As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.
Patrick Allitt covers a lot of ground in this article on religion and politics since 1945 including the impact of the Cold War, civil rights, the Vietnam War, the 1967 Six- Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, abortion politics, the growth of the new Christian Right and Left, and Catholic child abuse scandals. Here’s a short intro:
The United States in the second half of the twentieth century was, paradoxically, both very secular and very religious. Like most other industrialized democracies, it conducted its daily business in a pragmatic and down- to- earth way. At the same time, however, most of its citizens believed that an omnipotent God was watching over them. While the church membership rate in Western Europe had dwindled to just 4 or 5 percent, in the United States it was still over 50 percent. American religion and politics, meanwhile, were linked in complex ways, even though the First Amendment to the Constitution specified their separation.
No aspirant to high political office could be indifferent to religious questions, and every school board in the country had to wrestle with the problem of what religious symbols and activities they should allow on their campuses without displeasing the Supreme Court. The evangelist Billy Graham befriended every president between Harry Truman and George W. Bush, and all of them valued his goodwill. As recently as 2007, the governor of Georgia held a meeting on the steps of his state capitol, during a drought, to beseech God for rain.
European sociologists early in the twentieth century predicted a continuous process of secularization for industrial societies, and the experience of most nations vindicated them. Why was the United States such an exception?
Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Religion-and-Politics.pdf