I want to share with you an excerpt from an Atlantic article from a couple years ago that has really informed my view on religion in American politics:
"As you may already know, one of America's two political parties is extremely religious. Sixty-one percent of this party's voters say they pray daily or more often. An astounding 92 percent of them believe in life after death. And there's a hard-core subgroup in this party of super-religious Christian zealots. Very conservative on gay marriage, half of the members of this subgroup believe Bush uses too little religious rhetoric, and 51 percent of them believe God gave Israel to the Jews and that its existence fulfills the prophecy about the second coming of Jesus."
The group they are talking about are Democrats; the hard-core subgroup is African-American Democrats. (Incidentally, the entire article is a must read for anyone interested in religion's dominance in the world and politics.)
These surprising stats about the Democratic party point to the problem in blaming religion for the conservatism of American politics -- the issue isn't really religion (turns out we are all super religious) -- the problem is the religious right. Okay, that may be obvious, but I think it's important to distinguish that the rise of the Republican party is not due to religion -- it's due to a certain type of religion.
And here's my question: why do extreme religious views go hand in hand with Republican political views? If you think about it, there's no reason that people who believe in low income tax rates should be the same people who believe that there should be a ban against gay marriage. You often hear that the difference between progressives and conservatives is that the former believe it's all about equality and the latter believe it's all about freedom. Thus the same people who support low income tax (freedom) support gun ownership (freedom) -- but why does freedom get thrown out the window when it comes to gay marriage or abortion?
This leads me to two thoughts, neither of which may be correct or popular -- but they do follow from the paradox posed by the religious right's political views. First, it could be simply that the religious right votes based on moral issues and considers economic/social issues secondary. If so, this is a strange morality. They see gay marriage and abortion as moral issues, but don't see universal healthcare and education as moral issues. The logic is inherently flawed but it's possible. This also raises the unpopular theory I've expressed previously -- maybe the Democrats should consider giving up on abortion -- and let it be a state rights issue. It sounds awful, but are we willing to give up the abortion debate to win every election? Personally , I'm not. But I am willing to sacrifice creationism. If small town Kansas schools wants to be ridiculous and teach a curriculum that makes them the laughingstock of every respectable college in the nation, maybe it's worth sacrificing that issue so that the Democrats can win every election. Just a thought.
Now for the other possibility -- it could be that those in the religious right genuinely hold conflicting beliefs -- they oppose freedom when it comes to gay marriage and are for freedom when it comes to paying taxes and owning guns. In that case, what can we blame? Is it group think? Psychology? I'm not sure -- perhaps you can help me figure it out.