope this will be the start of more joint endeavors.
I think one of the things, you will have the study in front of you, to understand is that we approached this what we thought fairly contentious set of issues, politics and religion, religion and the public schools, religion and social interaction, religion and the workplace, with a kind of broad brush, attempting in this particular instance not only to understand what people thought about these issues, but really basically to understand how they think about them and why they think the way they do. All of you have watched surveys over the years, and Andy knows better than all of us how long Americans have talked about the importance of religion in public life. But what we learned in this study is that their deep belief in the power of religion is largely driven by an equally strong conclusion that American society today is suffering from an appalling dearth of morality, from declining values, family values, to rising materialism, from a lack of civility to excessive crime. Most Americans today, in our studies, regardless of the issue that we start out with, wind up talking about moral decay. And in their view the antidote to this problem is a greater dose of religion in American life. For most citizens the primary benefit of faith, therefore, is capacity to improve individual behavior and personal conduct. If more Americans were more religious, the study shows, large numbers of people say crime would go down, families would do a better job raising their kids, there would be less greed and materialism, and many even think political leaders would make better decisions. They see religion as a unique course capable of sort of righting the ship on its wrong moral course.
Consistent with their view of the sort of inseparability of religion and morality, Americans overwhelmingly agree, three of four, 75 percent, that it’s a very bad idea for families to raise children without any religion, and they are persuaded, as a consequence, that religion should be a visible part of a child’s education. Overall in the country, there’s a belief that we’ve gone too far in removing religion from our schools. Although, as I’ll mention shortly, in this study, in addition to a large random sample of the public, we talked with several groups, including Jews, people who were identified by a series of criteria as non-religious. We talked with evangelical Christians and Jews, and the non-religious Americans certainly view these issues and others somewhat differently. Most Americans agree that school prayer teaches children that faith in religion and God is an important part of life, and 56 percent agree that school prayer is one of the most effective ways we can improve the behavior of young people. Again, the inseparability of morality and religion.
But side-by-side with this belief, they also recognize the need to accommodate the diversity of religious beliefs in the school setting. There’s this struggle for some kind of balance that manifests itself throughout the study as Americans attempt to find a place for religion both in the schools and in their lives, along with their equally strong concerns about not offending those who believe differently in respecting the right of parents to raise their children in their own traditions. So when it comes to prayer in the schools, it’s not just a question of prayer in the schools. We gave them a battery of choices to try to probe beneath the response to that, and what they come up with is more than 50 percent of them a struggle for a middle ground, preferring a moment of silence to any kind of spoken prayer. Very few, and I think this is interesting, just 6 percent favor a Christian prayer that refers to Jesus, despite the fact that more than 7 in 10 Americans identify themselves as Christian. And even more interesting, among those who identify themselves in the study as evangelical Christians, 53 percent say they also prefer a moment of silence.
As I said before, while a large number seem to be reaching for this middle ground, certainly there are those in the sample who are Jewish, and those who identify as non-religious, who are far more wary of expanding religion’s role in the schools, and in life in general.
For most Americans, their sensitivity to problems that might exist that are inherent in any kind of discussion over religion in the schools, it grows more out of a reluctance to override, and I think it’s important to understand the distinction, to override parental authority, or to embarrass, or isolate student’s whose religion is different, or who may not be religious at all, but not out of a concern over constitutional matters. Many resent efforts that appear to contradict or eradicate the trace of religious sensibility in the schools, and as many as 60 percent disagree that school prayer violates the Constitution and the idea of separation of church and state.
In the last analysis, what people are saying on this issue is, they want schools that are inclusive, respectful and accommodating of religious minorities. When it comes to the workplace and their social interactions, people are equally sensitive to the reality that others may have views that are very different from theirs. In fact, 61 percent agree that deeply religious people are being inconsiderate if they always bring up religion when they deal with other people. Again, the data indicate that exhibiting this kind of social sensibility, not violating another individual’s belief, is the governing principle.
And in the work place, again, 70 percent say it’s mostly the employee’s responsibility to find jobs where they can practice their religious beliefs, not the responsibility of the employer to make this happen. Nonetheless, people do expect when you probe further that in the real world, there will be a kind of reasonableness and employers and employees will work together to make reasonable accommodations, an expectation, by the way, we probed, that applies to Muslims and Jews, as well as to Christians.
Now, given the restraint Americans suggest is needed in terms of being respectful of others in the workplace and also in the school setting, it probably is not a surprise that they are not eager to introduce religion into politics and government. While they believe, again, in the individual that religion might help elected officials become more honorable and ethical as individuals, they seem intuitively wary of religion determining the substance of today’s political debate. Almost 6 in 10 think it’s wrong for voters to seriously consider the religious affiliation of candidates when they decide whom to support, and most don’t even want the media to pay more attention to a candidate’s religious affiliation.
When it comes to politicians who wear their religion on their sleeve, the public is very suspicious, three in four say that when they do this, when politicians do this, they believe they’re just pandering to them, thinking that this is what people want to hear.
Moreover, and I think this is characteristically American, most recognize that the art of politics is compromise, and that even when the issue is as polarizing as gay rights, abortion, or even the death penalty, that elected officials, even if they themselves are deeply religious, need to set aside their own beliefs, and seek pragmatic solutions. I’ll come back to this in just another moment about evangelical Christians. Religion is important for politicians, most people believe, more as a strong moral compass than as an ideological point of view. And only a quarter of those surveyed would be more likely to support a candidate “who always votes for legislation according to his or her religious convictions.”
When it comes to religious, high profile religious leaders, we wondered what the public’s take on this would be. Well, 85 percent of them agree that religious leaders have every right to join the political process, and two-thirds think our political system is vital and strong enough to handle an increase in such participation. Very few fear that extremists will hijack political discourse. What’s more, they believe that religious leaders have as much right to get involved. Most Americans support the funding of so-called “faith-based” organizations to administer social services, with a plurality, as many as 44 percent, approving giving churches and religious groups government money to help drug addicts or the homeless, even if these groups promote religious messages. Now, it’s important also to understand that 23 percent take the middle ground, a good idea only if these programs stay way from religious messages, and as many as 31 percent say it’s a bad idea altogether.
Okay, so much for the sort of composite opinions of the national random sample.
Jews in the study and the non-religious respondents for very different reasons sound a cautionary refrain. Jews fear being overwhelmed by the views of the majority, and more than 6 in 10 say that maintaining a Jewish identity is a constant struggle. They have a lingering fear of anti-Semitism with 8 in 10 saying that even in America Jews must be on guard because anti-Semitism could always be a powerful force here. And, interestingly, as many as 55 percent of the general public also believes that anti-Semitism could surge in the U.S.
For non-religious Americans, they, too, are more wary, and they express concern about being accepted in a society where religious worship and affiliation are widespread. Therefore, 68 percent anticipate there would be less tolerance for unconventional lifestyles if more people were to become deeply religious.
We paid special attention throughout the study to Christians who identify themselves as evangelical, a group that comprised about 24 percent of the general public sample. Religion for these Christians plays a major role in their lives. Over half of them, 53 percent, call their religious faith the most important influence in their life, 68 percent of them believe there’s a lot of prejudice in America against them, and 84 percent agree that Satan is behind the fight against religion in public life in this country.
However, while 61 percent believe they should spread the word of God whenever they can, almost half agree with non-evangelical Christians that it’s inconsiderate and probably counterproductive to always bring up religion when dealing with others. Furthermore, while they strongly support introducing more religion into the public schools, as I mentioned earlier, they parallel the broader population in favoring a moment of silence rather than more overt demonstrations of faith. They’re more likely to want religious elected officials to stand by their religious principles on matters such as gay rights and abortion, but even they, 79 percent of them, are almost as likely as non-evangelicals, 86 percent in number, to agree that even deeply religious officials sometimes have to make compromises to get results.
Okay, one more minute. The question is, sort of, what do we make of all of this. This is a study, as you can see — I’m sort of going like a locomotive — that is full of data from all kinds of samples, and it’s complicated. The findings are very nuanced. There are also, I might say, a lot of views that we could not capture, at least not this time, the views of Muslims, the views of New Age Americans. The pragmatic reality is that all studies are limited by the availability of resources, but we hope to come back to it.
That said, there are a few conclusions I’m willing to draw. First of all, for those we studied, religion is obviously a very individual thing. It’s all about morality and ethics, and less a question of doctrine or ritual. A religious person is one who behaves in a socially responsible and constructive way. One who lives his religion and doesn’t preach it. We also found a highly ingrained, internalized, if you will, tolerance for a broad diversity of religion and religious views. America is said to be the home of more than many hundreds of different religions. Well, to date, from this study, Americans are respectful of people’s right to practice the religion of their choice and almost any religion will do.
Moreover, although Americans believe we can reclaim some of our lost moral high ground through more religion, they are wary of injecting religion directly into politics, or other areas of life. They recoil at the use of religion as a litmus test, and refuse themselves to be boxed into the usual political and ideological categories.
I think for many of the readers of this study, and we’ve already picked it up from phone calls, American’s tolerance and pragmatism, their essential understanding of the need for compromise, comes across as very reassuring and very heartening. But there are others who have dedicated their careers and their lives to constitutional issues, and for them, I think, Americans response to the separation of church and state may not be so reassuring and may even be somewhat alarming. But whatever your ultimate take on the study is, I suspect you will find it thought-provoking, and I hope you have lots of questions for us.
Just a couple of quick housekeeping details before I turn to the Reverend Gene. I have a little note here from the PBS crew, we would be very grateful if everyone on the panel would be extremely careful about mike noise, handling papers, et cetera. So now you are all warned by the PBS crew. Thank you guys very much.
Also, a couple of quick things. There are sign in sheets in the back, and I would be very grateful — we are doing — we’re going to be doing a lot of stuff in the coming year, and I would love to have your name and address if we could get in touch with you on it. There are also materials back there, and our web site went live today, and everybody is proud when their web site goes live. The web site, make sure I don’t get this wrong, is Pewforum.org. You know, it used to be the era of the dot coms, now the dot orgs are going to be hot, or at least so we believe. And there’s a lot of good stuff on there, there’s a model in the back which you might have seen when you came in.
Could I just get a plug in at the same moment, because the study itself with all the charts and graphs and all kinds of things is live on Publicagenda.org today, as well. Excuse me, E.J.
Right, and no doubt we’ll soon have links between these two sites. Gene Rivers, welcome and thank you for coming.
One of the things in reviewing some of the early drafts of this report that occurred to me, it takes me back to a study that was initially done by Richard Freeman at Harvard University, an economic and direction of the National Bureau of Economic Research. In ’84 he did an initial study, and I actually had a conversation with him a few weeks ago about this, where he plugged into a computer looking at a lot of data regarding black male labor force participation. And one of the things — and he had no particular theological disposition one way or the other, but one of the things that he found in his initial research back in ’84 was that the single most influential independent variable, that had either a causal or correlational effect on black male labor force participation was church attendance.
Now, the argument was made then, we’re not sure if it’s they work then they go to church, or they go to church because they work. But, what was indisputable was the fact that there was a correlation between church attendance and labor force participation. So arguing the chicken and egg was sort of the side point. There was, at the very least, a very high correlation between faith and active faith, and the development of a set of norms and values, which contributed to making individuals productive citizens.
As I’ve listened to the summary of the data, one of the things that sort of strikes me about this is that if one followed and tracked a lot of the Gallup data about religion in America much of what I’ve heard, and what I’ve read is borne out in much of the stuff that George Gallup has been tracking. What is of interest to me, and I’ll be interested in hearing some conversation about this, is the discussion of evangelicals, because usually when folk use the term evangelical, rarely is it demographically disaggregated, because there are significant differences among sub-groups when you look at data. And it cuts across every ideological line.
For example, you can take conservative, doctrinally, or theologically conservative black Baptist who will be left of center on economic justice issues, and then be for capital punishment. Now, most politically correct progressives are against capital punishment, and so when they ostensibly speak for the masses they run into a bit of a glitch, because Clarence, Leroy and Bertha, because they live in neighborhoods too frequently where there’s a lot of crime, have a very Yahwistic notion of justice. And as a consequence, they’re ready to hammer somebody, because nine times out of ten they were mugged or somebody broke into their house for the ninth time, so they want some very Old Testament conceptions of instituting public justice.
And so what I would be interested in discussing is sort of how do we tease out some of the finer points of this evangelical notion, because, doctrinally and theologically, blacks tend to be the most conservative. I mean, we have a very, very high pneumatology. The holy ghost is everywhere, we believe in miracles, much more doctrinally conservative, and it’s slightly different than the white evangelicals. So teasing out on some of the finer policy points, the relationship between religious ideology and various racial subgroups when we talk about evangelicals, which is a big tent, I think, would be very, very important.
One particular case that I’m aware of are Pentecostals. I mean black Pentecostals and white Pentecostals are two different countries. And on policy issues we are on opposite sides of the camel. God bless John Ashcroft, because he’s going to need it over the next week. But there’s a very fundamental difference between, for example, the Assemblies of God and the Church of God and Christ. One other interesting dimension of this, just in terms of religious belief, is how this is stratified among social-economic lines. Middle class bourgeois black churches are a very different reality from Jesus on my mind, greasy chicken and grits, store front churches in the inner city. And here again, there are some sociologically and practically significant differences in terms of religious belief, and religious behavior, and whether or not the religious belief results in those institutions being community serving institutions, to use John J. Delio’s (sp) term, as opposed to being commuter mega-church, upper middle class, let’s get out of the city, and don’t look back kinds of black churches, which is a growing phenomenon throughout the South.
So I’d be very interested in on the evangelical side disaggregating the data and teasing out what the policy and political implications would be, one. Two, within the context of the black community, in terms of religious belief and faith, how do we tease out the variations of beliefs as it is articulated along socioeconomic lines, because there are significant, there’s a significant degree of political and policy stratification. On the higher end among more liberal blacks, public education. The further you go down the socioeconomic class ladder on issues of religious belief and private schools and vouchers, a different set of implications. So it’s — I’m very, very thankful for this report. I’m really interesting in seeing us tease out more of the implications in terms of the demography, the ethnic and racial demography of religious belief and behavior, and then sort of come to terms with the fact that religion among the poor may end up assuming positions which are at variance with progressive elite religious types.
So I’ll sort of stop there, and then we can get into it some more.
Thank you very much. I just want to make a theological point, the holy ghost moves in any room where Gene Rivers decides to sit himself. And I’m thinking of his adept use of that data. He is today the representative of the First Church of Christ social scientists, and I want to thank you for being here. That’s a compliment.
This survey very eloquently shows the two-mindedness the American public holds about the relationship between religion and public life. Our survey four months ago had a very simple finding, 70 percent said that it was important for presidential candidates to be strongly religious, yet 50 percent said they were very uncomfortable when presidential candidates expressed how religious they were. And if you look into this survey you can see this two-mindedness expressed in many ways.
I think this survey shines a light, a particular light, on the tolerant, progressive side of public opinion. For me the most important finding was a sentence in the back of the report, and Deborah’s afterward. She wrote that tolerance is ingrained into the daily standards of social conduct in the United States. Ten years ago I learned how true that was. I spent the better part of two years working in Eastern and Central Europe, and in the former Soviet republics, where the tolerance — there wasn’t the normative value of tolerance. And people would — our respondents in focus groups and surveys themselves would be very up front about how much they disliked the groups that they disliked, and many of these were religious based groups.
And when I came back in 1992 there was this terrible Rodney King riot. And I watched on television as African Americans assisted the truck driver, Denney, to get out of this truck. And I thought, my gosh, if this was Romanians and Hungarians, or Lithuanians and Poles the chances of this happening would be very much less. Now, I’m not trying to say that we are tolerant and progressive, but the norm here is that. And that makes for a very different society. And I think to a certain extent this survey drives home the extent to which this is our aspiration, this is the aspiration of the public. It’s an unfulfilled aspiration in many ways.
And there are some very interesting things in the latest election, and the latest trends in public opinion, which stand in stark juxtaposition to this normative value which is so important to us. Among the people who said they went to church more than once a week, 36 percent voted for Al Gore. Among those who went weekly, 40 percent. Among those who went monthly 51 percent. Among those who never went 61 percent. The pattern of religious behavior and voting preferences looked like a step ladder. We’ve spent a good deal of time since the election looking at the states in which George W. Bush did so well, and the previous Republican candidates had also done well. And then the comparable Democratic states where Gore did, at least one, nearly as well as Clinton had done.
And when we looked in our big database of public opinion and values at the differences between these states we did not find differences on economic issues to a large extent. We did not find differences in views about government. We haven’t found differences in views about the environment. We have found differences in views about religion, about civil liberties, and about values. And it’s very hard to square what seems to be this very sharp value difference that we are finding politically with this normative value of tolerance, which is so much ingrained into American public opinion, and so eloquently reported in this survey.
Certainly the 2000 campaign was not about religious issues, it wasn’t about moral values, these were two centrist candidates who tiptoed around these issues. So moderation was the watch word. Yet, we have this pattern that is something to behold. Why are our political fault lines increasingly moral when we have the kinds of two-mindedness, at minimum, and this normative value of acceptance, which is reported throughout this public agenda research. I don’t know the answer to this, but I find it to be an interesting challenge for us, and something that came home for me when I read your report.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much, Andy. The Pew Forum and the Pew Research Center did a small study before the election which I believe is on our web site. And we’ve had some fascinating findings, many of which are similar to these. And one of the most interesting, which goes to what Deborah said about charitable choice, is this is clearly an issue on which Americans are still making up their minds. And we found that we split the sample, and depending on how you pose the question you could move public opinion 10 or 15 points with small changes in the wording. In our case, we asked should government give help to religious organizations, that got a much lower percentage than if you asked, should religious organizations be able to apply for government funds along with other organizations. Then you got much more support for charitable choice. My hunch is, that is going to be — that’s going to be a very contested issue, because the very terms of the debate, I think, are going to be contested.
Matthew Spalding, please.
Thank you, E.J., and a special commendation to the Pew Charitable Trusts for doing some wonderful work, and encouraging the dialogue on religion.
This report starts by pointing out that there are some important moral problems in this country, which Americans believe religion can do something to correct. They want more religion — they want religion to be more influential. And, indeed, it doesn’t matter which one. They reject pretty strongly the idea that we could abandon our faith. Not much new here, this is something I think we can read in every important social movement in American history. One thing the report also points out is the importance that Americans believe the influence of religion is on how individuals behave in their own lives. That is, they believe religions transform individuals, one soul at a time, we might add.
But this is where we get squirrelly. It’s often assumed that because religion is something that affects individuals, religion is a private matter, a personal value with few public implications. This, of course, is the progressive thesis, namely that it’s a matter of personal value judgments that ought to be kept free from public life. This, of course, is the great assumption that’s been debated throughout the 20th Century. And it’s the heart of our debates no religion, morality, politics, and philosophy.
The study we’re looking at today wants to argue for a middle ground consensus. Americans want more religion, we think too much has been removed from the public square, but we don’t want to go overboard. We want more personal faith, as long as it’s not judgmental or intolerant. I’m not sure this argument holds up, which is to say that I have some questions about its conclusions. There are some wonderful things in it, and I commend it very much. But, I have a couple of reservations I’d like to point out.
The first has to do with the discussion on religion and social interactions. I believe this is chapter three in the copy I have. Here there are a couple of examples that are brought forward. The first has to do with the fact that Americans don’t like to talk about religion all the time. They feel uncomfortable talking about it during social occasions, and in the office place. They want to be very careful about talking about religion. This strikes me as extremely reasonable. It doesn’t mean they have no moral concerns, nor that they don’t want them to be brought up in the proper places. Indeed, the study points out that only 18 percent of the American people say religion should be private altogether.
Second example, how parents deal with their kid’s playmates, and whether they screen according to religion. They don’t. Again, nothing surprising here, perfectly reasonable. The vast majority of parents want these relationships to develop naturally. But again, it doesn’t mean that parents do not make, and ought not to make moral judgments about the children — the kids their children play with, when it comes to stealing, premarital sex, or just hanging out with the wrong crowd. They make these judgments and ought to make these judgments all the time.
A second area I’d like to raise. How do you deal with the discussion about government. Here I’m concerned that we might be raising a certain straw man argument, because there’s a suggestion, and I think the creation of a false dichotomy, between religious views on the one hand, the language being religious views, religious affiliations, opinions based on religious opinions, a seemingly sectarian discussion of religion versus, and presented as the alternative to that, compromise, religious views versus compromise. But I suggest these are not the only alternatives. And I’m not sure how much guidance this provides. For one, it leaves out that vast ground of moral reasoning that’s not directly based on religion, or religious affiliation necessarily, or sectarianism, but it’s still capable of making very practical and moral distinctions. In politics we call this prudence, often confused with compromise.
Here I might point to the one historical example. Abraham Lincoln, he was intolerant of slavery, he believed it was absolutely wrong, and he was judgmental. But, he also was a great supporter of the Missouri Compromise, he supported the fugitive slave laws, and was opposed to immediate emancipation. It’s possibly principled, and a compromise. I don’t think the conclusions drawn out of that discussion hold up. We can make an important distinction between Americans being very tolerant, which they are, and being approving of behavior.
Lastly I’d like to raise some concerns I have about some of the language of the report. And here I raise this because we ought to be very careful in the words we use, especially through which to encourage a dialogue about religion. It is one thing to say the American people believe it is important, and that they are disturbed by civil libertarians who appear to be eradicating religion in American life, is one of the conclusions in the afterward. But I’m somewhat concerned about the language of the other half of that conclusion, namely that the American people do not give “much comfort to those who would inject an intrusive, judgmental, sanctimonious faith into the public sphere, and invoke the public’s name for their purposes”. It strikes me that goes a little bit over the top for an objective study about public opinion. I have some questions about the conclusions this study reaches based on these statistics, but it doesn’t help much if it’s discussed in this language.
Lastly, and a concluding point. I might suggest there’s another way to cut this whole picture. Instead of isolating various groups, such as evangelical Christians, and here I take Eugene River’s comments to heart, instead of separating that group out, what if we divide the electorate according to religious participation, regardless of denomination. That is, let’s look at religiously active Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims. If you look at it that way you get a very different picture. Steve Wagner for one is doing some very good work on this matter, looking at Roman Catholics. We might even perhaps have a consensus, that is, of Americans who are trying as best they can to live, both privately and publicly, and raise their children according to the traditional tenets of religious faith, and without being intolerant, extremist or sanctimonious, make reasonable, moral distinctions in the public square. I think this is where the consensus might actually lie. And I don’t think it’s to be found in a theory of privatized religion and public moral relativism.
If anything, there seems to be a growing divide in America, witness the discussion of religion in campaign 2000, and looking at the election exit polls, there seems to be a growing divide between these two world views. If we wish to have a dialogue between these two world views, I suggest that we first should have a better understanding of the nature and degree of the division. Otherwise we’ll continue just talking past each other.
Thank you, very, very much, Matt.
I want to give the first comment in the audience to anyone who wants to defend sanctimonious religion and its role in public life. And I think Matt put his finger on something we will probably be talking about a lot in the coming years, I think there is not only a difference between those camps, there is also a disagreement about whether those camps exist. And as I see it there is a kind of debate between Alan Wolfe, on the one hand, and James Hunter, on the other hand, whether the most important fact is that there is a culture war, or whether there is, in fact, some broader middle of opinion. And I think Wolfe and Hunter have each in their way made very articulate cases for the alternative view. Andy, I know, had some views on that. Maybe when we get to the discussion we can get back to that issue, because I think it’s very important.
Mike Sandel, welcome.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
One of the points that comes through very strongly in the public agenda study is the ambivalence that Americans have about the separation that it seems many believe is important for religious liberty. One way of analyzing that ambivalence might be to distinguish two different kinds of separationism. There’s the kind that’s enshrined in the Constitution, which is the separation of church and state. And then there’s another very different sense of separationism that has to do instead with the separation of religion and politics.
I think that one way of reading the study and its portrait of the American public is that there is a very strong commitment to the constitutional separation of church and state, but that doesn’t require a separation of religion and politics. Now, this second kind of separationism has an interesting history. In fact, there’s been a powerful change that’s unfolded before our eyes in the last 40 years of American politics, with respect to the second kind of separationism. You remember in 1960, some of you may remember, I remember having read about it in history books.
In 1960 when John Kennedy was running for President, he went before — in Houston before a group of Protestant ministers to try to lay the religious issue to rest once and for all. He made the point very eloquently that he was not the Catholic candidate for president, he was the Democratic Party candidate for president. And he wanted to be judged in those terms. But, it’s interesting looking back on the argument that he made, that Kennedy made, which politically was a tremendous success, it was a tour de force that many believed laid the religious issue to rest in 1960. The argument he made was that his religious faith and convictions were a purely private matter, and that they would have no bearing on the conduct of his office. He said, I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, whose fulfillment of his presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath or obligation. So religion was private.
Then he went on later in the speech to say a position that is difficult to fit entirely with the first, I will make my decision on issues in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest. Now, at the time no one quibbled with that, with the flaw in that picture of how one’s conscience could inform one’s view about what the national interest required and yet be a wholly private matter, where religion didn’t bear on in politics.
Now, think about the difference, 40 years later, Joseph Lieberman, a Jew on the national ticket, and being very explicit about his faith. And not shrinking from the idea that his faith informed his moral and political convictions and judgements, to the contrary, making it a point of pride, and making it an explicit feature of his political discourse in the campaign. So in some ways Joseph Lieberman’s nomination was a continuation, and it was presented this way in the bold tradition of the Democratic Party in 1960 nominating a Catholic as a presidential candidate, but what a reversal in the idea of the relation between religion and politics, a rejection of the separation that John F. Kennedy insisted on.
Today, we know from the study at the Public Agenda, 40 percent of the American public say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who said that he or she would keep religious faith separate from actions while in government; one-fourth would be less likely to vote for such a candidate; and one-third say it would make no difference. So, the passage from John F. Kennedy’s view of the relation between religion and politics and Joseph Lieberman’s may reflect a change in the country as a whole.
A lot of the discussion in the panel so far has had to do with the idea of toleration, because one of the great objections, even once you distinguish between the two different kinds of separations, church and state, religion and politics, there is still, even in those who would link religion and politics, who would inform public discourse with religious conviction and moral argument, still there is a worry, and the worry is reflected in the responses of many in the study. And that worry has to do with the topic we’ve discussed here, which is toleration, what becomes of toleration if political discourse becomes informed by moral and religious argument? After all, people disagree about morality and religion. We live in a pluralist society. So if we start arguing about politics by drawing on moral and religious convictions, isn’t this going to lead to coercion, isn’t it going to lead to intolerance?
Well, I think that’s a serious question. But the answer to that question, and here I speak as one among those who would defend the connection between moral and religious discourse on the one hand, and political discourse on the other, one way of addressing that worry is to try to understand more clearly what toleration consists of. Now, we sometimes think that tolerant is the opposite of judgmental, this is a point that Matt raised. And this is an idea of toleration that says that the way to contend with different moral and religious views in a democratic society is to try do be neutral with respect to them, better yet, to ignore them, set them aside for political purposes, at least. But this kind of toleration is, it seems to me, an impoverished conception. In fact, it doesn’t even really capture what toleration requires, because to tolerate something isn’t to like it. It’s not to approve of it. Toleration is a complicated thing, you can’t really tolerate something unless you have some question about it, some doubts about it. You don’t tolerate what you valorize or what you admire or what you appear to. You tolerate something that poses a question or a challenge or a threat. So that suggests that toleration, properly understood, is unavoidably judgmental. You have a view about the thing, but you also have a certain stance with respect to your disagreement, or your question, or your uncertainty. And holding that set of ideas, that complicated, often unstable set of ideas, questioning, challenging, disagreeing on the one hand, and yet living with that difference, that’s what’s toleration requires.
And so I think along with the shift that we’ve already seen in our political discourse away from the strict separationism that would say religion is purely a private matter, we have to find our way to an understanding and a practice of toleration that is true to the ambivalence that’s built into the practice of toleration, true to the judgmental moment, and also to the self-distancing moment in toleration. And that also, it seems to me, political discourse informed by that kind of toleration by a judgmental toleration, and by religious arguments, is a dangerous politics. And there is no way of getting around that. But a politics that’s not informed by moral and religious discourse, that doesn’t engage substantive judgment about the different convictions that citizens in a democracy express, that kind of politics is impoverished.
So better that we learn to deal with the dangers than that we lapse into a kind of impoverished, non-judgmental vision of toleration that can’t be sustained and doesn’t make for a very rich or demanding conception of what a pluralist society is all about.
Thank you so much, Michael. That was a powerful discussion. I was thinking our choice is a dangerous politics or an impoverished politics. That’s a very intriguing way to start the discussion, thank you.
I also, by the way, think the word “toleration” is better than “tolerance” but that’s for another — I’m glad you used that word.
I want to make three quick points on the data, and then before, if it’s okay with Deborah and Steve, before you have a chance to respond, I would like to open it up to the audience, you can respond during the course of that, and at the end of it you will have an opportunity to clean up any issues left on the table. This is apropos of what Michael just said. I was just struck by a sentence on page 13 that said, “Of those who want religion to become more influential in America, the majority, 76 percent, say it does not matter to them which religion it is.”
Now, that’s an extraordinary finding, and it’s actually in keeping with the famous view of Dwight Eisenhower who once said, America makes no sense unless it’s founded upon a deep religious conviction, and I don’t care what it is. But I want, at some point, to open the discussion about whether this is about religion as socially useful or religion as true? Because what comes through in this study is not that people believe religious assertions are true, but only that they believe it’s socially useful, and yet obviously most people who are genuinely religious believe it is true, and that’s why they believe it.
The second point is, there is a powerful sense in this study that people’s attitude towards religious faith is much more about individual improvement than it is about social improvement. That would seem, in some ways, to fit in with some of the theories of compassionate conservatism, yet it flies in the face of what a lot of people, both left and right, would assert about religious people’s role, as Jim Wallace likes to say, as prophetic interrogators. And I’d love to explore that distinction between the individual and the social.
I will just leave those two points on the table as a point of discussion. I would like to go to the audience.
Will Lester with the Associated Press.
I was interested especially in the comments of how the findings in the study relate to the incoming administration and some of the efforts they have about faith-based groups, and anybody who is willing to tackle how these findings, what kind of implications they have for the new administration in carrying this out.
I could handle that very quickly. I think Andy or E.J. said something that rang true with what we found, which is that people have just only started thinking about the issue and, in fact, in the focus groups, we really had to do a little bit of work to explain to people what we meant, and why it was an issue until they got their hands around it. I think it was you, E.J., that said depending on how you word the question, people fall out in different ways. And I think that’s because people are truly not engaged, and have not really thought through the issue in all its final details.
Gene Rivers, who was in Austin at that famous meeting.
I wonder. It’s not clear exactly how this is going to play out for the new administration, I think, for three reasons. Number one, picking up on Michael’s point, within the context of the discussion of faith, within the faith community, it’s not clear. On the one hand, as E.J. has indicated, there are some folk who make a utilitarian argument for religion so the argument revolves around the social function of religion, and you can just plug in anything, as opposed to those who will assume a different position, which is faith as truth, and understand that, within the context of a pluralistic society, we’ll attempt to engage in a generous conversation from a very clearly defined philosophic and theological perspective.
So it wouldn’t be smart to venture any real speculation on how this would play out because even among the folk who are engaged and have been driving this discussion over the last five years a lot of the philosophic and theoretical questions have not been really sorted out.
I mean, I think, again, coming back to Michael’s point about tolerance and toleration, there is this idea that people use the word tolerance and toleration to mean you condone the activity. In other words, if I disagree with a particular thing, I’m intolerant. Well, no, I’m not intolerant, I just disagree. And depending on how politically charged the issue is that we’re debating, you know, you’re intolerant if you disagree or you’re a phobe of one sort or the other, if you happen to take a different position. So intellectually, and I think politically, there’s no reason to believe that we could actually flesh that out.
I mean even on the administration side, the Bush administration is, as we speak, trying to figure out how they get this stuff rolled out, and given the event —[tape change]
— slow that process down to ensure that they don’t have to reverse themselves.
Could I put a question to Gene on this subject, the distinction between faith as truth and faith as socially useful, isn’t there the danger that — well, there’s one objection to government enlisting religious organizations in performing socially useful activities, and that’s the familiar worry people have about the separation of church and state. Put that aside for the moment, isn’t there another danger that when faith is enlisted to be socially useful in those ways, the role of faith as truth teller, or as offering a critical independent perspective on tolerance could be compromised, and shouldn’t we worry about that?
Yes, that is a concern of mine. I mean, in fact, that’s where there needs to be a major philosophic debate. You see, one of the things that happens in this discussion is that people are sort of dancing around the edges of what’s going to be a fundamental philosophic debate about the nature of reality, and folk don’t want to say that because we Americans aren’t a terribly philosophic crowd, right, so we want things to be socially useful because we’re pragmatists, and it’s got to be money, and it’s the bottom line. And so, yes, I am very concerned because sooner or later there’s going to have to be a philosophic debate around these issues.
Let me give you one quick example on this. You see, one of the most difficult issues to talk about is sex gays versus conservatives. Now, the traditional formulation is very simple, the conservatives are, you know, a pre-neolithic cave folk who drag their knuckles on the ground because they will not ratify any philosophical position articulated by someone who is gay. So cavemen — you’re usually men — you are ignorant and you are homophobe by definition for disagreeing or raising a question.
Now, sooner or later, this is going to have to get into a more serious discussion. It comes down to issues of philosophical anthropology, one’s view of the orders of creation. Now, we’ve dodged that because it’s politically charged. Yes, I do agree. We’re going to have to have at some point, in a less politicized context, a space where people can agree on loaded issues to just agree in a civil and candid way to disagree on some very fundamental issues, and we are going to develop within this pluralistic society some ways of two individuals having radically different views around very live-wire, third rail issues, and move forward. And we’re going to come to that, because there are a number of issues, the obvious ones, abortion and the gay stuff come down to that sex thing, right, where people get really riveted, and it’s almost impossible to have a rational conversation.
In fact, my greatest concern, Michael, is that we can’t have a rational conversation. Forget prophetically speaking the power, that’s a luxury. I mean, I’d settle for just a rational, level-headed conversation where two individuals could talk about an issue that’s very charged, and if I disagree with you, you don’t write me off as some political incorrect Neanderthal who only believes in stuff because I’m six inches from the cave, as opposed to simply having a very different view that I state very nicely, and we just philosophically disagree.
Which tone was the real Gene there?
The nice one.
One thing I would add to that, I agree with everything you said, but we can’t — the question about the truth, religion and its usefulness, the fact of the matter is, those things are fundamentally linked. It’s useful because it’s grounded in moral truth. It seems to be transformative of people’s lives because of that very nature of religion and what it means. So, I mean, if we want to take advantage of the usefulness of religion, we have to figure out how to deal with the fact that it’s grounded, deeply grounded in faith. And that, I would argue, is precisely the grounds upon which the American founding and the 19th Century conception of religion and politics understood it.
Can I push that, though, Matthew? Will religion still be useful when it decides that the market culture and civilization is in excess, when religion says that the idolotrist elevation of market values with the market determining the bottom line for ordering culture, you see, my sense is, and this comes back to Michael’s point, that the point at which the virtucrats decide that the libertarian fetishizing of market values is at variance with the fundamental norms of culture —
When it goes too far then you’ve got a problem.
I’m invoking a paleoconservative argument, right. The paleoconservatives argue that capitalism did not support tradition, in fact it was inimical of tradition. In fact, Buckley was corrected by I think it was Wendell Gilmore (sp) on this point. So, would you argue that the point at which religion becomes prophetic and challenges the cardinal sacred assumptions of a market civilization that was still useful?
Can I stop this for just a moment? I think it’s great, but there are a bunch of other people who want to get in.
Doctrinal separation of church and state, and religion and politics —
But I note that Gene went from the cave to paleoconservatism.
May I make one small fact out of the report in answer to that question, I think the chart on page 31 is very interesting apropos the Bush program because it depends entirely on how you add up those numbers. That what you see there, 44 percent say it’s a good idea if these programs promote religious messages; this is church-based programs, 23 percent a good idea but only if these programs stay away from religious messages; 31 percent say never do it. Now, if you add the 23 and the 44, you’ve got a big number in support of these things, but people who really support charitable choice think that if they don’t include any religious messages, what’s the point of them. And so I think that chart is actually an interesting sort of description of how the debate may play out.
Robert Royal I think was next. I’m going to try to get everybody, maybe if it’s possible, we could collect some comments from the audience, so that when we do have these spirited debates, I can let them go on, but I would like a bunch of people from the audience to get in.
I’m Robert Royal from the Faith and Reason Institute, and we have been conducting a Pew study ourselves on Catholicism in the American public square. At the risk of overdoing this already rich conversation about toleration, I have to say that I’ve really become — I approach this term toleration with some skepticism because there’s an apparent contradiction. On the one hand, everybody or large percentages of people say that toleration is important, a value for America. And on the other hand they all always feel that they’re not being tolerated. In our Catholic survey one of the things we found that was very surprising to me, by the way, is that Catholics by a fairly large percentage think that evangelicals are the most anti-Catholic group in the United States, even more so than Hollywood and the media, et cetera. And I think if you go to the evangelicals what they will say is, as your esteemed institution, the Washington Post, once said, E.J., that there’s an inherent bias that evangelicals are poor, uneducated, easily led I think was the perhaps that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post at one point.
Nobody ever forgets that.
And if you turn to other groups, I think they would say that Catholics and evangelicals are a threat to toleration because they’re not tolerant.
So my question is, and I think we need to think about this, that there are two faces to this. On the one hand, and I don’t think people are being two-faced when they say this, on the one hand people are sort of saying, well, I’m tolerant, but you’re not tolerant of me. And even before we get to this philosophical conversation, there’s a lot of bad blood that needs to be overcome because people have kind of gotten this notion that we have separated religion and politics, to take Michael Sandel’s formulation of this, to such a degree that even to make a statement about these things in public is to be intolerant or to risk being accused of being intolerant. And that’s a very difficult question.
Could I just inject one cautionary note here about how ordinary Americans talk about these things, because they also, many of them, are deeply religious. Most of them are deeply religious and carry faith and notions of truth, right and wrong, with them in actual terms, and yet they are very capable of dealing with each other and dealing with people who have — deal with evangelical Christians. We talked about homosexuality, and we said, well, look, it’s wrong, it’s absolutely wrong, there’s no two ways about it. I’m not here to judge. I was not put here on this Earth, the evangelicals were saying to me, to judge homosexuals. That’s God’s role to do that, I’m not going to say that it’s right to do the deed, the actions are wrong, and if I’m confronted with them, anything that violates my fundamental notions of right and wrong, I’ll stand up in a way that makes it clear. But I’m not here to make the other person feel that they’re not valued, or that they are not legitimate human beings, or that they have a legitimate point of view.
It’s a tension, and I tried to push them with it. The way they come out is, to be modest and gentle in your dealing with other human beings even as you try to live up to your notions of right and wrong. So I think, Matthew, your points about moral relativism, I don’t think people are morally relativistic, nor did the report say that. They have very strong notions about right and wrong. They’re just not going to put in your face daily, and they’re only going to bring it up if the opportunity or they’re forced to at that point.
I think that’s absolutely right, they’re not moral relativists. But to imply that they have tolerance of all values takes — that’s a different terminology that takes it in a different direction, which we’d be careful with that language. That’s my point.
Andy wanted to come in, and then I want to try to be intolerant to let a lot of voices in.
Well, I think Americans are theoretically tolerant. And the point I was trying to make in the presentation is that that’s very important, but operationally intolerant in many ways. For example, the question that was asked in this poll, should voters consider the religion of a political candidate, most people said no, it’s not a very good idea. If we had tested the attractiveness of Muslim candidates, Muslim American candidates, or if we had tested the attractiveness of atheists as political candidates, we would have gotten very different answers than was obtained in that particular question.
Now, is that intolerant? Is that for you, intolerance?
Well, what it suggests is less tolerance than people would express in a general question.
Can I push that a bit? I mean, it could be intolerance. It could be simply a fundamental difference of opinion. How do we, methodologically, distinguish between those two possibilities?
Well, I think the question becomes a semantic one and the definition of tolerance. I can assure you that I could write a question that said, “Do you think that the voters should consider the religious values or lack of religious values of all political candidates?,” and people would say what they said in this poll, no, and then, in a comparable design, find that lack of religion, or Muslimism, or some other threatening issue would run at variance with these very same respondents.
Now, there’s a race between the audience and the panel here. What I would like to do, Ming and Andrea, if we could have two mikes with different folks. Jody in the back, Jody Bottom, and then if we could bring a mike to this gentleman over here. If we could have a few comments, because I think the panel will naturally erupt and that’s good.
My name is Jody Bottom from the Weekly Standard.
I have a question about the meaningfulness of the word “religion” here and a suggestion that perhaps I know this sounds sort of cosmic, but the whole idea of religious studies, of religion as a meaningful genus has been under attack for some time in theological circles. And I wonder if there isn’t a sense in which the results that you got were self-selected by the very use of the word religion as a general concept to talk about a variety of objects and unite them, is, in fact, there a meaningful category of religion? It seems to me that you got the results that you got and they represent a confusion on the part of the American people in part because they want the fruits of religion without necessarily having religion. They want the unified public language of discourse, a frame that would support shared values to the extent both of a kind of establishment of normality, and a structure that precisely because it provides that, also, at the same time, provides the possibility of a prophetic voice speaking meaningfully, which you cannot have unless you have sufficient shared values that the prophetic voice can enter into it.
Now, in order to achieve that, in point of fact, you don’t get it by having religion. You get it by having a religion. No one gets the fruits of moral reform by wanting the fruits of moral reform. At least, this is religious believer’s belief, right? Evangelicals would believe that you get the fruits of moral reform because you affirm Jesus Christ as your savior. You don’t get it because you think, geez, I’d like to have the fruits of moral reform.
In the same way, it seems to me that the Catholics would speak that way, and Orthodox Jews would speak that way, that there are only particular religions, and not religion as a genus, and the affirmation of religion as a genus, in fact, is meaningless.
I love the fact that we have a tonus caucus in the back row between Jody and Bob Royal.
Joe Loconte with the Heritage Foundation.
Mr. Sandel made some very interesting comments about Joe Lieberman I felt were very insightful. When Lieberman during the campaign tried to link religion and morality, remember, he was pilloried by the Anti-Defamation League for quoting George Washington in his farewell address, the importance of religion and morality to the republic. The New York Times editorial page said “that he crossed the boundaries of tolerance” by quoting Washington, by making a connection between religion and morality.
My question for the panel is: did you have a sense that the respondents that saw religion as essential to the American republic, as the founders clearly did — even Franklin and Jefferson saw religion as absolutely essential to the health of the republic for sustaining virtue — did the respondents have a similar sense about the importance of religion to democracy?
Could I have one more, and then everyone should erupt.
I’m Richard Fulton from the American Jewish Committee.
This is such a rich discussion and rich document that it’s hard to know exactly what to pick out of all of this to respond to. I would like to make a couple of points. One is, on the issue, I was especially appreciative of Professor Sandel’s remarks about the difference between separation of church and state, which is a constitutional issue, and the issue of separation of politic and religion, which is not constitutional. And I do think it’s fair to say that we’ve always seen moral precepts sometimes identified with religion, as when Martin Luther King spoke in the 1960s and before. But the issue is how you do it while remaining inclusive and not making others within the society feel like outsiders if they don’t happen to hold the same religious precepts you hold. And this is an issue of tone and of prudence, not one of constitutionality and, because of that, as you rightly said, more dangerous, but also one that if we were to take those ideas out of our politics, we would be impoverished because of that.
Having said that, I want to do something very unusual at this point, and that’s actually turn to the questions in the document here, because I have a concern that I think is the flip side of what Matthew Spalding said before. He was concerned by some of these questions in the sense that he thought the way in which they dealt with, I suppose, the Supreme Court excluding religion, that sounded fine, but was concerned with the tone that suggested that people that were religious were somehow sanctimonious.
I have, perhaps not surprisingly, the exact flip side of that concern. That is to say that as I look at this document, in particular the questions on page 41 having to do with views on religion in the United States, I see a set of questions that is framed in a way that is misleading or at least leading in terms of the kind of responses you’re going to get. For instance, when the questionnaire asks, the country especially our children lose something important when religion is taken out of the public schools, and it related to questions about what the court is doing, this sort of leads to — it encourages the conclusion that what we’ve got, in fact, is a court and a movement among those who are concerned about separation of church and state to remove religion from the public discourse and to take religion away from individuals engaged in the free exercise of religion when, rather, what we’re concerned about, and what I think some of the respondents don’t understand when they’re asked about separation of church and state, is not having the government impose a religious perspective on individuals including students and public schools as opposed to leaving it to those individuals and their families to educate them religiously.
And because of that, I think that, first of all, the misunderstanding in the American public about what the separation of church and state is about, but also in part because of the way this very interesting study is framed, it tends to encourage that kind of response by saying they don’t want to have particular prayers said in public school and, in fact, don’t particularly want prayer there at all, they want a moment of silence. And that’s because there is a recognition in the understanding people have of what’s appropriate that it’s not appropriate for government advocating a particular religious faith or faith at all, that that’s a role that individuals have. And in a proper context, they can engage in their religious practice, perhaps in a religious club, or in another way in school, but in a way that does not have the institution’s identified with what they’re doing.
Which finally brings me to the point that one reason that that’s an imperfect response to what the previous speaker alluded to, which is the fact that at the end of the day why people want the benefit of religion, there’s no such thing as generic religion, and so as soon as you have any specific kind of religion discourse at all, it’s going to be something that inevitably is identified with a particular religious perspective and, therefore, excludes people that don’t share that particular perspective.
Those are some very rich comments. I would like to go down the group in any order. I just want to say one thing, by the way. I forgot to mention, the co-chair of this Forum is Jean Bethke Elshtain, a distinguished political philosopher, and she was unable to attend today, but she would have been great. She would have loved this discussion.
Let’s start with Matt.
As we start out, I have a comment about Jody’s comment about religion as such. I think it’s a very important point he’s made. I guess I have a two-fold response. The first is, I agree with him that talking about religion in generic terms is problematic. One reason it’s problematic, I think, is a lot of American people are skittish because they associate it, they think it means something, and they want to back away from it. That is, they do want the fruits of it, when you get into the specifics, but they have been taught as it were that discussions about religion are kind of verboten, and so they want to back way from that. And that, I think, does cause a certain problem.
The fact of the matter is, religion does not exist except in particular religions, and that’s the way it is going to affect American life, which leads me to Joe Loconte’s point about the general support of religion. I think one of the things that was the great strength of the American discussion of church-state issues was precisely to recognize that a doctrinal separation is one thing, but we want to actually encourage a certain mixing of religion and politics at a level below the doctrine, namely at the level of grassroots politics, such that it will have the effect on the American populous, that not only we looking to the usefulness of religion want it to have, but they from the religious point of view want it to have, as well.
How we kind of revive a discussion which allows for Jody’s point, but also Joe’s question about the importance of religion in the Republic, I think that is the crucial question. My point about the study and the things I’m raising is not necessarily a disagreement, but the particulars in it, there are some very good things in it, but I’m not sure that those things by themselves lead us to the types of conclusions that are suggested, which is that the American people really have this sense of toleration, which prevents them from making the important type of distinction, I think, necessary for a healthy discussion of religion in American life.
For me there are, I think, maybe two additional factors that have to be looped into this discussion to sort of clarify how it moves forward. Number one, the point about religion qua-religion is absolutely correct, at a certain point there is going to be a discussion that revolves around the role of the great Biblical traditions, and their unique and singular role in the United States, and the evolution, the Jewish and Christian tradition, and the general norms, and general kind of cultural assumptions that have informed the evolution of this country, because the fact is that there is a Jewish and Christian tradition which has played a unique role in the evolution of this republic, for good or bad.
Now, it’s a mixed bag. Obviously being a descendant of a slave where this tradition was enlisted to support slavery, and then to some degree to eradicate it, I know it’s a complicated bag. And I think that’s part of what happens in our conversation that it really is a much more complicated issue than most Americans recognize and we want a very simplified conversation. So the additional piece of this that hasn’t been factored in is that we have the religious — the religion of Joe and Martha Sixpack as they negotiate. They have their ethical certitude and absolutes which they negotiate in a pluralistic context, in a reasonably cool way.
I mean, you go into a working class neighborhood with a bunch of National Baptist Convention Christians, who have very, very conservative views on gays. Now, they think that is subnormative, it is not consistent with their biblical understanding. Now, when the drag queen, or the gay guy, whoever it is, comes in who is different, they’re actually, while they’ve got a view, they’re actually quite tolerant. You know, that guy does his thing, and as long as he doesn’t push it in my face and my family he can do his thing. And they coexist actually quite nicely.
A more interesting dimension of this, and we’ll probably need more than survey data, ethnic graphic data. See, part of what happens with the survey data approach, there are subtle issues and complexities and nuances in the religious phenomena that are lost in a survey model. So, for example, when you talk about, let’s say, public opinion around gays, and religion and gays, well, I come from a black church tradition, which is theologically and doctrinally one of the most conservative, Church of God in Christ. Now, 60 percent of our choirs, 70 percent of our choirs are queens, gays. I mean, in fact, there would be no music in the black church, in fact, there would be no money in the black church if it weren’t for these gay choirs.
Now, what happens, there is a very pragmatic, don’t tell, don’t ask policy. And as long as you keep your mischief on the down low, as the kids say in the street, you can get along quite nicely. Now, survey data would not — my point is it’s a much more complicated reality that we have, and it’s not religion, you know, just an abstract universal. There are very specific religious traditions that have generated certain norms that are part of the experience and the fabric of the United States and we’ve now got to figure out how we negotiate with secular elites, who have a real bias against all things religious, to let them know that the barbarians are not coming, they’re not going to over take the country, and there’s plenty of room for the secular elites to exist quite nicely and tolerate the religion of Joe Sixpack and Martha.
Andy is going to have to go soon. We are over time. I’d like to continue a little bit if we can, if most of the panel can stay. But, Andy, did you want to make a closing comment? And Deborah wanted to comment.
I just want to make one comment. To your point, I think this matter of language and survey research, you’re very much right. And I think in analyzing the difference between the norm of tolerance and the actuality of it. This may be heresy for me, we have to look at not only attitudes, we have to look at behavior. And looking systematically at behavior is an awfully important thing to do. I think we could take many of the questions in this very fine survey, that shines a light on the tolerant side of public opinion and write them differently, and shine a light on the intolerant side, which is about the willingness to compromise, for example. I could write questions about the core beliefs of politicians that would get a very different answer, which isn’t to say that there’s something the matter with these questions, but that they only look at one aspect of this very dicey, two-minded topic in public opinion.
Thank you very much, Andy.
Actually, Andy’s point, before we close, I would like to deal with that compromise question, because I think that set of questions raises some interesting issues.
Michael Sandel. And if we could bring some mikes, we have left out the right side, or the left side of the room, depending on your point of view, if we could have Andrea and Ming pass some mikes around, so at least we could get another round of comments before — yes, if we could go to the other side. Keith always has a strong point of view, so I’ll try to get you in before we go. Maybe then to Julie, then we can go back.
Go ahead, Michael.
I wanted to go back to an issue that has arisen here in the discussion. E.J. introduced the distinction between faith as truth and faith as socially useful. And as the discussion has unfolded, I think it’s become clear that there are really two different ways in which religion performs a social or a civic role, and I think it’s important to distinguish them. One of them is the Eisenhower way, and a way that’s reflected by many of the respondents in the survey. The idea is that having some religion, or other, whatever it may be, will conduce to good citizenship, at least in the sense that with most religions there go certain restraints, certain norms. So there will be less crime, or less violence, or better behavior by children in school.
And so generic religion, as people think about it, has seemed to serve the civic mission of providing order, social and moral order in a society. And there generic religion does seem to, given that great many religions conduce to this sort of restraint, does seem to play that kind of civic role. But what generic religion can’t provide is a different civic role that in some respects is at odds with that first one. And that has to do with the prophetic role of religion in politics. And the prophetic role requires not just any old religion, but requires a particular religious tradition with its moral arguments, brought to bear on public questions. And that kind of prophetic, as against generic role for religion in politics, is not likely to uphold the existing order, but instead to disrupt it, to be troublesome or critical with respect to it.
An example, let’s go back to the Abolitionists, to contemporary — to the contemporary anti-abortion movement, to those who would invoke the biblical tradition to criticize the market economy, or to argue for debt relief for Third World countries, or to oppose the death penalty. This is a civic role for religion that can’t be generic, because it requires particular moral and religiously informed arguments. But, it’s important to recognize that it is in tension with the other civic purposes for which people look to religion, which is to preserve a kind of social order. So religion is dangerous not only in the sense that it runs the risk of coercion and intolerance, but also in the sense that when the stakes are high, the prophetic role is articulated and advanced effectively, it can be critical and destructive, and challenging to existing contentions and the existing social order.
Say amen. That’s very powerful.
Deborah, if you could make a brief comment, because you’re going to get to close.
I was going to just — this is my last comment. I just think that Michael has just captured what is the real tension of this study. And as we read it and struggled with it ourselves it was perfectly clear — someone asked earlier about to what extent the views from our perspective that we picked up of Americans are consonant with the views of our founding fathers, and I came across something very recently that Jefferson wrote about it is in our lives and not from our words that our religion must be read, and that we bring to public life the moral and the ethical values that we are taught in our religion. And I think having religion in that sense, and what this study says, will conduce to good politics, in the sense of a civic mission, but in fact the real tension is in the prophetic and spiritual side. And that is not captured here, it seems to me.
With everybody’s indulgence, I would like to do another round of questions. We can start here. Jim Wallace wanted to jump in. I want to get Keith in, please.
Okay. Kathy Grossman from USA Today. I’m going to ask a double-whammy question, since I may never see this mike again. But, the first part of the question is actually a yes or no sort of thing. If I go to the web site will I be able to find the statistical margin of error for the subgroups, both for the elite groups of journalists versus Christian leaders. You say in your methodology chapter that your margin of error for the subgroups his higher. And I need to know what that is so that I can assess whether some of these opinions are, in fact, statistically significant.
I’ll tell you what I know. The over samples for the Jews and the non-religious Americans are about 200, the margin of error there, the 50/50 split, it’s plus or minus 7, it was a 7 percentage point.
And on the clergy, Christian leadership thing?
On the leadership questionnaire, the leadership questionnaire cannot be termed a scientifically, randomly representative sample that captures the views of what America’s leadership, either religious or media, is. Right. We worked from a list, so we did not have the whole universe of America’s religious leaders. We didn’t have a list of all of America’s working journalists. And the list that we had we pulled a random sample from that. But, there’s no guarantee that that was the entire universe. Therefore, I did not report it, and I will not report. It’s not a —
Okay. Will I also find an economic breakout, did you do an analysis?
For that you would have to call me, I’ll give you that.
Okay. Now for my real question, which is while all the cabinet nominees could be assessed in terms of whether they are deeply religious people who will face the question of whether their actions politically are measured by their personal conscience, public or private faith, perhaps the role of Attorney General may be the most sensitive one. Here you have a person who is a deeply religious person, John Ashcroft, who has a clear point of view, and who is in a role if he becomes Attorney General, of enforcing things which are more blatantly and apparently value laden than some other roles of the Cabinet, which are also value laden. But, the Attorney General’s role is pretty obviously a value laden situation. So he may be a perfect opportunity for Americans to act out what it is this study has shown. Can some of you talk to how you think this will play out, based on what you’ve learned from this study, what you think this study tells us about how Americans will respond to John Ashcroft in the role of Attorney General.
I want a few more comments before everybody jumps in. Jim Wallace, and Keith had his hand up first, but the first shall be last in this case.
Yes, I want to just underscore what Michael said. And, Michael, your earlier comment about the Kennedy solution to all this, and how far we’ve come since, I think, is really instructive. I mean Lieberman now versus Kennedy then. I remember Mrs. Kennedy, at the time, made some comment like it’s not fair my husband is being criticized for being Catholic because he’s such a bad Catholic, she said. If it was Robert, it would be something else, she said. But this question is not now whether —
I just want to thank Deborah who has to go off on a personal matter, and Godspeed on her errand, and Jim go on.
Thank you, Deborah.
The question is, of course, now, not whether religion shall be involved in politics, but how. And that’s why the study is so rich, this conversation is so helpful. My question is, in light of what you said in your second comment here, how do we measure, or what do we take from this study about the openness of the American people to the prophetic vocation that Michael was speaking of. And I think the question about the Bush administration is really the same answer, which is, I think if religious role is socially useful, this is a good and positive thing. There shouldn’t be a tension between social usefulness and the prophetic vocation, except they both must be present to be faithful to the religious vocation. So, we can be socially useful and we can provide, in this case, social services for the poor as long as the prophetic vocation is also present.
So, what do you take from your survey to say how open the American people are, not just to this social useful role, but to Michael’s prophetic concern?
One more. I just want to say, I think there were two questions put together in an interesting way, because in some ways you’re talking about the prophetic vocation meets the coercive power of the state. And that you see that in a lot of different issues, and people from left and right can see that differently. But I think the Ashcroft nomination links into Jim’s question in interesting ways. And I will just pose a question and hope our distinguished philosophers deal with that.
I hate to come back to this question of the definition of religion, but I found often in conversations with people, they’ll swing in the same conversation between the two different definitions that were highlighted here. On the one hand, this overarching view, as Gene said, this sort of metaphysical view, that impacts everything, including what government is all about, what state-craft is all about, what is the role of government in relation to other institutions of society, so it’s sort of a big picture. But then if you ask them a question like survey should the religion of a candidate have an impact on the way you vote, they switch in their mind and say, oh, he’s a Methodist. It shouldn’t matter whether he’s a Methodist, then I’m going to vote for him rather than the Southern Baptist. So you get this equivocation in the way in which people us the term, and I can’t help but think that that’s going to affect the research depending on how they carve up the term.
Then there’s the question of tolerance and toleration. And I’m pretty much convinced that those terms are almost useless unless you come to a much more rigorous understanding. And the question of being prophetic is, in many cases, being intolerant of what the situation is. Even in something as ridiculous as separation of church and state, it’s not one side is tolerant and the other side is intolerant. The people who are opposed to prayer in public schools are intolerant of those who want to bring prayer into public schools. Now, I’m intolerant of that, but that’s not a vice. Well, it’s being intolerant. It’s being intolerant of those who want to bring prayer into public schools. But that’s neither vicious, nor a vice. It depends on the substance of the issue. It always depends on the substance of the issue of whether being intolerant is vicious or a virtue. Those who wanted to abolish slavery were intolerant of slave owners. That was a virtue. So I just don’t think until you being to divide what you ought to be politically tolerant of and intolerant of you get anywhere with abstractions like tolerance and intolerance.
Do you have a quick comment? Go ahead, because I think we’re going to have to close it down. So maybe if I can get a couple of brief comments, Julie, and then this gentleman, and one more. If you could keep them brief, I’m sorry, so that we can go down the panel one last time.
I’m Hillel Fradkin of the American Enterprise Institute.
I just wanted to make an observation which I think bears upon the discussion of these abstractions, that was occasioned by something that Deborah Wadsworth said concerning the reasons people give for being opposed to vocal prayer, but being for silent prayer. It seemed to me that one of the reasons people offer is not that it would cause the children some feelings of pain, but that it would be directly repugnant to parental authority. And that suggests a level of subtlety concerning their understanding of the role of religion and respect for other people’s religions, which is really quite impressive. It suggests, in fact, that perhaps in some respects, as Reverend Rivers was suggesting, that people already have a very complicated and subtle understanding of these things, which would be well worth developing.
Julie Segal, here in my capacity as friend of E.J. and Melissa, just to support them.
To follow up on Keith’s point actually about the definition of religion, my question is also about the terminology and the methodology because I was struck by the statistic that 60 percent of people with respect to school prayer, that 60 percent of the people surveyed said that they don’t think that school prayer violates the separation of church and state. However, 53 percent say that they would prefer a moment of silence when they were asked what kind of school prayer they would like. So, I guess my question is, in the question about does school prayer violate the separation of church and state, does the definition of school prayer in that context include a moment of silence? Because if you’re defining school prayer to encompass a moment of silence, then a properly structured moment of silence is, in fact, constitutional and does not violate the separation of church and state. So my question is on the methodology, the terminology, and what the definitions were of the words that you chose in the survey?
I think I will have to just go to the panel, because we have gone on for — we’re about a half hour over, and while there will be a lot of filibusters in the Senate this year, we shouldn’t emulate that necessarily. Could I start with Matthew, and we can work down again. I apologize to anybody who wasn’t included.
Just a couple of brief comments. I think there are some wonderful things to be taken out of this study. I think it will demand a lot of other studies and continuing studies to get this question figured out. It’s very complicated. The one question I would raise is, the distinctions in language and word usage is extremely important, it’s not just a matter of semantics. We’ve already had a lengthy suggestion about the word “toleration” and “tolerance” and all that. The other one I would add is, what does “compromise” mean, which I think is equally problematic from the point of view of religion. I agree with Keith’s point, religion implies judgmentalism, and the role of religion in politics implies a type of judgmentalism. The question is whether that judgmentalism can occur within a proper, constitutional context, which works well with the notion of Republican government.
Which takes us to the question of John Ashcroft. I would say the question there is not a concern over John Ashcroft’s particular religious sectarian positions, the question for John Ashcroft has to do with the constitutional questions of upholding the law, and the laws that currently stand, and the debate over what that law means in particular cases. I think it is possible to separate those things out, and that’s what we have to do. I think the danger is when we start mixing these things together, and we’re not capable of having a good conversation where we have terms which we can all agree and discuss rationally.
Here again to pick up on the Ashcroft question, the short answer to the question about how this would shake out, if you do some very careful polling data, the American public will deal with the math. There will be certain groups that will be strongly opposed for ideological reasons that have nothing to do with his faith, they don’t know anything bout the Assemblies of God, none of that, that won’t make any difference to them. Their party, the commissars will tell them he’s a bad guy, and they’ll go in and charge after him. So it sort of depends on where you line up in the political spectrum.
On the data, one of the things to sort of highlight also to sort of suggest how really complicated this is, is that when you look at all the Gallup data and you connect it with the stuff that’s been done in this report, blacks are theologically the most conservative, theologically, doctrinally, of the various subgroups within Protestantism. Yet, 92 percent of them voted for Al Gore. So, when folk try to line up theological positions with electoral behavior, it doesn’t wash if you disaggregate the data, because you get one subgroup that’s very, very conservative theologically, and is usually looped into white conservative Protestants in the South, but when you along racial lines disaggregate the data, you get conflicting findings in terms of electoral behavior.
So, one of the things that I would encourage in future reports, is that when we do evangelicals, or fundamentalists, not all fundamentalists are created equal, as it were, and so we need to tease out the data, because the behavioral dimensions of these religious views are a lot more complicated, and we have to resist the impulse to oversimplify what will be, in many cases, complex phenomena, and do some ethnographic studies that tease out some of the more subtle dimensions of the opinions and behavior.
Same thing with what the word “Jewish” means. One thing in the report, just a very brief footnote, is I believe it defines Jewish as someone who self-identifies as Jewish or is non-religious but has one parent who is a Jew. To mix those together is, I think, extremely problematic. There’s a distinction between an Orthodox Jew and a secular Jew.
There’s a lot of sympathy in the room for the general idea that religion can inform and should inform political discourse. But to go beyond that and to build upon that, I think the challenge now is for those who accept that as a premise to try, within their own religious communities, to do a better job than many religious communities have done so far in actually exploring and investigating the moral and theological traditions of the various religions in the United States to develop the moral arguments that bear on political issues, that can be addressed to a wider public, even while being probably rooted in particular traditions of moral argument.
Unless the religious communities are able to do that, and in recent years the Catholic Bishops’ letters have been examples of one way of doing this, but unless the religious communities, for their part, are able to do that, the whole debate about the relation between religion and politics and its importance won’t matter very much, and we’ll be left with what we often witness, which is merely hortatory and generic invocations of the idea of religion without any finely textured, closely reasoned moral argument drawing on religious traditions that might inform public life and civic debate.
You know, I interviewed about 100 people face to face about these issues, and started from very general terms and got more and more specific. What I generally found was, Americans are not philosophers. Sometimes they try to be amateur sociologists, so they’ll talk about the good value of religion. But first and foremost, they’re individuals. And I wanted to correct, not correct, but just bring out something that we haven’t brought up yet, which is that the connection to God and their personal faith is very real. They believe in God not because of a sociological reason, but they believe in God, they were brought up that way. And leaving the sociological benefits aside, and their own explanations of that, they certainly can affirm if it you ask them to do it. And you see that in surveys as well.
A lot of the questions that we’ve been talking about are actually a quite interesting and fascinating discussion here. I think people could follow along these kinds of conversations, not our terms here, and the sophistication of the terms, but the emotional logic of the arguments that were used here. They would be able to follow, and they did. And I actually saw them going through these steps.
So I think the gentleman’s point about the solidity of people’s thinking I think was borne out in what I found. And take the example of, if you’re a deeply religious elected official, whatever your name would be, and what do people expect of you? Well, first of all, people say you have the right to stand up, represent your point of view, because there is right and wrong. I know, from my point of view, you tell me what yours is, but I know what mine is, it’s not — religion does have to have a content. So put yours out. We have a faith, and maybe a naive faith, some of you may think, or suspect, but they have a faith that it will all work out in a pluralistic, politically competitive environment so that if the Evangelical Christians — if one wing of the Evangelical Christians speak out, and the other wing, and the American Jews will speak out, and somehow it will all come out in the wash in a way that does not threaten, or violate who we are as a country. That is their wish, and that is their expectation.
Whether it is naive for them to have this much faith is another question. I think the history has been pretty good in America, so there is a reason for them to have this faith and confidence. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant as a nation, constitutional issues of separation of church and state are less at the tip of their tongue, more at the tip of their tongue is how to behave toward one another in a way that is civil, and a way that will allow us to walk away with dignity in our own faith, and not make each other feel like we don’t belong in the same place. I think there’s a confidence there. I see them struggling to attain it.
Thank you so much.
I just want to close, a very quick story, my favorite story on toleration in America, that some of you have heard me tell, about a man who was like a second father to me. He was a second father to me, and he grew up in the only Jewish family in Sparta, Georgia. And he wanted to go out with a Methodist girl in high school. And in order to be allowed to go out with her, her parents insisted that he joined the Epworth League, the Methodist youth group. And my friend became the president of the local Epworth League. Later when they broke up, he wanted to go out with a Baptist girl. As he tells the story, they didn’t care that I was Jewish, what they couldn’t stand is that I had been president of the Epworth League. So toleration depends on what issues are on the table.
I want to say thanks very much first to Andrea McDaniel and Ming Hsu, who helped out in so many ways, and to Melissa, and Staci, and Amy. And we’re going to do a lot more on this, both on the specific and the general and please stay in touch with us.
Thanks to our panel. Thank you very much.