Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 19, 2003
Class, social status lines crumble
Liberals and Christians cross their traditional, moral boundaries
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
In a recent Atlantic Monthly essay, the Thomas Byrne Edsell argues that the traditional political lines of demarcation based on economic status or social class have pretty much broken down. For example, in the U.S. election of 2000, self-identified "working-class" folks only voted for Al Gore by 51 to 46 per cent, while self-styled "upper-middle-class" voters favoured George Bush by a not much more decisive 54 to 43 per cent.
The new political dialectic, says Edsell, is morality - specifically the mutually antagonistic moralities of the culture wars. Edsell notes that during the 1996 U.S. election campaign, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, Dick Morris and Mark Penn, discovered that asking voters' opinion on five particular questions was the most reliable indicator of whether they would vote for Clinton or his Republican opponent, Bob Dole, for president. The questions Morris and Penn used were:
- Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong?
- Do you ever personally look at pornography?
- Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married?
- Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong?
- Is religion very important in your life?
Voters affirming a liberal position (that is, "no" on questions 1, 3, 4, and 5, and "yes" on 2) on at least three of the five questions voted for Clinton by a margin of two to one. On the other hand, those with a conservative response to at least three of the five voted for Dole by two to one. More than three answers in one or the other ideological direction were an even stronger indicator of voters' intentions.
Edsell also cites former Republican governor of Delaware, Pete du Pont, observing in a Wall Street Journal Online column that in the 2000 election, "Mr. Gore carried the areas with the highest percentage of (sex movies). Mr. Bush carried the areas with the lowest percentage."
My first thought upon reading this was that were I a Democrat or small-l liberal, these results aren't something I would be inclined to brag about, but I guess that captures the essential dialectic of the culture wars - moral visions in collision. More to the point, it also makes me question where on the moral spectrum Christians who affirm support for political left/liberalism see themselves.
People attempting to reconcile Christianity with left-liberal humanism are, at the very least, throwing in their lot with some questionable fellow travellers. As defined by Morris and Penn, a typical liberal dismisses the idea that homosexuality is morally wrong, admits to looking at pornography, doesn't look down on a married person having an affair, regards sex before marriage as morally acceptable, and views religion as not a very important part of daily life.
I disbelieve that liberalism and Christianity can be synergized without horribly compromising one or the other - probably both. They are simply incompatible perspectives. I don't mean to imply that political conservatism and Christianity are synonymous, but they are compatible in the sense that both view human nature as inherently subject to selfish and dangerous impulses (consonant with the Judeo-Christian concept of original sin), as opposed to the liberal's sunny faith in "the essential goodness of human nature."
To be a liberal implies an affirmation of moral relativism. To be a Christian, at least in a traditional context, is to be a charitable, but unwavering moral absolutist.
That these philosophical positions are incompatible and antagonistic appears to be lost on many contemporary nominal Christians. Studies cited by evangelical scholar Gene Edward Veith Jr. found that 56 per cent of single "fundamentalist" Christians indulge in sex outside marriage - nearly the same percentage as single non-Christians, and 49 per cent of American Protestants say they are "pro-choice" regarding abortion, while 66 per cent of single Roman Catholics are sexually active, 83 per cent of Catholics accept premarital sex, and 47 per cent are "pro-choice." A Barna Research survey found only 16 per cent of self-described Christians could correctly identify the most basic and essential Christian beliefs.
These are recent phenomena. The so-called religious right is just as new a phenomenon as the secular left that catalyzed its existence. Until 30 years or so ago, North Americans were in general agreement about such things as sexual propriety, abortion, the sort of language and other content acceptable on the radio, TV and in movies, how children should be raised and the legitimacy of religion in the public square.
In terms of cultural morality, there wasn't a wide gulf between liberals and conservatives. Politics in those days focused mainly on economic and military issues.
No longer. One of the biggest challenges confronting leaders in our time is how to deal with this head-on collision of moral visions. Those professing to be Christian should at least know which side of the fence they ought to be on.