The Enduring Culture War

In a USA Today column titled “An election that is, and isn't, about God,” Stephen Prothero contends that, “2008 is the year that Democrats found faith, in effect leveling the religious playing field. This doesn't mean that every election from here forth will be faith-focused. In fact, religion's role in politics might just recede into the background.” 

Prothero, the chairman of Boston University Religion Department, believes that with both Republicans and Democrats talking about God, “there will be less to gain from discussing” religion, and political discourse will be “less about Jesus and more about jobs.” 

Peter Beinart writes in a Washington Post column, “Last of the Culture Warriors,” that America has “turned on Sarah Palin.”  Why?  Because “Palin's brand is culture war, and in America today culture war no longer sells. The struggle that began in the 1960s – which put questions of racial, sexual and religious identity at the forefront of American politics – may be ending. Palin is the end of the line.” 

Beinart, former editor of The New Republic, argues that the newly risen generation is more amenable to feminism and gay rights, and that “economic collapse” has Americans focused on their pocketbooks.  Americans are ignoring Palin because she is, “depicting the campaign as a struggle between the culturally familiar and the culturally threatening, the culturally traditional and the culturally exotic.”  Palin “may be the last culture warrior on a national ticket for a very long time.”  

These opinions must tickle the ears of New Age guru Deepak Chopra.  In a strikingly bitter and hateful Washington Post commentary, “Please Keep God Out of the Voting Booth,” Chopra empties both barrels at the Religious Right. “Can we hope that religious voting will return to being a private matter? In the past, various noxious movements that were anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic made grabs for political leverage, only to sink back into the miasma. Is something like that about to happen now?” 

According to Chopra, “The basic argument of 'God is on our side' was dubious enough, but it was stretched to extreme lengths: God is against Roe v. Wade, God demands that our children pray in school, God condemns homosexuals to hell. It would have been more truthful simply to label themselves as the intolerance faction.” 

Prothero, Beinart and Chopra respectively reduce the culture war to rhetoric, identity politics and mere bigotry.  In fact, the conflict is rooted in America's lack of consensus about the most fundamental issue confronting mankind: how we understand and relate to God.    

The Culture and Media Institute's study of American moral beliefs and values, the “National Cultural Values Survey,” found that America's culture war is all about God.  According to the NCVS, nearly all Americans fit into one of three values groups.  The secular Progressives, 17 percent of the public, are nearly as likely to disbelieve in God as to believe.  They elevate their own values above God's, and strenuously oppose the application of religious values to public policy.  The Independents, 46 percent of the public, overwhelmingly believe in God but place their own values alongside God's in importance, and apply religious values selectively to public policy.  The faithful Orthodox, 31 percent of the public, believe in God, think we must accept religious values to live a good life, and wish to see government policies reflect religious values.  89 percent of Orthodox, and 52 percent of all Americans, believe the Bible is God's authoritative word.

Prothero suggests Democratic “God” language has neutralized religious values, but slick rhetoric cannot forever conceal fundamental conflicts.  For example, beginning with Bill Clinton, liberals have attempted to win over pro-life voters, without changing their own pro-abortion policies, by claiming they want abortion to be “rare.” Powerful figures in the media are assisting, even encouraging this subterfuge (see CMI's report, “Time's Religious Democratic Crusader”).  The deception will collapse and pro-lifers will be galvanized if President Obama signs the Freedom of Choice Act, which would make abortion an absolute right, sweeping away every pro-life victory from parental notification for minors to bans on partial birth abortion. 

Beinart defines the culture war as an “identity” conflict, and Chopra dismisses the conflict as “bigotry,” largely directed at homosexuals. They overlook the reality that half of Americans believe God has communicated to mankind through the Bible.  These Americans believe that, on God's authority, causes like radical feminism are misguided and homosexual activity is wrong.  Economic distress may distract their attention, but it won't change their minds. 

Prothero, Beinart and Chopra reflect the prevailing attitude in the “Progressive” news media.  Largely secular in outlook, the media don't put God's values first and would like to see social conservatives throw in the towel.  The culture war will not end, however, when nearly one American in three puts God's values first and cannot allow moral issues to be swept under the rug, and many more Americans support their moral stands.  

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.