A Resurgence From the Religious Left?

Left-wing religious groups are firing salvos against the Republican Party on the basis of Ayn Rand's "anti-Christian" influence.

This is a fascinating little attack ad from the American Values Network:

I’ve been wondering if we’d see a resurgence of the religious left for a few years now, and I wonder if 2012 might be the year it announces its presence with authority. There’s an interesting split among evangelicals going on right now, especially among the younger set, over politics. In particular, there’s a large crop of preachers and young followers wanting to return the church back to its root of concern for the poor and needy and away from traditionally social conservative issues.

This would hardly be new in American history. During the Gilded Age and for a few years after, there was a large religious strain in the progressive movement, and the largest figure in that movement was William Jennings Bryan. Today, William Jennings Bryan is largely remembered as the guy who fought for Creationism during the Scopes trial. What’s not remembered is his fights against the gold standard, for women’s suffrage, for labor rights, against imperialism, and for progressive income taxes.

Now that the Cold War is decades gone, I wonder if the old union of free-marketers and the religious can stick together in the future – especially considering the aging population of social conservatives.

And on another cultural note, it’s personally fascinating to me that the chosen angle to attack the Republicans by this group of Christians is the influence of Ayn Rand. This is pretty brutal.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Religion, US Politics
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    Jesus was very clear in preaching against the pursuit of wealth and preaching for compassion towards the poor. Yet our right somehow ignores this almost completely.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    The left has had a hate/hate relationship with religion for decades. The religious left is such a small demographic group that they are even more irrelevant than social conservatives, libertarians, or fiscal conservatives.

    In the last decade or two, the left has gone from being indifferent to religion to openly hostile to religion. See the hostility from wanting to remove Santa Claus from a Christmas Parade in Kensington Maryland to prayers at high school graduation to removal of the mention of religion in textbooks.

  3. Jay Tea says:

    And then there’s the element of the left that sees religion as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It’s a way to achieve “social justice” and whatnot.

    Ben, you might be surprised to hear that when actual contributions to charity, the right far outstrips the left. Where the left demonstrates its “generosity” is in giving away other people’s money, coercing others to be “generous,” and outsourcing its compassion to the government. Conservatives prefer a more hands-on approach.

    J.

  4. steve says:

    “The left has had a hate/hate relationship with religion for decades. ”

    That would be the left you read about in right wing sites and that does stuff that makes for good sales in the media. There are many mainline protestants who have been relatively apolitical, but continue their ministries to the poor. Our soup kitchen is as busy as ever. The religious left has just not become politically active the way that evangelicals have. While Ayn Rand’s teachings are not compatible with scripture, that has never bothered the right for some reason. I don’t really see the left wanting to combine religion and politics, so I will be surprised if this amounts to much.

    Steve

  5. Jim says:

    I’ve been following this story for about a decade and I have a couple of thoughts. I don’t think it ever really came to be that younger evangelicals were more “liberal” than their parents, it’s probably more accurate to say they weren’t as politically right-wing as their parents…but that’s probably something you could say about their (my) whole generation, regardless of religion.

    The statistics showing how younger evangelicals are more likely to support gay rights (or at least not be as hostile to them) while at the same time actually being more pro-life than their parents, is really fascinating to me, and I think it indicates that what’s happening can’t be usefully broken down as “they’re more liberal than their parents”.

    I think people were hoping for/warning against a generation of Jim Wallis’, but it looks instead like we’re getting a generation of Rob Bell’s, which is immeasurably better imo, but also probably even worse in the eyes of others.

    So, basically, I think all of this is the winding down of the religious right more so than it is the winding up of the religious left. We’ll see!

  6. TG Chicago says:

    I find it amusing that, rather than address Ben Wolf’s point, superdestroyer and Jay Tea just start flailing away at “the left”.

    Also, superdestroyer: Santa Claus is not generally considered to be a religious figure.

  7. mantis says:

    And then there’s the element of the left that sees religion as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It’s a way to achieve “social justice” and whatnot.

    That “social justice and whatnot” is what Jesus preached. Is following the words of your God “using religion as a means to an end?”

    Ben, you might be surprised to hear that when actual contributions to charity, the right far outstrips the left

    Ben, you will probably not be surprised to learn such assertions come from right wing think tanks. Shocking, I know.

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    I wonder if the rise in universalism among evangelicals in particular (see Rob Bell) and among the religious populace in general (including among catholics) and the Emerging Church has any correlation/causation with a (possible) resurgent religious left. It seems to me that the growing evangelical movements that preach more acceptance, not less, of a variety of believers/beliefs would attract more progressive types.

  9. Alex Knapp says:

    Jay,

    And then there’s the element of the left that sees religion as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It’s a way to achieve “social justice” and whatnot.

    Like who?

    Ben, you might be surprised to hear that when actual contributions to charity, the right far outstrips the left.

    Are you referring to the Brooks study back in 2004? The methodology in that study is extraordinarily questionable. It didn’t take into account that the number of self-described conservatives is about double the number of self-described liberals. It didn’t control for churchgoing (if you remove donations to religious organizations, liberals actually donated more, for instance). It didn’t control for income and included all non-profit organizations as “charities.” So donating to the Ayn Rand Institute or the Heritage Foundation or the Brookings Institute were counted the same as donating to a soup kitchen.

    It’s a seriously flawed study. To my recollection, no follow-ups have demonstrated the same conclusion, but I’d have to double check on that before I said definitively.

  10. Alex Knapp says:

    Also, Jay, since I report on science, it’s worth mentioning that you should never rely on the findings of one study as being a demonstrated conclusion.

  11. Kylopod says:

    >The religious left has just not become politically active the way that evangelicals have.

    I am a religious person as well as being politically left-of-center, but I don’t really consider myself part of the “Religious Left.” That term suggests mixing religion with politics, which I’m generally opposed to. Yes, I enjoy pointing out the cognitive dissonance of Republicans who claim to be the champions of religion while actively celebrating one of the most ardent religion-haters of the 20th century. But my basic view, contrary to the standard conservative one and in line with many left-wing agnostics, is that religion should be kept out of politics as much as possible–and that this is a better arrangement for everybody, including the devout.

    Part of it may be that I’m Jewish, not Christian, and therefore I’m against the One True God and no different than an atheist. More seriously, people who are part of the majority religion are more likely to see the separation of church and state as an attack, whereas minority religions see it the way the Founders did–as a protection against religious tyranny.

  12. ponce says:

    Yet our right somehow ignores this almost completely.

    Is there a name for Christians who don’t believe in Jesus?

  13. Bleev K says:

    Ben, you might be surprised to hear that when actual contributions to charity, the right far outstrips the left. Where the left demonstrates its “generosity” is in giving away other people’s money, coercing others to be “generous,” and outsourcing its compassion to the government. Conservatives prefer a more hands-on approach.

    Yeah, give your money to your priest, you little sheep.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Jay believes absolutely in whatever study supports his preconception.

  15. mantis says:

    Is there a name for Christians who don’t believe in Jesus?

    Jews.

  16. hey norm says:

    the story here is not the religious left…it is the so-called right who simultaneously embrace christianity and Rand – two trains of thought diametrically opposed to each other. it’s a sign of their un-seriousness, and their inability to put together a coherent approach to governing.

  17. ponce says:

    Jews.

    Interesting.

    That may be one reason why America’s fringe right and Israel’s fringe right have such a strong connection.

  18. matt says:

    Superdestroyer : What the hell does Santa Clause have to do with religion? I mean other then the fact that Santa Claus has overshadowed Jesus’ birthday and all…

  19. superdestroyer says:

    Matt,

    The anti-Christians in Kensington Maryland decided that Santa Claus See http://kensington.patch.com/articles/2001-santa-ban-meant-to-be-inclusive.

    Excluding Santa and not having a Christmas Tree was considered inclusive.

  20. mattb says:

    Ponce,

    Following up on:

    That may be one reason why America’s fringe right and Israel’s fringe right have such a strong connection.

    Here’s the less cynical and more cynical/conspiracy/Christian-Zionism read for the relationship…

    Less Cynical/More mainstream theological:
    Christians consider themselves and Jews the only two legitimate major religions of the book (i.e. the Abraham bible. Islam represents the third, but isn’t often recognized as such.

    As Christ never intended to start his own religion — he considered himself Jewish up to his death (and resurrection if you are a Christian), there’s a natural affinity. In old school (less progressive Christian) times, the common thought was that Jews were un-perfected Christians (note: staying away from the whole “Christ-Killer” thing there). In other words, Christianity was the “natural” evolution of Judaism.

    Even as things have moved beyond this point, it’s still felt that Jews are closer to Christians than Islam, which followed. Hence the natural affinity.

    Ok, onto the more conspiracy theorist view:
    Certain interpretations of the final book of the bible, Revelations, suggest that Israel must be united and then fall in order for the rapture to take place (Dispensationalism – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism). It’s not particularly mainstream, btw. The second line of this more extreme view is Christian Zionism which explicitly sees Israel as the ultimate home for Christians and something that must be protected in order to please God (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Zionism#Recent_political_analysis_and_developments ).

  21. matt says:

    superdestroyer : Once again I have to ask what the hell does Santa have to do with religion? Absolutely nothing…

  22. matt says:

    Well I guess you could make a claim that the genesis of Santa can be traced back to religious figures but come on man the current Santa is nothing but a corporate symbol of consumption…

  23. MarkedMan says:

    If I were to use my experience to answer the question, “who does more for charity – left or right” I would be completely stumped for an answer. First off, I wouldn’t consider giving to your local church a charity, it’s more like funding a club you are a member of. I’m not denigrating religion here, just pointing out that for a given church, most, if not all, of its money is spent on things for its own membership (building expenses being the bulk, salary of the ministers, paraphernalia used in religious ceremonies).

    My wife and I are decidedly liberal. We donate to NPR and other public radio shows, and that might squeak by as a charity, but since we get so much out of it, I would have to call it giving to a club we are members of. We give to a personal friend who is a Ghanaian doctor creating a clinic and now a hospital, and that is definitely a charity. My wife has been very involved with community groups over the years. Working with AIDS patients when that was a death sentence was in the “charity” category, her work now on a local teenage outreach program may have at least something to do with our children on the cusp of teenage years themselves.

    My sister does things constantly, from hosting the Rosary Society (really just a way for the elderly parish women to get together) in her home, to using her vacation time to go to Mississippi and Louisiana for hurricane cleanup. But is she liberal or conservative? Tough to answer in her case. She has politics that fall solidly into each camp.

    No, if I survey my friends and family, I have to say that being a truly charitable person does not seem to stem from liberal or conservative beliefs, but rather simply the type of person you are.