Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Striving After Emptiness

This is an interesting poll, though I'm not sure it says what Raw Story says the New York Times says, it says (it's behind a paywall at NYT).  But Raw Story may be slightly altering what the NYT opinion column says, so I'll stick with the poll's information.

Among all White adults who participated in both the 2016 and 2020 surveys, 25% described themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants in 2016; 29% described themselves this way in 2020.
That's a very broad brush use of the term; but then again, what expert is going to decide who is, and who is not, a proper "evangelical"?  So take it as read:  the numbers identifying as "evangelical" among white adults is going up.  And it's clear (if you accept this poll as a picture of America) that people who consider themselves "evangelical" among white Protestants, is a rising percentage:

Of course, this doesn’t mean that no one stopped identifying with evangelicalism between 2016 and 2020. The survey shows that among White respondents who participated in both surveys, 2% identified as born-again/evangelical Protestants in 2016 and no longer did so by 2020. However, the 2% of White adults who stopped identifying as evangelicals during Trump’s term were more than offset by the 6% of White adults who began calling themselves born-again/evangelical Protestants between 2016 and 2020.

There were more defections during this time period among White Protestants who did not identify as born-again or evangelical in 2016. Overall, 6% of White adults described themselves as non-evangelical Protestants in 2016 but not in 2020, while 3% started identifying as such during the Trump administration.

And the increase is linked to Trump; which, I would argue, is to say, to power, through politics:

Among White respondents (including both voters and nonvoters) who did not identify as evangelicals in 2016 and who expressed a warm view of Trump at some point during the timespan of this study, 16% began describing themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants by 2020. In stark contrast, almost no White respondents (just 1%) who expressed consistently cold or neutral views toward Trump adopted the born-again/evangelical label for themselves between 2016 and 2020.

Part of this (seeking power by any means) is not new; part of it I take to be reflective of American politics at this moment.   Biden's approval rating (which means nothing.  Trump's approval rating never broke 50%, but he garnered 75 million votes in November, 2020.  I still think it was his disapproval rating that sank him.) is only above Trump's at this point.  But I think that reflects frustration with the Senate, where the balance of power is absolutely equal, and institutionalizes (more than just Manchin and Sinema) won't eliminate the filibuster so government can work under these conditions.  The people frustrated with Biden don't seem to appreciate the President is not a sovereign with a Parliament run by one party.  Those same people may hate Trump, but they still buy the Trumpian nonsense that "I alone can fix it."  Or they just expect government to finally act, a la LBJ; but LBJ had and majority in the House by 155, and almost 2/3rds of the Senate on his side.  Biden has an almost perfectly divided government.  Were we all a bit more rational, we'd be more upset with Congress than the POTUS.

So it goes.

Further, it doesn't appear Trump drove evangelicals out of the fold, so to speak:

Among White respondents (both voters and nonvoters) who identified as evangelical Protestants in 2016 and expressed at least some ambivalence about Trump, 88% still identified as evangelicals in 2020, while 12% no longer did so. (This group is defined as those who said they voted or would have voted for someone other than Trump in 2016 or 2020 or said they have a neutral or cold view of him at either point in time.) Among consistent Trump supporters, 93% still identified as evangelicals in 2020, while 7% no longer did. Though the 12% defection rate among Trump skeptics is nominally higher than the 7% defection rate among Trump supporters, the difference is not statistically significant given the surveys’ margins of error.

In fact, votes for Trump among white evangelicals held pretty firm:

Six-in-ten in this group were consistent Trump supporters who cast ballots for him in both 2016 and 2020, and an additional 18% were Trump converts – they backed him in 2020 after voting for another candidate or not voting at all in the 2016 general election. In total, 78% of White voters who identified as evangelicals at both points in time voted for Trump in 2020.

By contrast, 9% of voters in this group were Trump defectors who backed someone else or did not vote in 2020 after voting for Trump in 2016. The remaining 13% did not vote for Trump in either election.

The losses were offset by the gains:

Among non-White respondents who participated in both the 2016 and 2020 surveys, 26% identified as born-again/evangelical Protestants in 2016, and 25% identified this way in 2020. Of course, some did drop the born-again/evangelical label during Trump’s term (7% of all non-White respondents), but they were offset by an equal share (7%) who adopted the born-again/evangelical label during the same period. 

And yes, this needs to be seen in the context of voter suppression and the continued fearmongering about the dangers of a "brown planet":

The surveys did not include enough interviews with Black, Hispanic and other non-White Americans to permit analyzing them separately, or to discern whether Trump opponents were more likely than Trump supporters to drop the evangelical label. This reflects the prevailing opposition to Trump in this group: In the 2020 survey, for example, just 30% of non-White voters who identify as born-again or evangelical Protestants (including just 12% of Black evangelical voters) reported casting a ballot for Trump.

According to the Raw Story version of the NYT column:

Just 16 percent of all self-identified evangelicals in 2008 said they never or seldom attended church, but that number jumped to 27 percent last year, and about a third of those non-churchgoing evangelicals in 2008 said they were politically conservative, while that number rose to about 50 percent in 2019.


Overall, 59% of voters who frequently attend religious services cast their ballot for Trump, while 40% chose Biden. Among those who attend services a few times a year or less, the pattern was almost exactly reversed: 58% picked Biden, while 40% voted for Trump.

However, these patterns vary by race. Frequent religious service attenders’ preference for Trump was apparent among White voters but largely absent among Black voters. (Due to limitations in sample size, results among Hispanic and Asian Americans could not be analyzed separately.)

About seven-in-ten White, non-Hispanic Americans who attend religious services at least monthly (71%) voted for Trump, while roughly a quarter (27%) voted for Biden. Among White Americans who attend religious services a few times a year or less, far fewer voted for Trump (46%), while around half (52%) voted for Biden.

What that poll found (from August 2021) is that, again, whites were more likely to vote for Trump than non-whites.  White evangelicals were most likely to vote for Trump, non-evangelical white Protestants were most evenly divided (51 for Trump to 48 for Biden), and white Catholics more likely to support Trump than Protestants.  Make of that what you will, but attendance at church services doesn't show a significant change in the trends.

But consider this:  2/3rds of white evangelical protestants who voted in 2020, attend worship regularly.  Does this mean worship is influencing their vote?  Or that, preferring to be a part of a larger whole (by attending church), are they also more inclined to do their civic duty, and vote?  Just because evangelicals support Trump by the largest percentages doesn't mean every evangelical going to the polls in 2020 was voting for Trump.  If they also regularly attend worship, it does mean they are interested in communal activities, in a sense of at least communal duty, and that could translate into a sense of civic duty.  So it doesn't follow that they are driven to vote for Trump because they worship at the altar of Trump=Jesus.  If could be they vote in larger percentages than other groups because they are clearly more motivated to get off their ass and go out and do something in the world.

Worship with other people, even when they are of like mind, is not always a dip into a warm vat of goo.  It can be rewarding; it can be challenging; it can be comforting.  Or it can be none of those things; what it is, and whether it is "good," depends on the personality of the individual attending.  I mention this because Ryan Burge draws some conclusions I'm not sure are supported by the facts, as much as I might want them to be (it puts me more comfortably in the seat of judgment; which is not a place where I should be comfortable, but ecce homo):

"Those who became evangelical between 2016 and 2020 had much warmer views of President Trump than those who didn't feel warmly toward him," wrote Burge, a professor at Eastern Illinois University. "The evidence points in one direction: For many Americans, to be a conservative Republican is to be an evangelical Christian, regardless of if they ever attend a Sunday service."

Well, yeah; but as I say, the evidence that attendance in worship is down among evangelicals is not really supported by the most recent Pew survey.  And there's this:

"The rapid rise of the nonreligious and non-Protestant evangelical has meant that the tradition did not fade in any significant way over the last decade," Bruge wrote. "But instead, what it means to be evangelical is being radically remade. It used to be that when many people thought about evangelicalism, they conjured up an image of a fiery preacher imploring them to accept Jesus. Now the data indicate that more and more Americans are conflating evangelicalism with Republicanism — and melding two forces to create a movement that is not entirely about politics or religion but power."

I think that's right, but then again, Americans have always conflated religion with social/political power.  Martin Luther King addressed that (I know, I know, it's my hobbyhorse, and I'm going to break it someday!) in 1963; but he was addressing "mainline" denominations.  Evangelicals were not "mainline" until the 1980's.  Evangelicalism was out of that game for so long because it was the religious practice of the poor, the socially outcast, the marginalized and on the margins.  It only began to gain respectability (and power; literal civic and temporal power) with the rise of the TV evanglists in the '70's, and then the rise of Jerry Falwell (especially) in the '80's.  Falwell expressly tied his religious movement to political power (the Moral Majority wasn't about proseyltizing and saving souls at tent revivals). Pat Robertson ran for the GOP nomination for POTUS.  Evangelicalism began to lay claim to serious money, and at the same time learned to wear its racism on its sleeve (Falwell's support of private schools in opposition to desegregation was one of his long-standing positions).  Evangelicalism became associated with the GOP through Ralph Reed, who ran multiple scams parting white evangelicals from their money in the name of supporting Republican candidates.  Reed and Falwell and Robertson were always about power, just disquising it as politics or religion.

Everything old is new again.  Or, as Ecclesiastes said:  there is nothing new under the sun.

Ain't it the truth, brother? 

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