We are all guilty of lumping one another into “types,” finding out one facet of one’s belief system and then assuming that there are certain characteristics or attitudes which are part and parcel of that belief when it is lived out.
We get our typologies from various sources, largely from both the media and from those whom we have encountered throughout our lives. To some degree these can be helpful, for they help us to provide a framework and they also allow us to place people within our own meta-narrative quickly. However, many times they can cause us to assume that some beliefs are correlational with others when that is not the case. For example, when I say “vegetarian,” all sorts of behaviors and attitudes are immediately triggered in my mind that actually have nothing to do with vegetarianism. Though I think of someone that most likely recycles and is more eco-conscious than the average individual, this has nothing to do with the actually avoidance of meat. The point: there is a wide spectrum of people along any belief system, be it vegetarianism or religiosity.
Though I am a Christian, I am not many of the things that are part and parcel of that “typology.” I am not for the posting or reciting of the Ten Commandments in any school/public building. I am a staunch advocate of the separation of Church and State, and am always reading up on related news items in the news as my interest in this is a relatively new one, and I feel I have a lot of catching up to do.
Unlike some of my friends, I am an advocate of the public health option. I have been appalled at America’s lack of provisions since I read in an undergraduate Women’s Studies course of the lack of American vacation time per year, the time of paid time off after childbirth for mothers as well as fathers in European countries, and the healthcare systems in place in Denmark, Canada, France, and Germany in comparison to ours. The religious right says a lot about being pro-family, so one has to wonder why it is that our country’s programs and policies are so clearly the least family friendly of all of the advanced nations.
Before I venture too far off the track I aimed to travel down a bit, the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, in conjunction with Public Religion Research has just recently released the results of a survey that show that within Christianity there is a variety of beliefs, and that we shouldn’t all be lumped into one universal type.
This survey looked specifically at religious activists. They divided these groups into progressive religious activists (I would willingly label myself thus, and my attitudes matched up with their findings) and conservative religious activists.
Some of the more striking differences:
All of the following is taken directly from the summary of the study, which is located here.
First and foremost, what was most interesting to me was that a whopping 48% of the conservative religious activists reported that they take the Bible as the literal word of God (what we sometimes call “inerrant”). Only 3% of progressive religious activists view the Bible thus.
Conservative religious activists are nearly universally opposed to legalized abortion: 95% say either that abortion should be illegal in all cases (60%) or most cases (35%). In sharp contrast, 80% of progressive religious activists say abortion should be legal in all (26%) or most (54%) cases.
Gay and Lesbian Issues
On the issue of same‐sex marriage, conservatives overwhelmingly oppose (82%) both same‐sex marriage and civil unions, while nearly 6‐in‐10 (59%) progressives support same‐sex marriage, and another third support civil
Only 6% of conservative religious activists agree that the U.S. should have comprehensive national health insurance even if it resulted in fewer choices for patients, compared to nearly 8‐in‐10 (78%) progressive activists who agree.
Only 13% of conservative activists agree that more environmental protection is needed even if it raises prices or costs jobs, compared to nearly 9‐in‐10 (87%) progressive activists who agree.
A significant majority of conservative religious activists say torture can often (25%) or sometimes (36%) be justified. Only 5% of progressive religious activists take either of those positions, with 79% saying torture can never be justified.
Conservative religious activists strongly back the war in Iraq, with an overwhelming majority saying it was either completely (35%) or probably (48%) justified. Progressive religious activists are staunchly opposed, with 80% saying it was completely unjustified and 13% saying it was probably unjustified. The two groups are
also mirror images of each other on the so‐called “Bush doctrine” of preemptive military action, with about three‐quarters of conservatives supporting it and nearly the same proportion of progressive activists in opposition.
Role of Government and Taxes
Sixty‐eight percent of progressive religious activists believe government should increase spending and provide more services; 89% say taxcuts should be directed toward lower income people. By even larger margins, conservative religious activists believe that government should provide fewer services and cut spending (86%). Sixty‐one percent back tax cuts targeted at upper‐income individuals.
Any of us involved in religious debate on a nearly-daily basis know that there is some variation within the faithful on very contentious issues. At times it can be painful to try to talk them through and understand one another.
Just as painful, however, are immediate “If X, then Y” judgments often attached from those outside the faith entirely.
I think it would serve us all well to question some of our assumptions and learn to appreciate and not fear variety.