FROM ISSUE NUMBER 149 - FALL 2002 GO TO TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Our secularist Democratic party

GERALD DE MAIO and LOUIS HENRI BOLCE III

ANYONE who has followed American politics over the past decade cannot help but feel some concern about the supposed fundamentalist Christian threat to democratic civility, pluralism, and tolerance. At the very least, the attentive citizen would find it hard not to regard the cultural and political positions of fundamentalists as outside the mainstream, given the volume of media stories that have conveyed this point. At the same time, the media’s obsession with politicized fundamentalism distracts public attention from the changing role of religion in political life today. In particular, the media overlooks the remarkable erosion of denominational boundaries that until a quarter century ago defined the religious dimension of partisan conflict, with Catholics, Jews, and southern evangelicals aligned with the Democratic party and nonsouthern white, mostly mainline Protestants forming the religious base of the Republicans. Also, the media mistakenly frames cultural conflict since the 1970s as entirely the result of fundamentalist revanchism. In so doing, the media ignores the growing influence of secularists in the Democratic party and obfuscates how their worldview is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditionalist outlook.

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