Two weeks ago I started this series based on my latest book entitled What Motivates Cultural Progressives. The research is based on open-ended questions from an online survey to members of organizations that have as part of their purpose opposition to the Christian or religious right. My basic argument is that cultural progressive activists have shaped a movement that meets the needs of the people who inhabit the movement, who tend to be white, male, wealthy and highly educated. Thus the social movement led by cultural progressives, like other social movements, develops in ways to serve the individuals in the movement. In my last entry I pointed out that a key value in this movement was the desire to keep religion from mixing with politics. While that was an important theme I found in the data, it was by no means the only theme.
In this entry I will look at the theme of rationality. The value of rationality is one that many of the respondents enunciated. The respondents generally argued that the Christian right is irrational.
The Christian Right appears to be composed mainly of lower-middle class, blue-collar Caucasian workers with limited formal education who use their limited mental abilities to come up with illogical arguments, and then angrily enforce their positions with fear and intimidation (Male, age 56-65, master’s degree).
I fear their influence in our government, our military and society as a whole. They are … unable to think rationally (Male, age 66-75, some graduate training).
For these respondents, the Christian right’s irrationality leads to poor decisions for our society and our government. They argue that we need a rational way of making decisions instead of relying on superstition and religious beliefs. Many respondents are irritated that religion is a political factor because they see religion as irrational.
Values do not happen in isolation from each other. The desire to avoid mixing politics and religion I discussed in the last entry fits well with the concern of the respondents for rationality. They fear that religion is irrational and mixing it with politics will lead to our government becoming irrational. These values are not mutually exclusive, but rather they reinforce and support each other.
Whether cultural progressives are more rational than others in society is a question beyond the intentions of this study. Rationality is a socially constructed concept and how we understand what is rational is shaped by the social situation we find ourselves in. Another study I am working on suggests that atheists, a staple of this sample, are no more likely to engage in critical thinking than Christians. Perhaps in a future blog, I will discuss that study. But for now it is not really that important whether cultural progressive activists are more rational than those in the Christian right. My argument as a result of this study is that the value of rationality characterizes cultural progressive activists, not actual rationality. Whether the solutions advocated by cultural progressive activists are truly the most logical steps for society is a debate worth having but not one I can add to at this time. They honestly believe themselves to be more rational than their counterparts and because of that belief can assert that they have the best plans for our society. Cultural progressives conceive their plans as being well thought out instead of based on the emotional fears of the Christian right. This image of rationality is a key to why cultural progressive activists are certain that they are correct and the Christian right is incorrect.
We now have a good sense of some of what motivates cultural progressive activists. In my next entry I will complete the picture with my description of the values that drive the members of this social movement. After that, in my final entry in this series, we will be in a position to understand how these values frame the type of solutions cultural progressives see for our society.