In my last post, I looked at the impact of religion on the 2016 election for President of the United States. From the standpoint of religion, one fact stood out: Donald Trump owed his election “victory” (a victory in the Electoral College, but not the popular vote) to support from white Christians. The vote of every other polled religious group in America went overwhelmingly to Hillary Clinton. For that matter, the vote of white non-Christians also went overwhelmingly to Clinton.
But, why did this happen? How did Trump manage to get enough votes (fewer popular votes than Clinton, but more votes in the Electoral College) to win the 2016 election, when support from white Christians was not enough to secure the 2008 Presidential election for McCain, or the 2012 Presidential election for Romney?
Let’s start by once again dismissing the dominant narrative, that Clinton’s supposed embrace of racial and ethnic “identity politics” turned off so many white voters that Trump was able to win. Again … the dominant narrative runs smack up against the available data. Romney won the white vote in the 2012 Presidential election by 20%. Trump won the white vote in the 2016 election by a nearly identical 21%. The difference between these two margins is not statistically significant; it is well within any polling margin of error. If you want to explain Trump’s improvement over Romney’s performance on the basis of race, you might point to Clinton’s victory margin among Black voters (80%, compared to Obama’s 87% in 2012) or Hispanic voters (36%, compared to Obama’s 44% in 2012). A better narrative to explain 2016 is that Clinton could not replicate Obama’s success among minority voters.
I’m sure many of my readers are sick of reading about the election here. When, you might ask, will I return to writing about the first century? The answer is, not anytime soon.
But I promise you, this post is going to be about religion. Because if you want to understand this election, you need to understand religion in America. If you’re looking for a single reason why Trump won, as well as where Trump won (and lost), religion is the place to start. The headline here is a simple one:
Trump owes his election to white Christian America.
I spent the five days before Thanksgiving at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. This meeting is probably the largest conference in the world devoted to the study of the Bible and the religions of the world. Roughly 10,000 professors and other teachers, students, clergy and other interested persons attend the meeting’s 1,000+ workshops and sessions. People like me can rub elbows here with the most famous scholars in the field of religion, including N.T. Wright, Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels.
This year’s meeting, like no other meeting I’ve ever seen, was dominated by current events—namely, the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States. Two separate sessions of roughly 2 hours each were devoted to this topic, and a third panel discussion moderated by Cornel West focused another hour on topics related to the election. For once, I’m not here to give you my take on this discussion. Instead, I’ll do my best to be a neutral reporter and pass on the things I heard. I’ll focus first on the analyses and concerns expressed by prominent people at the meeting. After this, I’ll report those things said by people who either did not identify themselves or else did so too quickly for me to take down their names. At the very end are a couple of suggested action steps for teachers of religion and ethics.
If you’re a regular reader here, you’ve already encountered my good friend Anthony Le Donne from the Jesus Blog. You also know about Anthony’s latest book, “Near Christianity,” because I reviewed it here, and Anthony reviewed my review here.
Mostly, Anthony and I exist together only in cyberspace. But if you happen to be in the San Antonio area this Thursday, November 17th, you can see the two of us live, together, on the same stage. We’re kind of the Three Tenors of interfaith dialogue, if there were only two of them and neither could sing.
The evening is titled, “Jewish-Christian Friendship: To What End?” It starts at 7 p.m. and will take place at the SoL Center. In the first hour, I’ll interview Anthony about his new book, and in the second hour Anthony will interview me about our upcoming book. We’ll entertain questions, and maybe even, all go out for a drink together. That is, if the election does not drive us to drink during the event, or before.
I hope I will see some of you there.
I write this before the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is called, but at a point where it’s all but certain that Donald Trump is the President-elect.
I’m no longer sure who is reading me. I’ve been a strong Clinton supporter, and given the divided state of our politics, it’s possible that I drove away any of my Trump-supporting readers a long time ago. It’s possible that my readership are all liberals or progressives of some sort (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, curious non-believers, and none of the above). I hope that’s not the case, and I write this based on the possibly false assumption that people of all religious and political beliefs are reading. I write this, knowing that some of you will be frustrated that I’m not targeting the side you feel deserves my scorn. I apologize in advance for my failure to be partisan.
During the election, I felt the need to finger-point. I found it appalling that a substantial majority of white Christians (in particular, white Protestants) supported Trump, some with great enthusiasm. I also found it appalling that any Jew could support Trump, and I was disgusted beyond words when the Jewish establishment offered him a forum and a measure of respectability.
With Election Day approaching and Donald Trump being given a realistic chance to win the election for President of the United States, it’s time to revisit Trump’s signature policy: his proposal to deport the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States to their countries of origin. This proposal has many of us thinking of Nazi Germany, and the deportation of 11 million Holocaust victims to the Nazi death camps. But as just about any comparison to the Nazis is extreme, I’ve been considering other historical examples of mass deportation. And 1492 comes to mind.
Before considering 1492, let’s focus for a moment on the present day. As with many of Trump’s proposed policies, it’s not entirely clear exactly what kind of mass deportation Trump means to implement if he’s elected. At certain points during this election season, Trump appears to have pulled back from the idea of mass deportation. But in his most recent statements, Trump has reverted to a hard line:
Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came. And you can call it deported if you want. The press doesn’t like that term. You can call it whatever the hell you want. They’re gone.
You haven’t heard much from me these past few months. I’ve found it hard to write. While my life continues apace, and I doubt that I look different to casual observers, I’ve found it difficult to get anything done. Some days I spend more time than anyone should on the internet, checking the up-to-the-second status of the race for the U.S. Presidency on sites like Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight.com. I know the results of just about every Presidential election poll, often minutes after the results are released. Clinton trails Trump by only 3% for Alaska’s three electoral votes? Great! But what’s happening in Arizona?
I wish I were joking, but I’m not. This isn’t fun for me. The politics of 2016 has me profoundly unhappy and anxious, and I’m not alone feeling this way. Political Anxiety Disorder is a thing, even if it doesn’t always go by that name. Sometimes I see it called “Election Stress Disorder.” This malady is not listed in DSM, at least not yet. But its effects are real. One author calls it “the national nervous breakdown that is the 2016 election.” “We’re hearing a higher level of concern and dismay than I’ve probably heard in any election cycle, in 25 years of clinical work,” says one therapist. Therapists describe the fear many of their patients feel at the prospect of the election of Clinton, or Trump (usually, Trump), including nightmares, insomnia, digestive problems, and headaches. Couples report increasing tension. According to a study from the American Psychological Association, political discussions at work this election season have resulted in at least 1 in 10 working Americans feeling tense or stressed out (17 percent), having more difficulty getting work done (10 percent), and being less productive (13 percent).
Person A writes a book inspired by his experience of dialogue. Person B writes a review of the book. Person A wants to talk about it. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
What follows is Anthony’s reaction to my review of his latest book.
If we don’t get a slew of light bulb jokes in the comments section, I’m going to be disappointed.
I would like to thank Larry Behrendt for reviewing my book and for allowing me to respond to it on his blog. I have read several book reviews by Larry and I’ve never witnessed a less than gracious and measured tone. Even when Larry disagrees—whether he knows the author or not—he does so with respect and kindness. Just don’t get him started on baseball. Downright mashugana.
In a recent piece on his subscription-only blog, Bart Ehrman—controversial scholar of the historical Jesus and early Christianity—addressed whether it bothers any of his more religious colleagues that he’s become an atheist-agnostic. According to Ehrman, this subject never comes up in academic circles. Why not? Because Ehrman has “never, ever, had a conversation with a colleague about my personal religious views. Never.” Why not? Because, Ehrman says, he works at a secular institution of higher education, “and faith commitments are irrelevant to scholarship.”
Ehrman’s statement is typical of my experience with scholars of religion. A few of them are willing to open up about matters of faith. Many of them are not. Most scholars (and, I think, all of the good ones) want their work to be evaluated on the merits, and not by how well their scholarship jibes with our faith assumptions. But that doesn’t stop me from wondering about the relationship between faith and scholarship. I can only speak for myself, but my study of religion is a personal matter. I am changed by the works I read, and the study I do. I cannot imagine studying religion for a lifetime, and not being profoundly affected by this study.
So it is with great joy that I read my friend Anthony Le Donne’s latest book, Near Christianity: How Journeys along Jewish-Christian Borders Saved My Faith in G-d. Le Donne is a terrific scholar, particularly in the fields of the memory-history of early Christianity and the importance of gender and sexuality within Christianity. In Near Christianity, Le Donne describes his personal journey. Not his entire journey—for that, we’ll have to wait for his autobiography—but a particular personal journey Le Donne has taken, as a Christian, through his interaction with Judaism.
I’ve been paying attention here to the relationship between religion and the politics of the U.S. Presidential election. We now have some good polling numbers to work with, so now is a good time to take a deep dive into how religion is affecting the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I plan to do this analysis in a few posts.
For the moment, Clinton enjoys about a 9% lead over Trump in the most recent polls. I’m relying here primarily on a June 2016 Pew Study poll, which shows Clinton with 51% support, compared to Trump’s 42% support. I’m looking at Pew, because Pew does the most complete job looking at the religious component of each candidate’s support. While the Pew poll is a bit old, it is comparable to more recent polls: the most recent NBC and Fox News polls also show Clinton with a nine-point lead. CNN’s “Poll of Polls” has Clinton with a ten-point lead. So I think Pew’s June numbers are probably reliable.
According to Pew, where is Clinton getting much of her edge, religion-wise? From the “nones,” the roughly 23% of Americans who are atheists, agnostics or otherwise unaffiliated with any religion. The “nones” support Clinton over Trump by a 44% margin, while the group I call the “somes” (Christians, Jews and members of other religions) as a whole narrowly break for Trump: