Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.
A recent study from Pew Forum has suggested that the influence of religion in, not only, American politics, but American life, has declined over recent years. However, of this percentage of people who have noticed a decline of religion in politics, most of these suggested that this was not a good thing, and would like to see a rise in its impact. This therefore, bring the question as to whether or not religion and politics really is at a cross roads?
The Pew Forum study found that the number of Americans who believe that religion is losing influence in American life is now up to 72%, the highest levels this has been in a decade, and 5 points higher than it was in 2010. Despite the fact that religion no longer has such an impact in American politics, it is clear that it is a sensitive subject, which many people still want to be part of their lives. This can be seen by the number of people who see this change to be a negative influence on society. One reason for this, suggested by the report, is because of an increase in the unity between those who are religiously affiliated and may have differing understandings of religious texts.
In comparison to other countries, around the world, the United States is not seen to be religiously diverse at all, with the vast majority of people associating themselves with Christianity. With 95% of the American population accounting for Christians and those who are not religiously affiliated, it is clear to see why “the U.S. ranks 68th out of 232 countries and territories on our Religious Diversity Index.” Although, with 70% of Americans holding Christian beliefs, there will be a demand for these views to be represented in legislation, which governs American life. This would then explain why there has been an increase in the number of people wanting to see a higher influence of religion in politics, if they have seen a decline in recent years.
However, what the statistics on religious diversity do not account for, is the various views within Christianity, which exist within America. As a result of having so many varying denominations of Christianity in one countries, there is also an argument to suggest that America is in fact religiously diverse. It is this, which could be used to explain why there has been a decline in the extent of religious influences within U.S politics, as there are a number of issues which these denominations have conflicting views on. One example of this is the issue of abortion, where there are huge differences in opinions between evangelical and non-evangelical Christians. “Sixty-two percent of evangelical Protestants say it should be illegal in all or most cases; by contrast, 65 percent of non-evangelical Protestants say abortion should be legal (as do 55 percent of Catholics).” By looking at this it could be suggested that, by reducing the religious influences in politics, it allows for policies to come into effect without causing conflict amongst religious groups, who may have been influencing the politics of the country. Further this, it allows for new policies to become more open to the increasing number of ‘nones’ within America. Despite the fact this is a good reason for the demand for higher influence of religion in U.S. politics, the levels of religiosity must also be considered.
The number of Christians within the American population is in decline and the number of adults who do not affiliate with any religious organisation is growing. These changes can be seen throughout the country, while these patterns are most prominent within the younger age groups, it is still apparent throughout the whole of the American demographic. According to the Pew Forum, between 2007 and 2014, the number ‘nones’ rose by 6.7 points, while mainline Protestants and Catholics saw the largest hit amongst religious groups. Although America holds the highest number of Christians than any other country, it is clear than like many countries around the world, religion is in decline. With this fall in religiosity around the world, it can be seen why religion could be argued to have a declining presence in the political sphere, as the country moves with its people and with the times.
One way in which, having such a diverse Christian base in America can effect politics can be seen through elections, where the public become wary of candidates from certain denominations and the values associated with them. The case of Mitt Romney is a key example as it highlights how he lost a large number of votes, throughout the country as a result of his Mormon beliefs, which many people were wary of. This can be seen in 2008, where he ran for the republican candidate for presidency, however fell after just two months due to the negative image people viewed his religion. Romney also experienced obstacles in political career based on his religion in 2012, when he again ran for presidency and this time managed to be elected as the republican to take on Obama in the elections. This time he put less emphasis on his religion which led to him gaining more votes from people who were unaware of his Mormon faith, the number of which had decreased by 11 points. This was made up of a number of Evangelicals who were persuaded by this as well as the republican shift to the right. Overall, however, his faith still acted as a hurdle, which Romney was unable to overcome in either election, and thus shows the impact religion plays on U.S politics.
The evidence shows that America is still a largely Christian nation, which can be seen by the high percentage of people affiliated with Christianity, as well as the suspicion around other beliefs, as seen with Mitt Romney. Further, by looking at the increasing demand for politics to listen to religious figures, it should have a part to play in the nation’s political sphere, and so they should be heading in the same direction and not at a crossroad. However, with increasing number of ‘nones’, and diversity within American Christians, it is not certain this will be the case in future years.