God (lucky Him!) doesn’t vote. Not that this indisposition makes Him a mere spectator in our electoral processes — or their aftermaths.
If you go to church regularly, the Pew Research Center says, you are likelier than not to have voted for Donald Trump. If you hardly ever darken a church door, you are still likelier to have voted for Hillary Clinton. Neither finding will knock most of us off our pins, the so-called God Gap in American politics having manifested itself since Pew began measuring it in 2000.
The point is not so much the existence of the gap as its implications for our life together as Americans. Some large non-negotiables require negotiating. There are things to be worked out which are not amenable to the skills of the conference room and the steady gaze of skilled bargainers. Church attendance and non-church attendance both bear on the viewpoints around which we organize government and implement government policies.
For instance: Obamacare and government-paid contraceptive devices. One of the numberless notions behind Obamacare is that personal choice in sexual relations is a Very Good Thing, riding down objections from old-fashioned moralists with their pince nezes and pained expressions. Let’s fortify therefore, the constitutional Right to Copulation Without Consequences by compelling employers to pick up the insurance tab.
Religious orders, too? Religious orders — the Little Sisters of the Poor come quickly to mind — that care for the sick and suffering? While, at the same time, on religious grounds, viewing contraception as morally impermissible? Yes, these, too, have to get with the program. Religion can’t get in the way. Religion’s for Sunday morning and the stained-glass propriety associated with those increasingly non-typical American institutions called churches. Outta our way, Sister!
Yet theology somehow never reduces to mere politics; nor can politics be stuffed successfully into an offering plate or a pyx. The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor remains unresolved: fines against the organization wiped out by the U.S. Supreme Court; appellate courts, nonetheless — pre-election anyway — bogged down, by high court order, in the details of how to get the thing ight. In bygone times such questions wouldn’t have arisen. Copulation Without Consequences wasn’t a political issue; it was a religious/moral issue, not meant for resolution by judges and bureaucrats.
Political attempts, generally led by secularists, to wrest moral issues from the grasp of the churches generally don’t turn out well. How could it be otherwise? There’s no Government Code of Behavior adequate to the task of stilling moral disputes. There might be in Mosul, Iraq, but not here. Moral witness is in most historical settings the job of churches, synagogues, and yes, mosques of the better sort, acting upon commandments and intuitions scarcely debatable on the campaign trail.
The reason for the God Gap — church-goers on one side (generally the right), non-church-goers on the other (generally the left) — is the enthusiasm of the left for pushing social overhaul without God’s getting in the way. Voters recognize as much — and tend to support the side whose view of religion generally tracks their own.
Obamacare and the Little Sisters of the Poor are tips of the iceberg below the surface of present-day politics. We may call the iceberg “Belief.” What’s important? And, equally important, how can we know? On what authority? The say-so of a blogger? That is not how moral fundamentals come to be fundamental. They root themselves in the heart before emerging as guideposts to human action.
The left hasn’t much interest in fundamentals, as the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat pointed out a few days ago, saying “[I]t is precisely older, foundational things that today’s liberalism has lost.” Including the tutelage of religion, which secularists, clustered primarily in the Democratic Party, see as less compelling than an Elizabeth Warren speech.
Behold the God Gap. Expect it to grow or contract in our political contests as one side or both weigh the attested proposition (John 1:1) that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
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