CBS needs to read James Davison Hunter

EmptyRedPews.jpgWant to read something that’s sort of sad?

CBSNews.com commentator Dick Meyer thinks he has a new, fresh insight into the pope, politics, faith and cutlure in his “The Devoutness Divide.” And that would be true, if he were writing pre-1991, pre-James Davison Hunter, pre-”Culture Wars” (as Hunter actually defined that term).

Here is the main statement of what Meyer believes is his big, new idea about religion in North America:

What divides Americans politically is not feuds between sects, bigotry or prejudice. The antagonism is not between, say, Jews and Baptists or Catholics and Methodists. It is not between believers and atheists; the vast majority of voters consider themselves religious and believe in God. The gap is rather between churchgoers and non-churchgoers; it is between people who are very orthodox or traditional in their religious belief and those who are more individualistic in their worship or less orthodox. The chasm is not defined by what religion people belong to but how they practice their religion.

There is no God Gap. But there is a Devoutness Divide.

There is no better predictor of voting behavior now than religious behavior. People who like to get their religion in churches or temples, served in the traditional ways, vote very differently than people who are religious in less traditional ways and who don’t attend religious services. The former vote for Republicans, the latter don’t.

Meyer wants this divide to go away, because these people really have so much in common, blah, blah, blah. He also faces the fact that the people on the left side of the church aisle probably fear and detest the people on the right side more than the other way around. At least he hints at that. Most of all, he grasps that the “pew gap” is the heart of the story.

But like I said, he is more than a decade late on this point.

If Meyer is typical of many people in the MSM, he needs to ask the next question: Why are some “religious” people in the pews all the time, while other “religious” people are not? What is the actual difference in these two approaches to faith? Why do you see what Hunter calls the gap between the “orthodox” and the “progressives” in almost all pews — even among the so-called born-again Protestants?

In other words, what is the core issue? Mr. Meyer, can you handle The Truth? Hunter is several decades ahead of you. Even The New York Times is starting to visit some of the right pews (or theater seats) and ask some of the right questions.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://cbsnews.com Dick Meyer

    Actually, I disagree with Hunter but I have read his book and have used it for many years. Hunter believes there is a culture war int his country, I do not. I do believe that relgious practice and behavior is the one reliable and consistent predictor of voting behavior. That said, I also believe Americans share a civic world to a much greater degree than Hunter does (or did 15 uyears ago). Politics elites are polarized; most people are not.

    Dick Meyer


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