RELIGIOUS RIGHT MYTHS

Steven Waldman lists a few in a recent Slate piece. The most amusing:

Myth 5: Most religious extremists are in the GOP. Defining “extremist” as someone on the far end of the religious spectrum, it is true that most fundamentalists are Republican. But what about the other end of the religious spectrum? Statistically speaking, secular people (atheists, agnostics, etc.) are extreme, too, in the sense that they are well outside the public opinion norm. They tend to be Democrats. According to one study 60 percent of first-time white delegates to the 1992 Democratic convention claimed no attachment to religion.

While this takes a bit of rhetorical leeway by redefining a word differently than common usage, it’s a fair point.

FILED UNDER: Religion
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mercutio says:

    The difference is that when a fundamentalist hears voices that aren’t there telling him what the rest of the world should do, he thinks it’s the revealed word. When the atheist hears those voices, he KNOWS he’s crazy.

  2. James Joyner says:

    The percentage of politically active religious types who “hear voices” has to be statistically insignificant.

  3. Alex says:

    It seems like more than a small stretch. The number of militant atheists is really very small, although they can have a disproportionate impact because when they sue over minimal intrusions of religion in the public sphere, they often win.

    However, this author is talking simply about those who are skeptical or disenchanted with conventional religion. To define somebody as ‘extremist’ when their extremism really consists entirely in apathy or indifference is a wild misuse of the word.

  4. jan says:

    No religion, no belief for me, thanks. But, errr, no relgion! Aaaaaah, this must be hell or something! Oh wait, no, that can’t be.

    Why is it that atheist get so demonized?

  5. melvin toast says:

    What are we discussing here? Deeply religious people
    DO tend to vote Republican. I don’t think the Pope would
    vote Republican though…

    I think that a lot of people including the liberal press
    attempt to dismiss conservative discussion by tacking on
    stupid reasons why conservatives are conservative. Like the berkeley study that said that conservatives are angry and simple minded. Scapegoating religion just is another tack.

    Evangelical Christian probably care more about social conservatism than non-evangelical types but I’d make the
    claim that both tend to vote Republican. I would consider myself religious but I’ve never voted based on social policy. Fiscal/economic policy and foreign policy always seemed more important because those are issues over livelihood.

    Does fiscal conservatism and T Rex foreign policy ring
    truer with religious people than atheists? If so, why?

  6. melvin toast says:

    What are we discussing here? Deeply religious people
    DO tend to vote Republican. I don’t think the Pope would
    vote Republican though…

    I think that a lot of people including the liberal press
    attempt to dismiss conservative discussion by tacking on
    stupid reasons why conservatives are conservative. Like the berkeley study that said that conservatives are angry and simple minded. Scapegoating religion just is another tack.

    Evangelical Christian probably care more about social conservatism than non-evangelical types but I’d make the
    claim that both tend to vote Republican. I would consider myself religious but I’ve never voted based on social policy. Fiscal/economic policy and foreign policy always seemed more important because those are issues over livelihood.

    Does fiscal conservatism and T Rex foreign policy ring
    truer with religious people than atheists? If so, why?

  7. markus says:

    in an otherwise decent article the paragraph above is 100% pure BS.
    Without discussing the enormous lobbying power of the extremist atheists and the desire of the nuttier among them to blow up doctors who refuse to do abortions on religious grounds, one can simply say that a statistical norm (real/reality norm) is incorrect here and that the correct norm is an ideal one, that of moderation. An intuitive example of this is introversion-extraversion, where neither pole is desirable and your best off with the middle. A more extreme example would be to argue that the extremely unimaginative, down-to-earth. are just as extreme/deviant (from the social norm) as hallucinating schizophrenics. In fact, the former are maybe a bit boring, the latter need treatment.
    AFAIK there is no readily applicable method to find out which norm (real/ideal) is correct in any given instance, the best cue for an ideal-norm is usually whether there is any extrinsic value attached to a particular point on the continuum or some kind of criterion to be met (classical case for the latter is the perfect test score). The important thing is however, that in the case of a ideal-norm, the two extreme ends are no longer necessarily equally “extreme”, because one overshoots, one undershoots the target and the respective implications of each depend on the target value, circumstances etc. This in turn means one has to provide arguments either that the norm is value free (real/statistic norm) or that the two end points under an ideal-norm are in fact equivalent.

  8. melvin toast says:

    I was trying to avoid commenting on the stupidity of trying to quantify extremism. It’s as stupid as coming up with a technical definition of pornography. However, here are some metrics that may be used in a jam. You know somone is extreme if he’s:
    1. Not the brightest bulb in the pack
    2. Not the sharpest tool in the shed
    3. Four quarters short of a dollar
    4. A few fries short of a happy meal
    5. 5 beer short of a six pack
    6. A few pill short of a pharmacy

    Course it depends on what the definition of is is.

  9. JC says:

    I’ll just ask how many wars and atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, and then ask what the comparative number has been committed by atheists.

  10. James Joyner says:

    JC,

    I’m guessing, in terms of scale, you’d get fairly similar numbers. Stalin was an atheist. There is some dispute over Adolf Hitler, with evidence pointing both ways.

  11. markus says:

    James: JC said “in the name of” not “by” or do you want to argue either Stalin or Hitler killed in the name of atheism?

  12. James Joyner says:

    markus,

    Interesting distinction. But, of course, one isn’t going to use an unpopular cause to rally support. Most religious wars–including those of our current radical Muslim enemies–aren’t really based on religion but politics.

  13. markus says:

    James: you’re right, most wars are really based on politics, but it is equally true that most politics is based on religion and hence most wars. Or that wars are indeed based on religion. I see your point, but I think the choice is either to -correctly- accept that few things are mono-causal and proceed to estimate the influence of religion on various wars of the past, or we -somewhat incorrectly- rely on what historians and common knowledge hand us as religious or non-religious wars. Apart from indulging my laziness he latter approach has the advantage that it’s more likely to correspond to the perception of those fighting these wars IMO.
    concerning popular causes: if Waldman were right, extremism is distributed evenly (=essentially randomly) the number of atheists would equal the number of those willing to die for deity X, so both causes should be equally popular. Otherwise see above.

    Finally, to clarify: I just wanted to make you aware that you counted wars by atheist leaders as wars based on religion. First, this isn’t what JC was doing and t wasn’t his point, but more importantly, it would require you to list all wars by leaders who profess to follow some faith as “religious” wars. Since your two examples pretty much exhaust the list of leaders I know who could be said to be atheist and have started a war, I guess that would mean every other leader since the cavemen who started a war would go on the “religious war” list. I think the atheists still end up more harmless, even if they have to “take” Hitler and Stalin.

  14. melvin toast says:

    “I think the atheists still end up more harmless, even if they have to “take” Hitler and Stalin.”

    There’s a quote for the ages. Take a step back and listen
    to the sound of your idiocy. Did you eat a bowl of stupid for breakfast?

  15. markus says:

    no, I had eggs and bacon, a cup of green tea and a cigarette.
    Apart from that, please indicate which part of the discussion in the context of which that sentence was written you failed to understand. I’ll be happy to explain it again.

  16. melvin toast says:

    You eat cigarettes?

    Uh… It’s not that I don’t understand. You don’t understand. Saying atheists win even though the two of the greatest killers in history fall into your category is stupid.

    Furthermore, the real accusation is whether religion is RESPONSIBLE for killing more innocent people than non-religious causes. Well I’m not a historian but I can think of lots of non-religious wars such as:
    Revolutionary War,
    War of 1812
    Napolean’s invasion of Europe what ever that’s called (also war of 1812?,
    All the Russian Czarist wars.
    Civil War
    WWI
    WWII
    Pol Pot’s murdering of millions of Cambodians,
    Korean War
    Vietnam War
    Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, Gulf War II
    Roman Conquering the entire western world
    Battle of Hasting 1066

    Incidentally, according to the Bible, the Jews were instructed to go to war with the Midianites and the Amalekites as well as all the occupiers of the land of Caanan, i.e. Israel. I guess that’s points for the atheists.

  17. markus says:

    @melvin
    thanks, having my point, that we must distinguish between wars caused by atheism/religion (comparison 1) and those wars where the leaders were either atheists or religious, but the war was not fought in the name of atheism/caused by atheism (comparison 2) repeated by you made me much more convinced that you might eventually understand what I said. Keep trying, you’re already very close.

    (In fact, why don’t I give it away: I said previously that we can either do comparison one or comparison two, but we can’t compare wars caused by atheists (Hitler, Stalin, from comparison 2) with wars caused by religion (from comparison 1).) Your recent progress makes me confident you might have reached that conclusion yourself, but I thought a little help might be nice.

  18. melvin toast says:

    I was right markus… You DID eat a bowl of stupid for breakfast.