Sometimes my European friends ask me about US politics. The big question is a pretty obvious one: why is the US so different politically from the rest of the developed world? Or, to ask it another way, why is the US so much more conservative than the rest of the developed world? Obviously, there are many different cultural factors that all play into the nature of politics and policy in the US, but one clear factor is the presence of conservative Christians, such as the Southern Baptists. Hundreds of years ago, religious extremists left Europe and made for North America. To this day, we feel the effects of that legacy.
Maybe you folks in Europe don’t know what our religious conservatives are like. Here’s an example of what it might be like to talk about politics with a religious conservative.
US Liberal: The UN is a flawed but valuable effort to increase global cooperation.
US Religious Conservative: Trying to establish a one-world government is prideful, sinful, and against God’s will, like building the Tower of Babel.
US Liberal: But the UN is a neutral place where enemies can talk to each other and even work together on some efforts of common concern.
US Religious Conservative: In the End Times, the Anti-Christ will use the UN to install himself as the ruler of the world. Those who do not worship him will be executed.
At least, that’s what it would be like if the religious conservatives were straightforward with the US populace. But they’re not. They know that if the mainstream got a good look at their Bible prophecies, public opinion would turn against them. So they couch their opposition to the UN in terms that won’t turn off the liberal majority, such as appealing to national sovereignty.
Here’s another topic:
US Liberal: Boy, those Israelis are being a little hard-nosed about the settlements on the West Bank, don’t you think?
US Religious Conservative: God gave Isreal to the Jews, all of it. That’s the Jews’ land, regardless of who might be living there now, as reckoned by "man's law.".
US Liberal: Israel has acquired land through military conquest. If they want to exceed their 1948 borders, they ought to be willing to offer something in return.
US Religious Conservative: The End Times cannot be accomplished until the Jews have been restored to their homeland. The so-called plight of the so-called Palestinians is just Satan’s plot to thwart God’s plan.
Iraq is another entertaining topic:
US Liberal: Makes us look a little silly, doesn’t it, when we flout global opinion to launch a “crusade” aganst weapons of mass destruction, and then don’t find anything?
US Religious Conservative: Satan created Islam and now is using it to wage war against Christianity. We must defeat Satan’s minions.
US Religious Conservative: The Pope is the handmaiden of Lucifer. His opposition to the war proves it was the right thing to do.
Now the people who believe such things about Satan and the End Times are a minority, but they’re a committed and politically active minority. In the 2000 presidential election, frequency of attending church was the best predictor of whether a voter would vote Republican or Democrat. The religious conservatives keep our country leaning to the right.
Without these religious conservatives, we’d be more liberal, which is to say more like Europe. We’d have universal healthcare, we’d no longer be in Israel’s camp, we’d play more nicely with the other kids in the sandbox. So when you Europeans shake your heads wondering how we can do the things we do, remember that you have us to thank for your rational governments. If the religious extremists of hundreds of years ago hadn’t shipped off to North America, maybe they’d have stuck around and then you’d be dealing with them instead of us.
Evolution, Creationism, and 19th Century US Christianity: about the history and character of US Christianity