let’s talk about politics and religion

“I never discuss anything except politics and religion. There is nothing else to discuss.” – G.K. Chesterton

Some of you reading this might be inclined to agree with Chesterton. “Yes! Nothing else matters in the way that religion and politics matter. So why waste your time talking about anything else?”

You may be right. But you may also find yourself sitting alone at a party. Because the fact is that normal people can pretty easily find all sorts of things they’d rather talk about than politics or religion. The weather, for instance. Or the sudden resurgence of the Chicago Bears. Or the latest superhero movie. Or the new pair of shoes you just bought. Just about any conversation will do if it means we don’t have to talk religion or politics.

As sympathetic as I am to such a sentiment, Neuhaus provides us this important reminder:

Nonetheless, attention must be paid to the political; not because everything is political but because, if attention is not paid, the political threatens to encompass everything. – Neuhaus

We are finding it more and more difficult to talk about the weather (climate change), or the NFL (anthem protests), or movies (Black Panther), or even clothes (Nike) without veering into the realm of politics. Neuhaus’ warning is becoming more and more prophetic. We’ve got to learn to talk about politics well if for no other reason than to keep ourselves from becoming crazy about politics!

I think that it is safe to say that this is a crazy time in politics. I think it is also safe to say this is a crazy time for Christians in politics. I have found myself wondering much more in recent months and years about the proper relationship between my faith and the political realm (if we can call it a “realm”). As a teacher I have also wondered what my role should be in training my students to think well about politics. Lazy thinking about politics can potentially have two different results, both are dangerous for the Christian and particularly the Christian leader: political apathy and partisan idolatry.

As I am still learning to untangle my own thoughts on political theology, I decided to put together a little survey to get a feel for what Christians believe about politics. You can take the survey here. (I should quickly add that this is not at all a scientific survey. It’s more a snapshot.) My next couple of posts will unpack some of the results from the survey, but let me start by giving you a picture of the 342 who have taken the survey.

61% were male and 39% were female. These were their ages and political leanings:

politics 4politics 3

I also broke down political leanings by gender and age. The men and women who took the survey had very similar political leanings, but as you can see, there were some important differences between the age groups.

politics 1politics 2

Conservatism increases and disengagement decreases as a person gets older. This seems to be in line with certain national trends as well. I’m somewhat discounting those over 60 just because I didn’t have very many in that group who took the survey. It’s interesting to wonder whether a person is more likely to become more conservative as they age. Some would point out that today’s Boomers were once much more liberal in their youth. And so might today’s younger people also follow that same trend as they age? Maybe. Maybe not.

In this post, I just want to comment on a couple of the questions that dealt with political engagement. The conclusion from numbers 1 and 2 is that very few are optimistic about the government’s ability to bring about positive change, but the overwhelming majority are still likely to vote.

Politics 6Politics 7

What you’ll notice from the numbers below is another interesting trend. Progressives are more optimistic about the government’s role, but conservatives are slightly more likely to vote. Young people also tend to be more optimistic but less likely to vote. I don’t know enough about the dynamics of political theory to explain why conservatives are more likely to vote when they are more pessimistic about the government except for speculating that maybe for them voting is more about keeping the government under control than it is about a progressive vision for the future.

politics 8politics 9

Politics 10

Men, progressives, and older people seem more willing to engage in political discussions than others. So if you are an older progressive man with a Facebook account, watch out! This might also explain why so many political arguments seem to be between younger progressives and older conservatives. These are exactly the type of people who like to fight about politics.

Politics 11

This surprised me a bit given our current climate where everyone seems so obsessed with politics. Younger people in general are not more interested in politics (which is also why they are less likely to vote). The exception for this seems to be if they are progressive. Progressives, especially progressive young people, are more interested in politics than their parents. My suspicion is that for many of them this is because they have adopted a different political ideology than their parents. This would naturally make a person more passionate. Politics 12Politics 13

These questions have a similar trend. We’d like to know more about theological perspectives on politics because in some way we believe that we have an obligation to participate in the process. But we want to participate in the process as Christians. Predictably, older generations believe a Christian has an obligation to participate more than younger generations. I do wonder if the word “obligation” might mean something different to older generations who grew up in a culture where civic responsibility was very much a part of the air you breathed than younger generations who are growing up in an era of voluntarism – you may or may not choose to participate in civic life, but it is not a moral obligation.

In the coming weeks leading up to the election, I’ll be unpacking some more of the results of the survey. As always, thanks for reading.

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