It is election time again. Once every four years we go through our ritual of deciding who is going to be the “leader of the free world” for the next four years. Of course there are a variety of special interest groups doing their best to help determine who that is going to be. One of the groups a lot of scholars and social commentators generally pay attention to is the Christian right. Indeed, this group has had its share of victories and defeats over the last couple of decades and deserves attention. But what about those who fight against them? Those fighting the Christian right have attracted little academic interest. But recently I have conducted research on such individuals who I will call, for lack of a better name, cultural progressive activists, and some of that research is in my latest book, What Motivates Cultural Progressives. My next four blog entries will report on some of my findings.
My general theoretical framework is that cultural progressives are part of a social movement, and we should think of them as such. Social movements should be understood as ways to meet the social needs of a particular group as well as provide members of that group a social identity. So to understand cultural progressive activists, we need to understand their social movement. Cultural progressive activists have developed a social movement with certain values that meet the social needs and provide a social identity for those who enjoy majority status in our society. Over the next few blogs I will explore those values in an attempt to better comprehend cultural progressive activists.
This fear of mixing religion and politics should be seen as a reaction to the possible Christian influence in our political world. A quote from the literature I read in one of the organizations represented this fear well. “A well-organized and well-funded campaign is under way to undermine the separation of church and state in America’s public schools. Aggressive religious pressure groups are pushing school boards nationwide to change the curriculum to their doctrines.” For cultural progressive activists, fear of religious groups is theorized to be remedied by keeping churches separate from the state. Cultural progressive activists justify a great deal of their political demands by valuing the separating of religion from the government. For example, they can demand that religion should not prevent women from getting an abortion or individuals marrying someone of the same sex. This allows them to demand abortion and same-sex marriage on the basis of maintaining a secular government free of religious influence.
Most cultural progressive activists in our sample are not highly religious. In fact more than three fourths of them are either atheists or agnostics. This indicates why they may have this fear of mixing religion and politics. They want a government concerned with their desires instead of the desires of religious individuals. Separation of church and state meets a real need for these respondents since it puts them in a position to advocate a secular government based on their values rather than the values of highly religious Christians. Thus, the concept of church/state separation provides them legitimacy to oppose most, if not all, of the Christian right’s political desires by arguing that we should not shape a government based on religious values.
In the next three blogs I will look at other values I found in the themes of my respondents and how those values motivate them. I will also discuss how those values meet their social needs and help create their social identity. Hopefully, this discussion will lead to more understanding of an important special interest group, one that is as important as the Christian right group they are battling.