26 September 2011

Christian Right Economics: Not exactly self-reliant

Baylor University released "Wave III" of its multi-year Religion Survey project last week, providing grist for the wire services and weekend religion pages with its finding linking right-wing economic policy beliefs to religious belief. As David Gibson's report puts it, "believers who say God is directly guiding our lives and endowing the United States with divine blessings are much more likely than other Americans to agree that "the government does too much" and that "able-bodied people who are out of work shouldn't receive unemployment checks." The 40% of Americans who believe most strongly that "God has a plan for their lives" are "much more likely to embrace the sort of conservative economic philosophy that would make tea party activists proud."

Baylor's own website elaborates:

Americans who believe strongly that God has something wonderful in store for them look very different from the rest of Americans. Although they tend to have lower levels of education and income, these respondents are the most likely to believe that the United States' economic system is fair, that the government is too intrusive, that healthy people should not receive unemployment benefits and that anything is possible through hard work. And, despite believing that success is based on hard work and ability, they are the strongest believers that some are meant to be rich and some to be poor.

Noting the "tension" between Christian criticisms of wealth and Republican social philosophy, Baylor accounts for the discrepancy by showing how much laissez-faire Christians regard work as a devotional act.

For a sizable minority, work and worship are tightly intertwined. A quarter of working Americans reports that they often or always view their work as a mission from God. More than a third (36 percent) routinely pursues excellence in work because of their faith. Individuals who attend religious services regularly and those who take a literal view of the Bible are among the most likely to attribute religious significance to their work.

In a probably-related finding, Baylor reports that entrepreneurs, who otherwise espouse religion in no greater numbers than the general population, tend to pray and meditate more often than non-entrepreneurs, an apparent fact that one professor tentatively attributes to the stress of starting or running a business. Before concluding that religion decisively steers believers toward laissez-faire and supply-side policies, we should note Baylor's finding that these attitudes toward work and wealth are often strongest in black congregations, where a prosperity gospel presumably doesn't translate into resentment of government. Overall, however, the Baylor survey may clarify some of the rhetoric about dependency one hears on the right. On the surface, it often sounds as if right-wingers are contrasting an undesirable dependence on the state with a healthy, productive self-reliance. If the Baylor pollsters and analysts are right about their results, we might realize why right-wing resentment of dependence seems to run so deep. It may be because the most devout or doctrinaire believers resent people for electing to rely upon the state (or the people, if you prefer) rather than upon God. That may also explain why pundits and polemicists on the Christian Right are so quick to accuse Democrats, liberals, progressives and leftists of "worshipping" the state. In their eyes, it may well be a sacrilegious form of "worship" to put one's faith in the state, no matter how democratic a thing to do it seems, rather than on God. At the same time, for all their prayer and their confessions of dependence upon the Almighty, they can still claim self-reliance compared to the idolaters of the state on "God helps those who help themselves" principles. The important thing, as it often is for monotheists around the world, would be not to appear dependent, or admit dependence, upon actual persons or human constructs. Just as God is arguably a way to assert universal principles without having them dismissed as merely your ideas, so God may also be a way for people to deny dependence, or perhaps responsibility or accountability, to anyone else. At least that's my opinion until the next survey appears.

1 comment:

Crhymethinc said...

Then why doesn't this imaginary being "bless" all people equally? Or does "he" just have it in for democrats, leftists, socialists, communists, etc.?