On Monday, Gallup announced that for the first time in the eight decades they’ve measured it, less than half of Americans are members of a house of worship (church, synagogue or mosque) – down from 70% in 1999.
In my mind, these two stories are related. Allow me to explain:
It’s no secret political polarization is increasing in American. A 2014 Pew Research study demonstrated how Republicans and Democrats have grown apart over the years, and there’s no doubt they are further apart since the publication of this study. It’s not only on differences of opinion about how best to solve issues we face, Republicans and Democrats view their political opponents as dangerous. These feelings intensify among the more politically active as Pew reports “…the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.”
In addition, among people who are active politically…
Political volunteers, for example, are less embedded in the social and communal environments that produce trust and social capital. They are more than twice as likely as ordinary Americans, and three times more likely than religious Americans, to say “rarely” or “never” when asked if there are people they feel close to. They are five times more likely than religious joiners to say they rarely or never have someone they can turn to in times of need. And they are also more likely than other joiners to say their relationships are superficial.
Lacking regular community, political joiners compensate ideologically. Eighty-seven percent report that their ideology gives them a sense of community, compared to 63 percent of ordinary Americans. They also derive a stronger sense of community from people or groups on social media than the general population (62 percent vs. 48 percent).
If political joiners are less connected to other communal environments and more likely to find community among their ideological peers, it should be no surprise political joiners begin demanding other institutions, such as major corporations or sports leagues, conform to the ideology that brings them comfort.
We see this play out on the right and the left. Think about the move by Trump supporters away from Fox News to other networks deemed more loyal to the former President. This was a demand for ideological purity. Which brings us to today’s action by Major League Baseball.
Opponents of SB 202 have been demanding corporations take action against Georgia for passing the bill. Stacey Abrams went so far as to explain how “businesses can redeem themselves” (an odd word to use during Holy Week, but perhaps not so odd anymore given the decline in church membership). Are we then surprised MLB took the action they did? A powerful group of political activists demanded action be taken, and in order to curry favor with these activists, action was taken. It wasn’t however, the action Abrams demanded, so perhaps redemption will not be granted in this case, but the proverbial cat is out of the bag, unlikely to be put back in anytime soon.
The bad news for conservatives in all this is that Conquest’s Second Law of Politics seems to be more accurate than anyone could have imagined. Robert Conquest theorized that “Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.” Thus, conservatives looking for corporate leaders to stand up to the Left’s political joiners will likely be disappointed time and again.
There is hope however, “…the nonprofit More in Common found in 2018 that 93 percent of Americans say they are tired of how divided we have become as a country. Large majorities say privately that they believe in the importance of compromise, reject the absolutism of the extreme wings of both parties and are not motivated by partisan loyalty.”
Perhaps it’s time for the 93% to tell the 7% to stand down.