ELECTION 2004, UPON CLOSER EXAMINATION
Many Christians are absolutely giddy about the election 2004 results. But we would be wise to scrutinize the data more closely, as the article at
http://rsa.cwrl.utexas.edu/archives/rhetoric_and_politics/ makes clear. Here are some excerpts from the article:
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“…As survey after survey of contemporary social attitudes demonstrates, social conservatives no more represent the mainstream or the future than Prohibitionists did in the 1920s. If anything, it's the baby-boom sensibility spawned in the 1960s that has become mainstream in America today. As conservative columnist George Will lamented a few years back, politics "seems peripheral to, and largely impotent against, cultural forces and institutions permeated with what conservatives consider the sixties sensibility."
… How little the "moral values" voter represents the future is evident in surveys of today's youth, who may be the most inclusive, tolerant and socially liberal generation in our nation's history. From the media we hear all about the controversies of the so-called culture war, such as the occasional school superintendent who shuts down all school clubs to keep gay and straight high school students from forming "gay-straight" clubs. But what we don't hear is that these clubs have quietly formed in about 2,800 schools nationwide. In fact, research on young people confirms that they have little patience for intolerance, that they have no problem accepting homosexuality, that most even support the right of gay people to marry.
According to Steinhorn, about half of all teens today (1/3 of whom are white) have dated across racial/ethnic lines, and most of those relationships are considered “serious.” According to polls, “on the issues of race, homosexuality, premarital sex, gender roles, the environment and issues involving personal freedom,” today’s youth—along with their baby boomer parents—consistently claim a position tolerance and inclusiveness.
If younger voters were the only ones with these attitudes, social conservatives might be able to lay claim to a "moral values" mandate for a very long time. But younger voters represent the mainstream much more than the initial exit polling would indicate. The illusion of a predominant "moral values" voting bloc has much to do with the fact that the most traditional and socially conservative Americans, pre-baby boomers, are living much longer lives and voting in very large numbers -- skewing exit polls and thus our image of the mainstream. Once younger voters begin to replace them, the socially conservative vote will return to the margins of American life.
There’s something to be thankful for. According to Steinhorn, “the only generation gap that remains is the same one that began in the '60s, between pre-boomers and the rest of us. What we have today is a pre-baby boom cohort that's steadfastly conservative, with the vast majority of everyone younger leaning the opposite way.” According to a 2002 poll by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only pre-boomers still believe homosexuality shouldn’t be regarded by society as an acceptable way of life.
Despite the phenomenon of the “hateful vote,” those who turned out in droves to make sure gays and lesbians continued to be denied basic citizen’s rights, exit polls show that three in five voters support same sex marriage or civil unions. And more:
Much has been made of the Roman Catholic hierarchy's opposition to John Kerry's pro-choice stance, and by inference the press has bought the stereotype of the socially conservative Catholic. But again the stereotype misleads. Among boomer and younger Catholics, NORC finds, only 27 percent label themselves traditional, compared with 44 percent among pre-boomers. And religious liberals now exceed traditionalists in this younger cohort. Most Catholics now reject, if not resent, church dogma restricting social tolerance and personal freedom. Recent surveys by the New York Times and Newsweek show large majorities favoring married priests, female priests, gay adoptions and birth control. And barely a third want abortion outlawed, no different from the proportion in the rest of America.
Nor are these mere attitudes. Most estimates suggest that Catholics obtain abortions at the same rate as other Americans, and despite the church's ban on divorce, the percentage of Catholics separated or divorced is right at the national average. Growing numbers of boomer and younger Catholics also believe you can marry outside the church and still be a good Catholic, and about a third of younger Catholics do just that. If the church required adherence to its traditional teachings, one Jesuit writer observed, "I'm afraid we're going to have nobody taking Communion."
And apparently, the situation is virtually the same for Americans of all faiths. According to polls, most Americans now feel they have no right to “impose their personal morality on another’s private behavior,” and yet, these same Americans do claim to have strong morals:
For baby boomers and younger people, there's nothing equivocal about their views of right and wrong. These Americans condemn bigotry, intolerance and discrimination. They reject constraints on personal freedom and don't like it when women are not treated as equals. They find pollution objectionable and see nothing moral in imposing religious beliefs on others. They believe a moral upbringing is teaching kids to think for themselves, not to follow another's rules. What they embrace are pluralism, privacy, freedom of choice, diversity and respect for people with different traditions. Perhaps the only thing missing from this new morality is a politician capable of articulating it.
This new mainstream is mostly silent right now, but Steinhorn predicts that the instant laws are passed that really challenge their own morals, they will be silent no more: “When the trustees at James Madison University in rural Virginia voted to ban the morning-after pill from the student health center in 2003, the largely conservative student body rose up within 36 hours and demanded change. Consider that a microcosm of what would happen nationwide.”
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So the sad reality is that America is descending further and further into the moral cesspool, Christian perceptions of the 2004 election notwithstanding.