Dr. Albert Mohler recently interviewed Dr. Robert Putnam, political scientist and professor of public policy at Harvard University, regarding his book entitled American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us. This interview shed some like on sociological issues regarding Christian activity in politics and public life. After the interview, Dr. Mohler summarized the interview.
I have taken the liberty to do my own summary of Dr. Mohler’s summary. While this blog is not dedicated to politics, it should be noted that Christianity speaks to every area of life and culture – spiritual, social, cultural, and yes, political and economic. We should not be ignorant of how the Bible speaks to all these issues and areas of life. That being said…
Shock, Aftershock, and Aftershock
Prior to the 1960s, the U.S. culture was strongly influenced by Christianity and Christian values. But everything changed in the 1960s with the rebellion against traditional Christian values. Christians responded to the secularization of the 60s (what Putnam calls the first aftershock) with a strong clarion call that resulted in Christian conservatism and the formation of entities such as the Christian Right. But then, in turn, secularists responded to the rise of evangelical momentum. This second aftershock took place in the 1990s.
Putnam suggests that the growth of evangelical momentum also ended in the early 90s. While secularization has been growing, Christianity has been in retreat. But it’s not as cut and dry as to say that secularization has now supplanted religion.
The Moral Divide
Premarital Sex: This is an issue that has shifted since the 60s, and it is more profound than we think. The issues that have more attention are abortion, homosexuality, etc. But the issue of premarital sex may be the driving factor of these other issues.
The Religious Predictor: Saying a prayer at meal time or bedtime didn’t indicate much else 50 years ago than that a family was seeking to bring their faith into their family practices. But nowadays, a great deal can be revealed about those who say grace before a meal, including their political and cultural views. Those who pray and those who do not clearly divide along political and economic lines, not just spiritual ones.
Niceness of the Religious: The study done by Putnam also revealed that religious people are nicer than non-religious ones. The media and other sources let on that this is not the case, accusing religious people (namely Christians) of being intolerate, unkind, homophobic, sexist, racist and bigoted. But these sociological studies have shown that it is the secular person who, more often than not, is neither kind nor tolerant.
Political influence on theology: When an individual has a political view on the one hand and a spiritual/religious view on the other that is incommensurate, this sociological study has found that it is the political positions that drives a change in the religious worldview, and not vice versa. This is very disturbing. Those who are liberal or lean liberal in some or all of their political views will be more likely to become liberal in their theology. This applies to conservatives as well. But that’s not good news for conservatives. They are equally likely to sell out their religious beliefs to in favor of political demagogues who tout their values, whether these figures are orthodox or not. (This seems to be the case with men of faith and politics like David Barton who have no objection yoking themselves with conservative demagogues like Glenn Beck without seeing the glaring theological incompatibility of such companionship).