God and Foreign Policy: The Religious Divide Between the U.S. and Europe
Andrew Kohut, Director, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Craig Kennedy, President, German Marshall Fund
Justin Vaisse, Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Center on the U.S. and France, the Brookings Institution
E.J. Dionne Jr., Co-Chair, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, the Brookings Institution; Columnist, The Washington Post
E.J. DIONNE, JR.: Thank you all for coming this morning to “God and Foreign Policy: The Religious Divide Between the U.S. and Europe.” I’d like to welcome you on behalf of myself and Jean Bethke Elshtain, my co-chair at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
We are grateful to The Pew Charitable Trusts for the generous support they give the Forum, and we are honored today to have with us Luis Lugo and Lynn Robinson from the Trusts.
I’m going to do the staff thank yous, and then we’ll get underway. At the Pew Forum we’ve got a great staff headed up by our executive director, Melissa Rogers. Under her is Sandy Stencel, Heather Morton, Kirsten Hunter, Grace McMillan, Emily Raudenbush and Free Williams. At Brookings, we offer our thanks to President Strobe Talbott, who was actually the inspiration behind some of the work we’re going to be doing in this area. And we also thank Steve Smith, Ron Nessen , Kayla Drogosz, Christina Counselman, Andy Martin, Matt Podolsky and the Brookings communications staff, who have been tremendously helpful.
The presence today of so many interested people suggests that the subject of the religious divide between the U.S. and Europe is one that engages lots of people, in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. To put our discussion into context, I would like to cite some of the things that have been said and written about the differences between the U.S. and Europe on questions of religion.
Francois Heisbourg, the director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris think tank, said the following: “The biblical references in politics, the division of the world between good and evil, these are things that we simply don’t get.” He goes on: “In a number of areas, it seems to me that we are no longer part of the same civilization.” He’s speaking here of the United States and Europe. “You have a fairly religious society on one hand and generally secular societies on the other, operating with different references. What would unite us does not seem to be in the forefront.”
The Economist wrote recently: “America differs starkly from Europe, where religion is often what Grace Davie of Britain’s Exeter University describes as a ‘public utility.’ As she puts it, ‘In Europe there is a concept of “vicarious religion,” of a small number worshiping on behalf of everyone else. Americans find Europe’s secularism bizarre.’”
“My American friends’ eyes stand out on stalks when I say that I don’t have a single friend seriously interested in religion.” That’s from Karen Armstrong, a former nun and the author of several books on religion.
Javier Solana, the European Union’s high representative for foreign policy, said, the U.S. is looking increasingly different from Europe: “It is a kind of binary model,” he said. “It is all or nothing. For us Europeans, it is difficult to deal with because we are secular. We do not see the world in such black-and-white terms.”
Finally, Paul Vallely from The Independent of London, referring to Europeans, wrote: “Most satisfyingly, we can look with the scornful superiority of the Athenian in ancient Rome at the antics of our American cousins; so modern in their technology, advanced in their economy, yet so obscurantist in their adherence to the outmoded tenets of religious belief.”
There is a divide here. Now, I think it’s possible – and I’m sure Andy will get to this – to exaggerate this divide. We’re hoping that today is really the first step in what we hope will be a long-term project, exploring both how American religion is perceived in Europe, how we perceive the Europeans, where the views are accurate, where they also might be inaccurate and how they affect relations across the ocean.
It is possible, for example – and I think it frequently happens – to exaggerate the importance of religion in the United States. Andy Kohut, who will be speaking to you shortly, has noted in his polling that, while we are definitely in so many ways the most religious of the wealthy democracies, the fastest-growing group in the United States is a group Andy has defined as “seculars.” There is, at the same time, a pulling away and a certain convergence, depending in part on which part of the country you are looking at.
It’s also the case that President Bush’s use of religious language has been seen as much more different from the language used by earlier American presidents than is in fact the case. Who, for example, said the following, “Ephesians says that we should speak truth with our neighbors, for we are members of one another”? That was not George W. Bush; that was Bill Clinton. Or: “The belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God”? That was not George Bush; that was John F. Kennedy.
So I think we can exaggerate, but I think we cannot underestimate the importance of this divide, and that’s why we’re having this meeting today. We will have mics going around the room. This is a very distinguished crowd we have here; we want to bring you into the conversation as quickly as we can.
I’m going to introduce Andy. He will make his presentation from this fantastic polling that he has been working on. His last survey was of 44 countries – am I right about that? I told Andy that he is rapidly becoming the hegemonic pollster, and I think he is, for all the work he is doing all over the world. He is director of The Pew Research Center for The People and The Press. He was president of The Gallup Organization from 1979 until 1989 when he founded Princeton Survey Research Associates, a research firm specializing in media, politics and public policy studies. He served as the founding director of surveys for the Times Mirror Center, which later became the Pew Research Center. He has served as the president of the American Association of Public Opinion Research and the National Council on Public Polls. I could go on, but I think many of you know Andy from his public commentaries and media appearances.
We at the Pew Forum have been collaborating with Andy on a series of research studies. Andy is truly one of the great people to work with because he cares passionately about his research and he actually takes great joy in discovering new things, and I think that is the best thing that can be said about a great researcher. Andy, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
ANDY KOHUT: Thank you very much, E.J. Our partnership goes back a very long time, and it’s always a lot of fun to work with E.J. and the gang from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
We have found some interesting things over the years – and it is years now, it’s going to be four years in September, that we have been doing these polls.
Let me start with my opinion. I don’t think the new European divide is much about religion. I don’t think it’s going to last very long. I think Chancellor Schroeder is going to vacation in Tuscany next year. (Laughter.)
As E.J. stated, the United States is the most religious “rich country” in the world, at least the world as we polled it, with our 44 countries and 38,000 people in the original survey. It is the only religious “rich country” in the world, and let me give you some of the facts that demonstrate that. Fifty-nine percent of the Americans we questioned said religion is a very important part of their lives. Eleven percent of the French public that we questioned said that; 21 percent of the Germans; 27 percent of the Italians; and 33 percent of the Brits. The percentages were equally low in the new Europe as well. Even in Catholic Poland, only 35 percent of those polled said religion played a very important part in their lives, and it was understandably even lower in Russia, where it was 14 percent. The U.S. religion gap is not only with Europe, but with other rich countries as well. While we are at 59 percent for “very important,” only 30 percent of the Canadians said religion is very important to them, and 12 percent of the Japanese said that.
For perspective, the level of personal religious commitment in the U.S. is clearly lower than it is in African countries where we polled and in the Middle Eastern Muslim countries where we polled. I think the level of religious commitment in the United States compares most favorably to Latin America; in fact, the numbers here are very close to the numbers we found in Mexico and Venezuela, for example.
This is not just one data point in our survey; there are lots of indications of it. A second measure of the religious gap between the United States and Europe comes from opinion about the centrality of belief in God to morality, and it shows the same pattern. Fifty-eight percent of Americans say it’s necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral, good person. Western Europeans overwhelmingly reject that idea: only 13 percent of the French say so, 25 percent of the British, 27 percent of the Italians, and so on. Overwhelming majorities of the Europeans, both East and West, say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. Only 40 percent of Americans agree with that idea.
This is certainly an enormous transatlantic gulf on all of the measures of religion, but I don’t think it’s central to the new divide between Europe and America. The religious and value differences that we have found in our polling are longstanding, and while they add context and breadth to the dust up that we’re having with the Europeans, they are secondary to the real drivers that divide the American public from the European publics. The real drivers are policy differences and the role that America now plays in the world, the criticisms of the way that we are playing that role and, in turn, our reaction to those criticisms.
As to the policy matters, the U.S. acts unilaterally, say most Europeans, and that percentage has only increased in the latest round of 16-country surveys that we did in May, after the war. The American public largely disagrees with that notion. The U.S. does too little to deal with global problems, say most of the world and certainly most Europeans. The American public disagrees. U.S. policies contribute to the growing gap between rich people and poor people; here there is at least some agreement between the American public and the publics of the rest of the world, including Europe, obviously.
When questioned as to why Europeans don’t like or have an unfavorable view of the United States, most say Bush is the problem; it’s not America in general. In France and Germany, nearly three-quarters of those who said they had an unfavorable view of the United States said it’s Bush, it’s not America; and the same is true for Italy and Britain.
Now, stepping back and looking at attitudes toward America more broadly, it seems bigger than Bush to me. The administration has only brought to the surface and intensified a broader discontent that Europeans and much of the rest of the world have with the United States. I think the most significant element in the mix of things that bother Europeans is discomfort with our unrivalled power. During the Cold War, especially in the early days, Europeans took comfort in that power. Now that power breeds two things that are very apparent in the polling we have done: suspicion and resentment.
European reaction to the 9/11 attacks reflected that resentment. A survey we did of opinion leaders in November of 2001 with the International Herald Tribune found that most opinion leaders said their publics were sympathetic to the victims of the attacks on America, but most Europeans thought it was good that the Americans know what it’s like to feel vulnerable.
The view that the United States wanted to invade Iraq to control its oil has been an important barometer of suspicion of America. Our polling found Europeans in one breath sharing the American point of view that Saddam Hussein was a danger to the region and to world peace, and in the next breath saying the real reason why the Americans want to do this is not to get rid of Saddam Hussein to reduce the danger, but to control the oil.
I think the third factor is that Americans and Europeans no longer think the same way about national security and perhaps about sovereignty. While the American public looked for allied support with Iraq, it continues to look to the United States government primarily for its own defense. In sharp contrast, Europeans look to international organizations rather than to the nation-state. A January Gallup Europe poll found only 4 percent of the EU public saying that their own country would be most capable of fighting terrorism; many more said the United Nations, the United States, the EU or even NATO. Clearly, we would not get 4 percent if we asked that question in the United States. In that vein, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that the French, the Germans and the Italians rated the EU more highly than their own national governments for having a good impact on the way things were going in their country. Only the British gave their own government a better rating than the EU.
To my mind, the difference in values between Americans and Western Europeans accentuates, rather than creates, the divides in policy and perceptions of the U.S. role in the world. I think it’s little wonder that secular Europe would react as it did to the rhetoric of the “axis of evil,” just as it reacted to the “evil empire” 20 years earlier. And it’s little wonder that Americans, who are more personally freewheeling/adverse to government – which our surveys show rather clearly – would be less disposed to multilateral constraints on its national power. But in the end, these value differences do not make for the sagging numbers and the diplomatic rifts. In fact, the gaps on religion and personal empowerment and many of the other value differences that we see in our surveys are now as large and almost identical to what we found in a 17-nation European survey in 1991.
So what’s different now? American power is not now unrivalled, and therefore it’s not so comforting. Secondly, the ties that bind seem to be missing; terrorism doesn’t match anti-communism as an integrator, it would seem, and Europe has had a lot of experience with it, we have had a little experience with it. The American public now feels threatened, and this empowers political leaders to make new friends and perhaps challenge old friendships, if seen as necessary for the sake of homeland defense and national security. And I think I will leave it at that, E.J.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. As Andy was talking, I thought, Okay, the Europeans blame Bush, not God. And then he went on and he said, No, it’s not Bush, it’s our power. And then I thought, No wonder Americans are praying a lot.
Thank you very much, Andy. To respond to Andy and also offer their own perspectives on this question, we’re very, very glad to have Craig Kennedy and Justin Vaisse.
Craig has been the president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States since 1995. The Fund was created in 1972 as a permanent memorial to the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Fund is an independent public charity based in Washington, D.C. Craig began his career in 1980 as program officer of the Joyce Foundation in Chicago. From 1983 to ’86, he was the vice president of programs for Joyce. As president of the foundation from 1986 to 1992, he built the Joyce Foundation’s environmental program and launched a new program on U.S. immigration policy. He left the Joyce Foundation to work for Richard Dennis, a Chicago investor and philanthropist, and created a consulting firm working with nonprofit and public sector clients, including the City of Chicago. He serves on the board of several nonprofit organizations, including the Environmental Resources Trust, the LaSalle Adams Fund and New Profit Inc.
Justin Vaisse is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, and I must say the author of one of the funniest pieces that The Washington Post has run on its op-ed page in some time. You might reflect on that a little bit, Justin. His current research focuses on American foreign policy, transatlantic relations, as well as French and European foreign policies. He was a lecturer at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques of Paris from 1995 to 2002. He served as a consultant to the French Foreign Ministry Policy Planning Staff for five years, from 1997 to 2002, and from 1998 to 1999 he was speechwriter for Defense Minister Alain Richard. He was a visiting fellow at Harvard in 1996 and 1997. His articles have appeared in many, many places, and he has authored a number of books on transatlantic foreign policy, most recently La Politique étrangère des Etats-Unis – I hope you don’t mind my New England French Canadian accent – (scattered laughter) – which I am rather proud of, but other people find peculiar. He’s a regular contributor on television and in leading newspapers in both the United States and in Europe.
We’re very pleased to have you both. Craig, why don’t you kick us off?
CRAIG KENNEDY: Great. Thanks, E.J. I thought the topic today was really fascinating in lots of ways. There is a real tendency, I think, in international affairs – and maybe it’s a tendency of human nature – to try to find some kind of great guiding principle that you can understand the rest of the world with, or sometimes specific countries.
In the eight years that I have been working on U.S.-European relations, I have heard Europeans say the guiding principle of the United States is isolationism; they would be so lucky if we were isolationists now. There was a second phase in the late 1990s when they said: Money is the guiding principle of the United States; they don’t do anything unless it’s driven by money. Right after George Bush was elected, it was: The United States is the cowboy culture. When you went through Europe – France and Germany – on the front of the magazines there were caricatures of George Bush as the Texas Ranger.
In the last year, it has been this idea of America the religious. No matter what kind of statistics you cite to them on the number of people who don’t go to church, who don’t believe in God, who whatever in the United States, it can’t be shaken. They really do believe there is this guiding principle. Just as all of these others lasted for about a year to maybe 16 months, I think this one will run its course pretty quickly and there will be a new tack that will be taken to try to understand the United States.
As Andy alluded to, this has been a very problematic time for the United States and Europe, and it’s a time that in some ways defies easy understanding. Sure, there are some obvious splits that have happened, over Iraq and other areas, but there is something much more fundamental going on here. Those of you who have studied religion know that when people are faced with an ineffability, religion becomes a way to put order on the world. I think this is one of the examples of it, of the way that the Europeans tend to draw on these religious explanations.
But that also has to do with something very concrete. Andy pointed out that there is an incredible mistrust/suspicion of American power. I take it a step farther than that – and this something I don’t think often gets emphasized here in the United States enough: Most Europeans really think that when the United States exerts its great power in the world unilaterally or in whatever form, some of the consequences come back to hit Europe one way or another. They think this especially when the U.S. acts in regard to the Middle East, where there could be refugee flows that affect the Islamic populations within their own countries, where it affects their commercial ties, et cetera. So I don’t think it’s just a fear or suspicion of American power; most Europeans really do believe that they pay for the consequences of the use of American power. Now, they may be wrong, and you could argue with the way they have analyzed it, but a lot of Europeans do believe that.
Let’s get back to the topic: American religiosity and whether there is a difference. One of the things the German Marshall Fund does is bring 60 to 70 young European politicians and journalists to the United States each year. They spend a little time here in Washington, but mainly they travel through the South and Southwest, through the Midwest. They have to endure four days in Pierre, South Dakota, and Bismarck, North Dakota. They do all sorts of interesting things. I think one of the things they always come back totally, I wouldn’t say shocked by, but surprised by is what they would describe as American religiosity, and that fits right in with some of the things Andy was saying.
More specifically, it comes down to two things. One is the extent to which religious wording and phrasing has worked into the way all Americans talk about the world. When someone questioned me on this, we spent the next day marking down the number of times people talked about mission or invoked God in their language, and the person came away as a believer.
The second thing is that they come into contact with something that is very, very rare and unusual in Europe: people who have religious beliefs that you might describe as having a fervor behind them. Whether they meet evangelicals or fundamentalists or a combination of both, or young Mormon missionaries or whatever, they’re struck by the fact that the United States has this group of people who seem so willing to throw their all into religion.
Now, those of you who have spent time in Europe can understand why they’re so shocked. Most Americans, at some point in their lives, have had contact with people who have these deep-seated religious beliefs. It can be as mainstream as Catholicism, it can be one of the evangelical or fundamentalist, Pentecostalist groups, but just about all of us have some kind of contact. In my own family, we’re one of those unusual lower middle-class Midwestern families in which people rotate between various Baptist and Pentecostalist and sometimes mainstream Protestant groups. But it’s very common; we’re used to it.
But talk to a European, and, as Andy pointed out, most Europeans have never had any contact with someone who uses that language, has those feelings. They don’t meet them in the university, they don’t meet them in the workplace, because the religious environment in Europe is not only at a lower level of belief and attendance and so forth, but it’s a much more static system. This American freewheeling system, where – E.J., you probably know the numbers on this, since you know just about all statistics – I think there’s something like seven or eight new church groups created every month in the United States. It’s a very dynamic, entrepreneurial world. This is not what Europeans are used to.
Let me make two last points. One thing that I think really does throw Europeans off when they’re confronted with the rhetoric and the language is that Europeans, with the exception of sports, have a real mistrust and even a fear of fervor, especially in the post-World War II period. The notion that people believe with great energy in a political idea or a religious idea to them is, I think, often viewed as very dangerous and risky to the stability of their societies. If you look at the history of Europe, you can understand that. If you think back on how religious and political fervor has played into the very worst of times in Europe, starting back a long ways, through World War II, you can understand it. So this feeling that people can have these great passions makes Europeans very uneasy.
You try to explain separation of church and state – which, at least in my mind, is one of the safeguards of that – and they have a very hard time understanding that, for good reason. If Andy went out and did a poll of Americans and said, would you approve or disapprove of this situation: a place where the government owns most of the church buildings, most of the employees of the churches are on a state salary or subsidized by the state, the collections that support the religious institutions are collected by the state, most of the foreign aid that is done by the country is done with government money but through religious organizations? I think Americans would say, “My gosh, what an incredible theocracy! What is it, Saudi Arabia?” The answer is: It’s Germany. So, for Europeans, to understand this separation of church and state and what it means in practice here is a very tough idea.
The final point is this: If you want to see one place where this fear of American fervor and our religious language really plays out, it’s when Americans go to Europe and start talking about democracy and democratizing, whether it’s the Middle East or anyplace. It’s not that Europeans don’t think that democracy is a good thing, but when you sit in a gathering of, say, 10 Americans and 10 Europeans, the Americans will almost all say it would be a good thing to democratize the world and we think it’s doable in X number of years. If you and ask the Europeans, they will say, “Oh, this kind of missionizing, evangelizing attitude of Americans. Why are you so confident that you can convince others of your values? Why do you think it’s so important to push/impose your values on others? On top of all that, it’s a very hard thing to do.”
Just to reiterate: I think this idea that Europeans have right now of America the religious is an idea that will fade as a lot of these other reductionist explanations for American behavior do, but the fact that there is a very sharp difference there, I think, is almost absolutely certain. Thanks.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. I actually feel much more optimistic. We made progress; we went from money to religion, or man unto God, from the 1990s to now, but that’s –
MR. KENNEDY: John Wayne to God, that’s even better.
MR. DIONNE: That’s true. But my thinking that that is a good thing is probably just a typical American view. (Laughter.)
We have had three Americans talk, offering our anthropological view of Europeans. I want to invite Justin to do the same back to us.
JUSTIN VAISSE: Thanks. I would agree with Andrew Kohut on the fact that the difference in religion accentuates, rather than creates, the main political gap between Europe and the U.S., but one should not underestimate the effect that it has in at least three domains. First, it affects the image, especially the negative image, of Europe here and of the U.S. in Europe. It affects the approach we could have to third regions of the world, especially the Middle East. And it affects directly the relationship between us, and I’m thinking, for example, of the International Religious Freedom Act and the spats that it created between especially France, Germany, Turkey and the U.S. in recent years. So, this is not a new thing; this has existed for at least a couple of years.
Let me try to put that into context. Let’s get back to this poll you quoted on the necessity to believe in God to be moral. I find it interesting because France and the U.S. are at the two opposite ends of this. I think 58 percent of Americans said yes and only 13 percent of French say so. I think one of the things that is at play here is the fact of a belief in God. Is it necessary to believe in God? When you hear that in France, you hear basically “Are you Catholic?” You don’t hear it the same way you do here; that is to say, Do you believe that there is a superior being, a transcendence, et cetera, with a sort of greater relativity? So I think this changes the answers, but the bulk of the lesson remains.
I think what needs to be said to understand this is that the separation of church and state is conceived of completely differently historically, especially between France and the U.S. History is really the best clue here. Historically, the separation of church and state in France was not about shielding the churches from the state as it was here. Here, religious freedom was really at the foundation of the United States, and many Pilgrims came to freely practice their religion, et cetera. In France, it’s exactly the reverse; that is to say, the separation of church and state is to shield the state from the one church that was dominant, especially socially dominant, the Catholic Church. This gave birth to militant secularism, which basically sees religion as a threat to democracy and to a republican virtue.
To try to illustrate and explain this fantastic poll that you gave us last month, I would like to quote Tocqueville, because I think he explained very well in 1835 what is going on here for religion and politics. He said, in a new translation by Harvey Mansfield, “In the U.S., from the beginning, politics and religion were in accord, and they have not ceased to be so since.” And further, he wrote, “I do not know if all Americans hare faith in their religions, for who can read to the bottom of hearts; but I am sure that they believe it necessary to the maintenance of republican institutions.” And then what did he say about Europe? “The unbelievers of Europe honed Christians as political enemies rather than as religious adversaries. They hate faith as the opinion of a party much more than as an erroneous belief.”
To summarize Tocqueville, in the U.S., it’s politically correct to be religious, politically correct in the large sense; and in Europe, and in France in particular, it’s politically correct to be secular. In other words, religion is conceived as inherently destabilizing and threatening and should be confined to the private sphere.
The way Europeans and the French in particular hear about religion is in their history. There is this thing that Craig Kennedy referred to, which is the war of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, which is sort of still present in some way in European consciousness. When they hear about religion today in the news, it’s about the Middle East, it’s about Ireland, it’s about Kosovo, it’s about Islamic bombings that began in Europe much before they began here, and it’s about the sects. Religion does not have this politically positive connotation that it has here. So in order to be moral, to be virtuous in a republican sense, it is definitely not necessary to be more religious.
I was joking with E.J. the other day. I was wondering, of the 13 percent of French people who said “yes, it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral,” how many of them were French Muslims? That would be interesting, because they actually have a very different view of the relationship between religion and the political sphere in general, and there are different polls that show that their attitudes toward religion, toward practiced religion, et cetera, are very different from the Catholics.
I would probably even go further, because, as you pointed out at the very beginning, E.J., this actually is an impact, an accentuation of the transatlantic gap, because Europeans are very wary of religious references in foreign policy. Craig, you talked about this missionary sense and this fervor in very eloquent and accurate terms. I think that Bush reinforced the stereotypes when he said before Congress, “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.” This is really totally foreign to European ears. He ended by saying, “In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom and may he watch over the United States of America.”
The view here is really of the Bob Dylan song “With God on Our Side.” That is to say, this idea that there could be a sort of William Bennett moral clarity is really an addition to the negative stereotyping, and it’s seen as dangerous for conducting affairs in international relations. It’s true that this view of America as very religious is part of the anti-American stereotyping, and it has been so not for that long, but at least for a couple of decades.
During the war in Iraq, not only in the French press but also in other European countries, there was a very strong rejection of the references to God both among the Islamists, or even by Saddam Hussein, and by the Americans. This led to a relativeness, where Europeans thought, “These people are crazy.” There were headlines in the press like “The holy crusade of Bush,” “War or jihad,” “Holy war against jihad,” “The clash of two fundamentalism,” et cetera. Of course, the journalists are not usually the ones who write the headlines, but it’s even more telling about stereotypes, and I think it has played a role.
I think Europe felt much better with Clinton’s morality and foreign policy because it was less about God, but it was more transposition of political correctness, the rights of the minority, et cetera, and not portrayed as a religious crusade as sometimes it has seemed to be the case with the Bush administration.
I’ll make just a couple of other concluding remarks. I think the misunderstandings are largely based on this different perception of secularism. The separation between church and state is actually very strong here, and it is actually very strong in France, too; except they are totally different, and so they feed different perceptions.
I referred to the International Religious Freedom Act of ’98. The interesting thing is that this law was voted on one day before a law was voted on in the French parliament dealing with the Mission Against Sects monitoring dangerous religious cults. There was a total misunderstanding between the two countries on this thing. Because of the French tradition, it is the role of the state to protect liberties of the public against interests of religious sects, but from the American point of view, this is restraining religious freedom. This showed that religious freedom was conceived in totally different terms.
To give the final context, there’s a strong evolution in France and in Europe in general of the landscape about religion. In Europe, it’s about the debates over our bill of rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU in 2000. And then, in 2003, there was the big debate about the EU constitution. We are really back in 1787 and 1789 in this respect. The question is whether we should put God in our bill of rights and God in our constitution, and there was a huge fight about this. I don’t have time to describe that in more detail, but we can do that in the questions and answers.
On the French scene, and I will stop with this, there has been a lot of turmoil in recent years because of the challenge of Islam, which has become the second religion of France, with about 4 to 5 million people, and it is a religion that is becoming more and more visible in the public sphere. There were a lot of events: the creation of a unified Muslim council at the end of 2002; all of these debates about the veil, the right to wear the veil or the scarf in school, in public places, beginning at the end of the ’80s; a new commission on la laicité – the French secular principle – to try to redefine it and adapt it; and another commission to investigate whether religion should be taught in school or not.
Of course there is a gap, and I think it does accentuate the differences, the political spat between Europe and the U.S., but at the same time, I think in both countries and in both continents the landscape is changing rapidly and is being warped by external factors. It would be important to keep that in mind for any prediction that we could make.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. I’m particularly grateful that you made this distinction between the kind of militant secularism in France that is quite different from our American separationism, and I think that is something worth discussing. I also like the idea that Bob Dylan is responsible for European views of the United States on this question. Before I turn to the audience, I want to ask Andy if he wants to respond, and I want to throw two questions at him that I think come out of this.
First, we can talk here in the United States about red states and blue states – in the 2000 election, red states were states that voted for Bush. At times I have thought that Europe is, in some ways, a set of very deep blue states, by which I mean that some of the attitudes you see in Europe are reflected, perhaps in a paler way, in some of the metropolitan areas of the United States.
The second question is related to that. Polls suggest – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that there is probably a much larger number of intensely religious Americans than intensely religious Europeans. Is that true? And if it is, could you describe the difference, not at the edges, but between what you might call the typical or modal or mean American and the typical or modal or mean European on these questions? In other words, how big is the gap in the middle on these things?
MR. KOHUT: I think the overall percentages pretty much describe the modal Europeans and the modal Americans. But I think one point worth making – and it comes to the point I wanted to make about your commentary – is that the French are the bluest of blue states (chuckles) – there’s no question about it. What you were saying, what you were saying is that religion has become an issue in the way Europeans look at us. And, as Craig said, what are the new guiding principles?
We tested it out. We asked people in our May survey of five European publics: Is America too religious, not religious enough, or about right? Only the French said we’re too religious; other Europeans said mostly about right. So I wonder to what extent this Europe-wide conception of America is an elite, or at least an activist, view in much of Europe, and whether the French are on the other extreme.
What’s really interesting to me, and this is something I don’t understand, is the difference between Americans and Canadians on this issue. Americans and Europeans are very different; Americans don’t dress as well. Canadians, – (chuckles) – they look like us, – (laughter) – but there’s s huge gap of 30 points between Americans and Canadians regarding how they feel about the importance of religion to their lives and on the question about the centrality of God to a sense of morality. That’s something worth understanding if we want to put this European/American gap into perspective. Are Canadians qualified Europeans? You lived next to Canada for a long time and have Canadian roots; what do you think, E.J.?
MR. DIONNE: I think that Canadians are, in many of these attitude questions, mid-Atlantic. And Canada itself is divided in its own way, between West and East, and Quebec is a separate entity.
MR. KOHUT: But these are two big value gaps. Most of the value gaps between Europe and the United States are matters of degree. We’re environmentalists; they’re environmentalists; they’re more environmentalist than we. We believe in a social safety net; they believe in a social safety net; they believe in it more. But the other transatlantic gap, beside religion, is on the sense of personal empowerment. There, the Canadians are more like the Americans. In fact, the Americans and the Canadians are the only two publics who feel that success in life is determined by the individual, not by “larger forces.” So the Canadians are really interesting. I don’t have an explanation; maybe the audience can inform us.
MR. DIONNE: And I do want to turn to the audience. By the way, I made the red state-blue state division, but just to complicate the story further, it’s worth noting that the guy who carried the blue states, Al Gore, was the presidential candidate who went to divinity school; that suggests how complicated we are.
Who wants to join in? By the way, if Bill Galston is still here, if he wants to get into this before he has to leave, I have never heard Galston say an unintelligent thing – (laughter) – so I would like him to join this conversations. But I don’t want to put you on the spot, Bill, so let me go in the front first. We have a lot of hands up. Let’s start with this gentleman. We are making a transcript of this, so please identify yourself.
ROBERT MADDOX: I’m Robert Maddox, a Baptist minister and also editor of a Baptist paper here in town. I was particularly interested in your introductory remarks, and I would like Andy to comment on the rising secularism that he’s seeing. Having studied religion for all these many, many years, I’m not sure that’s not a bad idea in America. A lot of stuff that I run into, I think, gives a pretty distorted view of religion in American life, so if you would perhaps comment on that trend in the U.S.
MR. KOHUT: I think what I’m going to say may not entirely please you. There are more secular people in the United States than there were in the 1960s, or even the 1970s, but among people who are religious, there is more religious fervor. So we have these two countertrends, with religious people becoming more intensely religious in the United States but more people who are secular.
MR. DIONNE: What are the numbers here?
MR. KOHUT: Rather than misquote these numbers, because I don’t have them in my head, it’s in a book called, The Diminishing Divide, which I authored with Scott Keeter and Robert Toth and John Green.
MR. DIONNE: But which group is larger, without giving the exact number?
MR. KOHUT: I don’t want to misspeak, and I’m not sure exactly whether the fervor number is larger than the secular number.
MR. DIONNE: Let’s get all three people there in before answering.
ROB STUCKY: Hi, I’m Rob Stucky, a former Episcopal priest and now director of the Faith in Diversity Institute. First of all, to Andy Kohut I’d like to say, as you were talking about the Canada issue, one thing that occurred to me is that their religious history is one that’s governed by state-controlled religion, both Roman Catholic and Church of England, so that may be a significant factor.
In Karen Armstrong’s book The Battle for God, she has a very interesting discussion about the difference between mythos and logos. She thinks fundamentalist religious folk are trying to hold onto a mythos and make it into something logical. I think that also applies to our religious systems. We have a mythos of our religious heritage and the logos of our political practicality. I’d be interested to hear any of you respond to what you would consider the undergirding mythos of European culture versus American culture and the undergirding logos of the two.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Bob Dylan is obviously the answer. (Laughter.) Could I bring two thoughts together here? Sir, you had your hand up, did you not?
ROBERT MARUS: I’m Robert Marus with Associated Baptist Press, and my question is for Dr. Vaisse, but also Craig Kennedy and Andy. Could you comment more broadly on the irony that in a continent where most of the governments still have established state churches they have a very secular view of their role in foreign policy, while in a country with the first truly secular government in the world, we have all this religious language and religiosity about our views regarding foreign policy.
MR. DIONNE: That is an excellent Roger Williams sort of question. I thank you. Mythos, logos and this paradox – who wants to start? Craig, do you want to comment?
MR. KENNEDY: Let me start with the second one. I think one of the things that you see in much of Europe is that, because there are state-established churches there’s also been, and I won’t say censorship or control, but a sort of dampening of what Europeans would often see as fervor or, I don’t want to say extreme views, but views that don’t fit well into the system.
Justin was mentioning the issues in France. Just about every European country has had some set of incidents over the last decade with religious sects, and it’s ranged from Jehovah’s Witnesses in some places to Scientologists. There was an incident in Italy, I think, with a Free-Will Baptist-type mission. Just about every one of these countries has a distrust of an open market for religiosity, and I think that’s in part because the state and the church are still so close. The history of Europe is, as Justin pointed out, one in which religion dominated the state or influenced the state or was used as a cover for actions by the state to do very, very bad things.
In the United States I really do believe that the separation of church and state gives us this insurance, in a way, that allows us to have a much more free-wheeling, open, dynamic religious system that seems totally chaotic, often, to Europeans. You take them to a city like Chicago where you can take them through a range of neighborhoods and see 55 varieties of Pentecostalist churches and they can’t quite fathom it. They don’t necessarily think it’s bad; they just don’t understand how this could happen and what would drive this kind of impulse.
So I think that the established state church has also meant a certain caution, a certain dampening, asuspicion of religious entrepreneurialism in a way.
MR. DIONNE: I think it plays into this question of militant secularism: we avoided a kind of militant secularism precisely because of separation, and thus we stayed more religious in some sense.
MR. VAISSE: I have no better answer than, again, referring to Tocqueville. To quote him again: “Americans so completely confuse religion and freedom in their minds that it’s almost impossible to them to conceive of the one without the other.” That is to say, the mythos here is that religious freedom is not only non-threatening but is at the very foundation of the republic; whereas in Europe, the mythos would be the confinement of religion in the private sphere. There was so much blood in Europe in history, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the religion of the state, especially in Germany, had to be the religion of the prince. Therefore freedom meant relegating religion to the private sphere and allowing everyone to practice their religion without interference by either the state or by another religion.
I would note here that there are different histories for different countries. Obviously Germany is very different. Italy, of course, has a very different history from France, where this militant secularism was the most powerful. And one of the important moments is the 18th century, with the enlightenment of the philosopher. Interestingly enough, France is, I think, one of the only countries, maybe with Turkey, to teach philosophy to high school students. Before university, there are no religion classes, but the last year before the baccalaureate, the exam one takes for the university, students study philosophy. And the idea is that you can practice reason, you can reason in philosophy, et cetera, and then if you want to practice religion, this must be in the private sphere.
The irony is that it is precisely because religion was not threatening to the state that it flourishes here, especially the particular brand of Puritanism or Christianism that was brought into the colonies was not threatening to the political institutions. That’s precisely why religion could blossom here. That is basically the same answer that Craig gave.
MR. DIONNE: Briefly on Rob’s question: I had this thought that went through my head that I’m sure is entirely wrong, but perhaps the mythos is Christian democratic, and the logos is social democratic – or is it the other way around? – and the Greens are now replacing the Christian democratic mythos. But that thesis should probably be rejected out of hand.
I want to see if Bill wanted to come in, and John Parker is in the back somewhere and had his hand up. Bill, do you care to come in at this point or?
BILL GALSTON: This is just a question for Dr. Vaisse. My impression, which you’ve just ratified, is that militant secularism is much closer to the heart of the French Republican tradition than would be the case for virtually any other European country. And one sees reflections of this militant secularism in statements of premiers of the Third Republic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and one sees it also more than dimly reflected in the controversy over Muslim headscarves, a controversy which would not occur in most public school systems in the United States. And so my question to you is: In your judgment, how central is this tradition of militant secularism today in French political culture, and to what extent does it explain a distinctive French political outlook, to the extent that one can talk about a distinctive French political outlook in contrast to Germany and the rest of the European Union?
MR. VAISSE: Two points. First, it is very important to the myth of republicanism in the French sense, certainly, and it’s really part of the political identity. Once again, it’s connoted positively because it was a fight for freedom, it was a fight for democracy. The Catholic Church was socially extremely conservative and was on the side of the kings, et cetera. So it was a battle against oppression and for the values of the philosophers of the 18th century, especially at the very moment you cited, 1880s and 1890s and the early 20th century. That’s very important.
And second, yes, it’s true that the French are the core of this secularism, but there are other countries. I mentioned Turkey. A militant secularism is also very lively in Turkey, even if they’ve just elected an Islamist government, or so-called Islamist government. It’s true that there is something about the mythos of Turkey that is very close to the French one.
This fight about the constitution and the bill of rights of Europe, in 2000 and then in 2003, basically pitted two groups against each other. One was made up of the French with some Germans and Italians, especially from the left, who were militantly secular. They stood against Poles, some Italians, some Spaniards, some Germans, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Pope and the Vatican.
So it’s true that it’s not just one country against the others; it’s a more nuanced landscape. But it’s true France is at one end and probably Poland, the Vatican and the Greek Orthodox Church are at the other.
MR. DIONNE: Bill’s point is very well taken. Some of this also happened during the Spanish Civil War, this kind of polarization, and also during the reunification of Italy, where nationalism was set up against the Vatican, where you had some of that spirit that was probably not codified in the same way as it is in France.
John, are you back there?
JOHN PARKER: Yes. I’m John Parker of The Economist. I’d just like to offer this question in the form of a thought and maybe ask you to react to it. You’ve described religious differences in terms of a sort of a background characterization for the two sides of the Atlantic. I wonder if religion does more than that and it actually drives differences in foreign policy more directly because, at least arguably, belief in God goes alongside of belief in Satan. Especially in the sort of fervent evangelical tradition, one believes that evil is about in the world and in yourself and it needs to be conquered. So when George Bush talks about an “axis of evil,” people understand that in religious terms as well as in foreign policy terms.
So when the American administration says our policy is not to negotiate with people who we’ve identified in the axis of evil, it’s not to maneuver them into a position where they can do less harm, it is to overthrow them. That seems in concordance with one’s religious beliefs in America. In Europe, that seems almost incomprehensible. Therefore, arguably, these religious differences have more than just a sort of rhetorical component; they have a real policy-driving component.
Well, that’s the idea. I wonder if you agree with that.
MR. DIONNE: Andy?
MR. KOHUT: I think that’s another grand theory, John, but I don’t think it works. You can test in two different ways the connection between religious belief and policy attitudes. First, if you ask people when they’ve given you an opinion how much this opinion is influenced by their religious beliefs, they say, directly, not very much on most policy questions other than those that are in the range of kinds of moral questions that religion deals with: capital punishment, abortion, sexual issues and so on. Secondly, when you look at it inferentially, and compare and contrast the views of religious people with the views of less religious people on policy questions, you do have a relationship, but it’s mostly a relationship that’s explained away by the party allegiances and the greater generalized conservativism, or something like that, of Republicans versus Democrats.
So I don’t think it really works, or I don’t see any evidence of it.
Perhaps the only place you might find that is in the way that Americans feel about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, where you do have an evangelical difference between white Protestant evangelicals and other Protestants that goes beyond the greater conservativism of the evangelicals.
By the way, if I can put an ad in, we have a new poll coming out which actually sheds some light on that issue, coming out in a week or so, and it may contradict me, because I haven’t looked at it. (Laughter.)
MR. DIONNE: We’ll let you know. Would anybody else like to comment?
Al Milliken, and then we’ll come up front. Thank you for coming, Al.
AL MILLIKEN: Al Milliken, Washington Independent Writers. Couldn’t one contend, as has been hinted at already, that the divide between the U.S. and Europe is more about religious liberty and not just religion or Christianity alone? But to get specific, as heretical or as much in Christian apostasy most of Europe may be, don’t Europeans, more than the Americans, recognize and not just take for granted their Christian roots in history?
The European Union constitutional debate seemed to take very seriously this idea of the shared Christian culture, as well as history and roots and the role of the church. I know that this was debated, but it was something everyone did hold in common. And when you think about specifically Turkey, isn’t this the major reason why, with its dominant Islamic religious and cultural past and present, it’s not really being seriously considered for inclusion in the E.U.? I guess it is being seriously considered, but the fact that it hasn’t been already included, doesn’t this have to do more with religion than any other factor?
MR. DIONNE: That’s a good question.
MR. VAISSE: There are two different things in your question. I was wondering at the beginning of the question, why don’t Americans recognize more their roots? In the debate in the constitutional convention, and before that, three years ago, about the sort of bill of rights for Europe, one of the problems was precisely that there are 15 million Muslims in the E.U., first, and that, second, Turkey could one day be included in the E.U., and so a specific reference to Christianism seemed to be, depending on how it was put, a bit difficult. So it was better, once again, as a political principle, to keep that separate from political issues.
And second, is it because Europe is a Christian club that Turkey is not admitted? I don’t think so, although it may play a role, especially in public opinion. I think the main reasons are basically geopolitical and economic. The Ottoman Empire played a role in Europe before the 20th and into the early 20th century, but historically it’s difficult to define the borders of Europe. That has always been a very strong debate: Does Europe stop at the Black Sea, before the Black Sea or after? Does it include a part of Russia or all of Russia? This is more about, I would say, geopolitical, economic and then historical questions rather than a strictly cultural/religious issue. And when Giscard D’Estaing one year ago said that the inclusion of Turkey was not for tomorrow, he was specifically not basing himself on religious principles.
MR. DIONNE: Craig?
MR. KENNEDY: Well, I’m always struck by how many very secular European politicians will use the term “Christian culture” when they get into exactly this topic. There are a lot of different interpretations. Some would say that it reflects a, not anti-Islamic, but a certain suspicion of Islam. Others would say that it really does reflect some kind of deep cultural root.
I think what’s really going on right now in Europe – and I think you can really see it in France – is these places have not had long, long histories of out-of-Europe immigration, and secondly, they haven’t had to confront religious diversity in the same way that Americans have. I think when people make this appeal to Christian culture or Christian ideas, it’s generated in part by the real groping that a lot of these societies are going through now on how differently should we treat Islamic populations, whether it’s the scarf debate or others. How do they fit into the scheme of things that has worked pretty well from 1948 until the mid-’80s and now seems to be really under challenge?
So I never take it as having much of a religious connotation. I think the real emphasis is on culture and the search that a lot of Europeans are going through right now asking how are we going to relate with this very large and growing non-Christian minority within our midst?
MR. DIONNE: I was just thinking, Al, in response to your question – and we keep coming back to this – the great irony is that a secular Europe’s decision to exclude God from its constitution would make Europe more like the very religious America that we’re talking about. It’s a very peculiar irony.
We have a bunch of hands in the front rows. This gentleman, and then, if you could pass the mic down, we can bring in several people. Sir?
PATRICK HOLDICH: Right. My name’s Patrick Holdich, visiting from the British Foreign Office in London. A couple of quick points. One, I’ll be very interested to know from Andrew Kohut, if you break down the figures on a generational basis, how great the differences are between the younger generation, the under 35s. I think in Europe you’d find more secularism and less religiosity. Obvious examples would be societies like Ireland, which were extremely conservative and religious and now have gone very much the other way.
So that’s one question, but the other one is to Craig Kennedy: I’m not quite sure that this is a passing fad in terms of looking at religion driving American foreign policy. I think this is an enduring part of the European image of, certainly, this administration and maybe a longer-term American foreign policy. It has antecedents. During the Reagan years this would come up a certain amount. And it’s not necessarily because the president himself is necessarily religious. If you think of religious presidents, Jimmy Carter was personally probably far greater. But I think it’s that link between religion and conservatism, which is a very powerful image and one that’s not going to fade fast.
MR. KOHUT: I’m going to defer my answer to my colleague, Nicole Speulda, who is a project director for the Pew Global Attitudes Project. You’ve done some of this analysis.
NICOLE SPEULDA: We have broken out all of the religious questions based on age, and our age breakouts are a little bit different than you’ve suggested; they’re 18 to 29 and 30 to 49. The people who are over 65 definitely have stronger religious beliefs – that you have to believe in God to be a moral person – than the younger generation is, and they definitely express more religious belief than the younger generations. That’s across the board, though. The U.S. doesn’t really differ from Europe at all in that regard.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you, Nicole.
MR. KENNEDY: In terms of whether this is a passing fad, I think it will be, as the single guiding principle that people in Europe try to use it as. Of the four things I mentioned – isolationist, cowboys, materialistic and religious fanatic – the only one that they’ve really junked is isolationist. No European believes that we’re isolationists – (laughter) – at this point. We may be selfish, we may be unilateralists, but we’re not isolationists. My guess is that in about five or six months, some smart writer for The Economist or the FT or one of the European papers will do a profile that says, ah, here’s the real thing about the United States that drives them: it’s an addiction to Coca-Cola – (laughter) – or something like that that will become the driving explanation.
MR. DIONNE: I would love to ask the gentleman from the Foreign Office to talk about Tony Blair and how he is the exception to all this or the exception that proves the rule, but he is probably not authorized to talk about Tony Blair’s theology.
JAMES REDINGTON: James Redington from the Woodstock Theological Center. First, a short observation, or hope really, that perhaps U.S. religiousness gives some hope for understanding most of the rest of the world: Africa, Asia, Latin America. We’re not doing very well at it yet, but I think religiousness may give some edge on understanding some things about the rest of the world than we had thought, or than is usually thought.
Then the second is more of a question for whoever would like to answer it. I think the distinctions and the thesis of Jose Casanova, the sociologist from the New School in New York City, on secularism and the nature of secularism in his book, Public Religion in the Modern World, is relevant for our discussion. He says the differentiation of the spheres of the sciences, of the arts and of other human endeavors, from religion is essential to secularization and has been true in secularization wherever it manifests itself, but that the previously thought thesis that privatization of religion is necessary is not true. Privatization is an option. In other words, religion may become more private when things secularize generally, but examples in Poland, Brazil and in Catholic and evangelical circles, at least in the USA, show that public expression of religion can indeed go with secularism as well.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. I appreciate that point. I wish I could remember the author of the book who wrote recently that Christianity’s center is actually moving out of Europe and toward Latin America and Africa.
MR. VAISSE: Can I just do some advertising? On the Brookings Web site there are a couple of very good analyses. There is a 1,500-word essay by Dominique Decherf on French views of religious freedom, and it’s a really good brief. There are also essays about Islam in France and Judaism in France. You can find really good material on the Brookings Web site on the Center on the U.S. and France page. I think it can help the discussion.
MR. DIONNE: Could I bring in three people, the gentleman with the mic, and then if we could move across this way to this gentleman up here, maybe bring four people together. I just want to get as many people in as I can before we close. Please.
JOSEPH BROWN: Joseph Brown, I’m with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. I would like to come back to the issue raised by Bill Galston and by Justin Vaisse about national identity and one’s concept of a nation. I was wondering whether the U.S. and France don’t have something more in common than they may even realize. And touching upon this open concept of a nation, this missionary element, whereas France wanted to free the old order from the ancient regime, I see a similar missionary event now with the Bush administration. So in one sense you have freedom from religion, from the ancient regime, and on the other side you have now freedom through religion.
My second question would touch upon – and that’s more a European devil’s advocate question – on the U.S. system. I was wondering whether you’re up for some major internal divide. I mean, you were talking about increasing secularists, and even among believers there’s a huge gap between, say, activist believers and laissez faire believers, one tending towards the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. So you see a political cultural cleavage that’s playing out in electoral politics.
MR. DIONNE: Hold that question. This gentleman, could you just pass it two rows up here? There we go, thank you.
GARY MITCHELL: Hi, Gary Mitchell from the Mitchell Report, and I think this is an Andrew Kohut question, and I probably ought to say I think it’s a question.
I’m struck today – as I was before today, but this brings it into focus for me – about the extent to which the construct of a “European” point of view is really helpful or instructive in 2003. And paralleling that, frankly, I question whether you couldn’t raise the same question about an “American” point of view, because the red and the blue and the 2000 election and other factors that I won’t bother to elaborate on today, really raise that question for me. I’m wondering whether there’s anything in your polling or in your thinking that would speak to that.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. And there were two hands over here, or three. If you could be very brief and then I can bring everybody back in. I also want to say something on the last two questions myself.
TIP GHOSIT: Hi, Tip Ghosit with the University of Maryland and Faith in Diversity Institute. My question is more to Andrew and elsewhere on the panel. I think part of the divide that we have between America and Europe is the fact that we are becoming less European, and that the changing demographic in the U.S., especially from Latin America and Asia, colors our attitude towards belief in God, not just belief in a church.
MR. DIONNE: The “us” here is Americans?
MR. GOSCHE: Yes, the fact that we are changing as a country and our attitudes reflect that. So that’s my question.
MR. DIONNE: Sir, right in front, and then to the lady, our friend in the corner.
WILL AMATRUDA: Will Amatruda, Catholic University Law School. If I can piggyback on Mr. Mitchell’s question, commentators have written about the disconnect within the United States between elite opinion and mass opinion. One commentator once said that this is a country which has a mass that thinks like Indians and an elite that thinks like Swedes. (Laughter.) What does your polling have to say about opinion in Europe?
MR. DIONNE: Thank you, and then the last comment, please.
MARY MULLEN: My name is Mary Mullen, and I’m afraid I’m not affiliated with any religious organization, but I was going to ask Mr. Kohut about religion interfering in politics, for instance in Northern Ireland. Did you do any polling in Northern Ireland, about what they feel about religion in politics? And also, in Israel, many Israelis seemed to be not very happy about some of the Pentecostals or the religious American groups that were interfering in the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Can I just say a quick word before I pass onto Andy and go down the panel on all those good questions? First, I want to thank our friend from Germany. I like anybody who says these days that the U.S. and Europe have more in common than we realize. So thank you for that.
On this red states-blue states question, to me, there is a problem with this discussion because we may exaggerate the differences between the red states and blue states and not look at the differences within them. That’s number one, because there are certain rural areas in the Gore states that look like rural areas in the Bush states.
Secondly, we tend to look at this question at the extremes. If you look at extremely secular people versus extremely religious people – I use “extreme” not as a pejorative, just as a descriptor – there is a very big difference. The very secular people are quite liberal; the very religious people, on the whole, are quite conservative. But the largest group of Americans falls into a middle which is either “rather religious” or “rather secular,” and in that middle there is much more political diversity. So if you looked at voting in the election, yes, at the two ends, the secular side was Gore, the very religious side was Bush, but in the middle they were much more split. There’s still a continuum – religious people tilt more conservative – and I think the religious moderates in America are an extremely understudied group, because the groups at the two ends grab our attention. But Andy can dissent from that if he wants, and we can go down the panel.
MR. KOHUT: I’d like to answer your question, and it sort of ties into your question as well, and that is that there is a red-blue divide that is sort of symmetrical to the European-American divide. But the European-American point of view on these policy questions – let’s forget the grand notions about American-European point of view, because I agree with Craig, we can get lost in exaggerations – is so much greater than the red state-blue state divide. Although, for example, if you just took Democrats – forget red state-blue state – you have about half of the Democrats when the war started saying that they approved of using force – maybe a little bit more than that. You didn’t find that in Europe, and I think on many of these policy questions, the Democrats are not nearly as critical of preemptive war – and we have questions on this – as are Europeans.
And to this issue of a changing demographic, I think the demographic is changing, but I don’t think that’s what accounts for America becoming less European, because the centers of Americanism, so to speak, are really in the heartland of the country, which is more unchanged than the other parts of America. But I think that’s a good question. What are the long-term consequences of that Hispanic number now being larger than the Africa-American number?
As to issues of religiosity in Northern Ireland and Israel, we have no information on that in this polling.
MR. DIONNE: Andy, just quickly on Mr. Mitchell’s question, to what extent is the concept of European helpful and to what extent does it disguise very substantial differences, if that’s a fair rendition of what you were asking?
MR. KOHUT: I guess it depends upon the question. If you look at the war in Iraq, there is a European point of view, but I think on other issues, there is less unity. If you look at pluralism, there’s a European point of view. The Europeans are less pluralist than we are. Look at the ratings that the Europeans gave to their significant minorities compared to the ratings that white Americans gave to the significant minorities here, and you can see that there are some real patterns of difference. But I don’t know; it’s hard to generalize about it. I go with your no-generalization law. If you can’t really pin it down, don’t generalize.
MR. DIONNE: Now, Craig, for your generalizations. (Laughter.)
MR. KENNEDY: First, on the commonality between the French and the Americans, there’s a good deal of survey research that actually would highlight that. It happens to be that the common areas are exactly the things that lead to clashes. Americans and French have fairly similar attitudes about the use of force in the world. The French public are the only country in Europe that show something close to the same level of support for military spending that the United States does, even on the willingness to be unilateral. The French public is much more likely to share those opinions than Americans. But then you also ask them about, who do you see as not a threat in the world but a difficult customer in the world, and they’ll be very quick to point out the United States. So I think there are some commonalities, but they happen to be commonalities that create tensions rather than a common agenda.
The other one I’d like to comment on is the utility of talking about a European point of view. In the survey that we do with the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations countries – I think what was really striking was on how certain, I won’t say odd things but things, you wouldn’t expect, there were major differences. For example, Italians tend to feel much better about George Bush than – now, this was pre-Iraq – than almost any other country. Now, you can say a country that elects Berlusconi, would they see Bush as – (laughter). You can do all kinds of analysis.
MR. DIONNE: You’re in deep water there. (Laughter.)
MR. KENNEDY: I don’t think that is the explanation, though. Italians and Poles, for example, showed, more pro-American attitudes on a number of subjects. On this issue of the use of military force, not surprisingly, Germans are very, very hesitant. There are very strong and deep concerns about the use of military force, and the British and French don’t have it to the same degree. So you can find all sorts of things.
I think when it gets to this issue, though, of religion, it actually is maybe one area where you can draw a few generalizations. Obviously it’s very different in Spain and Portugal than it’s going to be in Denmark or the Netherlands. But I am endlessly struck going back and forth all the time and hosting Europeans here and Americans in Europe that one of the first things that people pick up, no matter where they start out in the United States and no matter where they start out in Europe, is the extent to which religious language infects the way we speak versus the way Europeans do.
MR. DIONNE: And Justin?
MR. VAISSE: Just a word about this red states-blue states issue. I would probably differ a bit from Andrew. I think it is relevant. One must keep in mind that there are more voters from the blue states than from the red states, and it didn’t turn out this way in the election, but basically if it had turned this way, we wouldn’t be here speaking about that, I think. So I think it’s pretty relevant. I’m serious. I don’t think that we would have this discussion if Bush hadn’t won the election.
So for me the question is not, is the divide between red states and blue states or in the rural areas and the urban areas, et cetera, more profound than the European-American divide, but the question would be: Would the red places and the blue places in Europe be closer to the red places or to the blue places in America? That is to say, I don’t know. Brittany in France, Bavaria in Germany, and some other regions, to me that’s the relevant question.
And also, maybe another relevant question would not be by geography but either by religion or by degree of practice. There was this poll asking almost the same question as you asked. That is to say, for you, does faith have a great importance, a small importance or no importance at all in your everyday life? And I’m interested only in the ones – I’m talking about only the ones that say faith has a great importance in my life. So the average French respondent is 38 percent. But it’s interesting to note that the Catholics, on average, answered 43 percent, yes, it has a great importance, but practicing Catholics answered that at 92 percent. So you have a very contrasted view. And Muslim respondents answered, yes, a very big importance, at 84 percent.
I think we need to differentiate if we keep these big ideas of religion, conservatism, red; and more liberal, secular, blue. We would have to have a more nuanced view on the regions and then the groups, both, I think, in Europe and in America.
MR. KOHUT: Can I just comment?
MR. DIONNE: Yes. And in fact, why don’t you close, unless somebody has a question that they would just feel so awful if they don’t ask, and then I’ll let Andy close and I’ll make some comments.
STEVEN KULL: I’m Steven Kull, University of Maryland. Is there any religious variable that correlates with foreign policy after you control for party ID and education?
MR. KOHUT: Steven, that was a question I tried to answer to John, and the answer is pretty much no, unless you look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that one particular issue.
Coming to your point, I think that blue states and the Democratic or the urban parts of blue states are probably more “European,” than the rest of America. But the things that divide Europeans and Americans generally are so great that even if you did a survey in Georgetown, let’s say, and asked people in Georgetown this question about a feeling of personal empowerment and religion, you would have a tremendous difference between Europe and America on certain key things. This fear of government in the United States is certainly less so in blue states, but it’s endemic to Americans; it’s the way we think. In New Hampshire, the license plate slogan, “Live free or die,” is a little bit of an exaggeration of the American ethic, but it really is different here.
MR. DIONNE: I want to thank everybody for coming. I just want to make a couple of comments quickly. A French friend once told me that that definition of a paranoid Frenchman is a Frenchman who sits in church and says, “I think there is someone sitting behind me.” (Laughter.) Now, since our task here is to break down stereotypes, I can say from personal experience that’s not true, but I still like the joke.
Secondly, I want to bring us back to the comment that the elites are Swedes and the heartland are Indians, but let’s think about it in terms of the religious question. One of the fascinating things about the United States – and this goes to what Andy just said – is that you have an awful lot of people you might define as elites by whether it’s high level of education or high level of income who are extremely religious in the United States. I think one of the great mistakes people make in talking about this is assuming that devout evangelical Christians are somehow not part of that elite group. There are plenty of highly educated, well off evangelical Christians. So I’ve always liked that. I think it was Peter Berger’s line, wasn’t it? I can’t remember. I think there’s something to it, but I think the United States is exceptional in that respect.
Two last things. One is for those of you who did not sign up, we would love to have your names to invite you to other events. We don’t send spam, we don’t sell our list, but if you’d like to join us in these discussions, please make sure we have your name before you go.
And lastly, I just want to thank Andy and Craig and Justin for a really wonderful discussion. I think what this does show is we really want to do more of this. Maybe we’ll hold a meeting in Brittany and one in Bavaria. (Laughter.) And I hope you all will join us for these discussions. Thank you very much.