Comments: Religious people more likely to be leftwing says Demos thinktank

Christianity is so automatically associated with right wing politics in the USA that it is practically the Republican Party at prayer. When people here are asked what Christianity is all about, they are likely to answer opposition to abortion, opposition to gay rights, and opposition to women's rights. It's about nothing positive. Love, resurrection, incarnation don't even show up on the radar. "Love" is looked on as a sad joke with so much hatred and vilification spewing from pulpits here. "Resurrection" and "incarnation" are met with blank incomprehension, and occasionally with ridicule.

A lot of people here keep Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" on bookshelves next to their Bibles. What a bitter irony! A woman who was a hostile atheist is now near and dear to the hearts of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians in the USA. Why? Because that kind of Christianity is not exactly generous and certainly not universal. Salvation is for the Elect, and not for everyone, not for those predestined to damnation. There's a heavy element of vindictiveness in American right wing piety. "You sinners will get yours, and we the long-suffering Elect will be there to laugh at your destruction!!" It's but a short step from that kind of spiritual supremacism to Ayn Rand's class supremacism. Both Ayn Rand and the apocalyptic fundamentalists share a conviction that they are the only ones who matter. Everyone else is a "parasite."
With that sort of thing dominating all the religious discussions and setting all the terms of the public debates, small wonder just about everyone here to the left of Pat Robertson feels deeply alienated from the Christian religion.

It is so sad because there was once a large and influential (if never quite powerful, not in the sense of right wing groups like "The Family") Christian left in this country: the Social Gospel movement, Catholic and Protestant labor groups, there was a heavily religious element in early feminism, some of the first resistance to the Vietnam War came from religious circles, and of course, there was the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King's very progressive political version of the Gospel with his vision of "The Beloved Community." Now, it seems that not only has all of that been forgotten, it has been deliberately discarded and air-brushed out of our national memory.

Now our most publicly devout Christians eagerly cheer imperialism abroad and oligarchy at home.

Posted by Counterlight at Sunday, 8 April 2012 at 8:30pm BST

It is well documented in the N.T. Scriptures that Jesus' main opposition was from the institutional religious professionals. The Pharisees and Scribes were, seemingly, the 'right wing' of the Church of their day.

Why should we be surprised that those who embrace the costly liberation of Christ should be more socially active in the cause of opening up the closets of the Church and the delights of the redemption of Christ to ALL believers (and none).

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 9 April 2012 at 1:55am BST

I'm not sure it's helpful to try to read 'right' and 'left' back into the scriptures, Ron - and it's always so easy to see ourselves as the successors of the 'good guys', whoever they happen to be in our scheme of things.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 9 April 2012 at 8:00am BST

No surprise there - for surely - anyone who reads the gospels with any seriousness will see clearly that Jesus, like Rowan, was a "hairy leftie".

Posted by Father David at Monday, 9 April 2012 at 8:01am BST

Surprisingly, Christ didn't sign up with the zealots of his day who sought to overthrow Roman authority. He extended love to not only the poor and underprivileged, but also centurions, and the despised tax collectors who had sought to profit from the Roman occupation.

He also rebuked two of His disciples who implored Him to invoke the vengeance of heaven upon those they considered to be an obstacle to His gospel.

So, perhaps, Christ's political persuasion is a little more nuanced than some would have us believe.

Posted by David Shepherd at Monday, 9 April 2012 at 8:45am BST

It would be fascinating to see why things are so different in the US--and why that difference only emerged in the 1970s, before which there was no difference in political stance between religiously active and secular Americans. Several things seem to be going on:

(1) Though religiously active Americans are more socially involved, do more volunteer work, etc. their take is social service and social improvement should be strictly the business of voluntary organizations, in particular churches--not government.

(2) Nixon's "Southern Strategy," which ultimately brought the white working class into the Republican Party.

(3) The decline of the white working class as good blue collar jobs dried up and economic inequality grew.

(4) The dominance of evangelical Protestantism as the characteristic American religion (depending on your criteria, between 1/4 and 1/3 of Americans are Evangelicals; Anglicans, now representing less than 1% of the population have never represented more than 5%)

(5) Surveys (including an informal one I did in a class) show that most Americans views about social issues are not influenced by religious views: they see religion concerned solely with issues of "personal morality."

Posted by baber at Monday, 9 April 2012 at 3:47pm BST

Yes, those terrible Sanhedrin type Christians. They're so obviously not like 'us'. We are on Jesus's side.

Posted by c.r.seitz at Monday, 9 April 2012 at 11:23pm BST

(of 'most Americans'): "they see religion concerned solely with issues of "personal morality."
-baber -

And that may be the biggest barrier to spiritual enlightenment - that religion is seen solely as the agency of personal morality, rather than the ethos of God's loving purpose for all humanity.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 3:06am BST

I would say that people who *actually believe in the object of their religion* are more likely to be leftwing.

There are many good Christians who, when you get down to it, don't believe in God as a living, present Reality.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 5:10am BST

Leaving aside the difficulty of working out exactly what 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' mean anymore (and I'm quite sure they mean very different things in an American context from a British one), I think the point most of us can accept is that the Church ought to pose a challenge to the culture in which it finds itself. Over the last decade or so, events have been such that I think it has become easier for British Christians from a wide range of backgrounds to identify the aspects of our secular culture that are are challenged by the Gospel: greed, materialism, militarism, fractured communities, the whirlwind of global capital, and so on. I suppose these are things that would often be considered concerns of the 'left,' but I think they'd also draw a lot of sympathy from old-school 'High' Tories.

What I suspect you're beginning to see in Britain is a growing moral challenge to the Thatcherite-Blairite-Cameroon consensus in economic policy that has done so much damage to local communities and indeed families. This is in many ways quite a conservative reaction to the radicalism of the last 30 years, and not everyone who is involved in it would necessarily welcome being identified as left-wing.

Posted by rjb at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 10:29am BST


I don't think you are reading the NT rightly.

If you look at the big 'inaugurated eschatology' passages (e.g. the Magnificat) you will see that they are radically 'leftist', as are the Beatitudes. Of course, Jesus helps/converts people such as centurions and tax-collectors, but they are supposed to change, that is, accept the inaugurated eschatological perspective. E.g. a centurion now realises that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and acts accordingly, as far as he can within the day job. The ideal economy is clearly spelled out in Acts and it is communist.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 11:14am BST


If NT eschatology really is just a dichotomy of reaction (right) vs. revolution (left), why did Christians pay anything towards the very authorities who furthered the tyranny of Rome and the Herods.

Is it really revolutionary for John the Baptist to tell the publicans, 'Don’t collect any more than you are required to', or 'Honour the king', when what is needed is root-and-branch destruction of the cancer, that was Roman imperialism.

Acts is neither communist, nor capitalist. The alleviation of poverty was not via the imposed redistribution of wealth, that is a hallmark of communism.

The voluntary nature of that redistribution explains why the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was so grave. The choice of how they shared their wealth was never coerced as a duty:
'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.' (Acts 5:3 - 4)

While those who gathered in Jerusalem may have sold their land to alleviate immediate poverty, the centralised public ownership of capital was never imposed or expected by the apostles who led them. There was no change towards public ownership of the means of production. It was not communism.

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 12:24pm BST

Perhaps some people have no problem with this, but despite the loud and insistent piety of the right, I find it hard to reconcile their rhetoric and their policies with Matthew 25: 31-46, or with Acts 4: 32-35, or with Isaiah 40:5 among many other passages in Scripture.

Indeed, I'm used to being called "Counter-the-Light," "heretic," and lots worse things than Simon would allow on his blog by all those Good Christians Who Know Better.

Here's an excellent example of what I'm talking about, not a sermon, but the Rev. Dennis Terry introducing Rick Santorum, a candidate for President of the United States:

I'm becoming more and more convinced that the only real difference between our fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists is a shave.

Posted by Counterlight at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 12:58pm BST

I think saying that the NT clearly recommends a communist economy is overstating the case.

The defining theoretical characteristics of all communist economies ever tried were that a group of people took it upon itself to decide what everyone else needed and then worked out logistics of how to produce it. Everyone was then paid roughly the same.
The actual attempts at shaping societies in this way have always been dictatorial and have resulted in a desultory workforce and severe material shortages.

Jesus is never interested in a top down process. His ideal society is one where people will WANT to contribute as much as possible to the common good.

I would say that most successful system in this regard are the astonishingly egalitarian Scandinavian market economies, where free enterprise has had better economic success than any managed economy to date, and where the majority of people through the democratic processes of the countries, has agreed to an extremely high level of personal taxation with the revenue obtained being used for the benefit of everyone.

I think Jesus is more interested in outcome than in process.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 2:08pm BST


I'm afraid I don't think you understand the theory or the practice of 'inaugurated eschatology'. And you crudely misrepresent it (or my understanding of it) by glossing it in terms of 'reaction' vs 'revolution', because, as the NT makes clear again and again, armed revolution is out. it remains the case that the ultimate programme, which will happen, and to which all - including you - must aspire, is revolutionary, and clearly means curtains for the Roman empire and all empires.


instead of generalising like that, please actually read Acts 2.43-45 and 4.32. It's communist. I use the term neutrally, as glossing the Greek 'koina', which means ... 'common'. Luke is echoing a common ethical/political principle which is used in Greek philosophical 'republics', to justify ... 'communism'. Of course, Marx had read these passages and actually appropriated them (note especially 2.45).

Posted by John at Tuesday, 10 April 2012 at 4:44pm BST

Actually, I'm with John, on the communist thing.

That *is* what's commended, quite literally. The common mistake is confusing Marxism, or, worse, Stalinism with communism. In principal, regardless of the reasons for the mutuality, communism is a state of mutuality. There is a leadership of this communist community in the NT, as well. The disciples choose deacons who decide distribution, though in the limited case of widows and orphans. Still, though, the story of Ananias and Sapphira demonstrates the property being put in the hands of the disciples.

There is nothing inherently bad, still less un-Christian in actual communism; even the deeply anti-religious and embittered Marx, in his general statement of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" shows a compassionate society (St. Paul was, curiously, like Marx in being generally compassionate and specifically bitter and rather selfish).

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 5:24am BST

I don't like the word communism in this context because whether the NT actually means "communal" is beside the point. What matters is what we mean by the word today.

And as so many right wing Christians see this as a communist vs free market debate in which Jesus never really said much about the poor other than that they will always be with us, I think it is vitally important to point out that what Jesus was interested in was that each single one of us should be motivated to give as much as possible to the common good.

If that bottom up approach results in "communism", then all well and good. But while we use the word communism with all its modern political connotations we just write outselves out of the argument.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 8:31am BST


Theological buzz-words aside and although it is curtains for worldly empires, it's also curtains for material wants, since the resurrected body (although capable of physical manifestation) has none. In the interim, we are called to exercise voluntary redistribution. Yet, you highlight a claimed ideal of communism, only to ignore what's needed to implement it. I suspect that Erika knows more people who've experienced the grim realities of communism than any of us. Of course, that doesn't make capitalism innocent either.

What you call a crude gloss of contrasting reaction with revolution highlights all the more how gross a distortion it is for you and others to present genuine Christianity as purely left-wing vs. right-wing. It's neither.

In order to prove your case, you would need to demonstrate that the *means of production* was commonly owned, centrally planned and that this principle was established practice in the primitive churches, not just in Jerusalem.

For instance, Paul encourages the Corinthian converts to 'On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.' (1 Cor. 16:2). Income? That still allows for personal accumulation, rather than centralised redistribution. The means of production remains private.

It's far too reductive to suggest that the communalism of the Jerusalem converts was communism.

Posted by David Shepherd at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 8:43am BST

I can appreciate that, but we're talking amongst educated people, here, and explaining our meanings. It also doesn't help to simply hand over a word's meaning to ignorance and fear - it actually doesn't *mean* anything different nowadays, it simply connotes strongly toward a particular political bias. The misuse of a word should be corrected.

It is bottom up, but the fact remains that it was given into a central "committee," so to speak. It wasn't anarchy, nor the sort of laissez faire libertarianism so often espoused. It is also important to notice that giving isn't to be halfway - Ananias and Sapphira didn't have to give *anything*, but tried to claim membership through partial giving. That story would seem to indicate that to give less than all to the community excludes one from the life (quite literally from the life, in their case) of the community.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 9:58am BST


I was using the word in its literal sense. That's a good way to use words. It helps to focus on what texts actually mean - as opposed to what people assume or want them to mean.


I wish you well (especially in view of something you said recently on another thread).

Posted by john at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 11:17am BST


I was using the word in its literal sense (etc.).

Posted by john at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 1:05pm BST

I’m not sure about literal meanings that extend beyond what people understand by a concept. Language changes and so do the definitions of terms.
While a change is occurring it is often possible to talk about a "literal and true" meaning of a term and a corrupted or slightly changed one. But there comes a time when the new meaning is so embedded in everyone's psyche that, if you want to be understood, you have to explain what you mean.

The standard definition of communism is:
‘Communism (Lat. communis - common, universal) is a revolutionary socialist movement to create a classless, moneyless, and stateless social order structured upon common ownership of the means of production, as well as a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of this social order.’

Now, I grant you that Jesus wanted a classless society in which everyone has the same.
But I am not sure we can pin on that that he wanted a moneyless, stateless society tied to a political and economic ideology that aims to establish this social order.

I take Mark's point - but it IS important to explain our meanings. Especially with a word as loaded as this it is even more important that we explain, precisely, what we mean when we use it.

In this particular debate I find it very important that we explain what we mean by communism, because there are many many more people who support the kind of selfless giving Jesus wants from us than support what is generally understood by a communist society. I’d rather these people were on our side in the debate and weren’t put off by thinking they have to subscribe to a discredited political system in order to be true Christians.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 1:08pm BST


Very laborious. The basic point I was making, which was pretty obvious - and I stick with it 100% - is that the NT is anti-riches, pro the poor and pro equality. Obviously - and it is blindingly obvious - I was not remotely arguing that it commended 'revolutionary' communism. Nor is it much interested in 'the means of production'.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 6:13pm BST

in that case, I have one quibble.

It fascinates me that we tear the church apart over just over a handful of opaque comments about homosexuality, yet there are well over 700 very clear references to money, wealth and how they are to be used in the Bible.
It's the most discussed social topic.
And yet - it barely seems to register.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 6:56pm BST

Now my Erika (and I'm not being sexist), I entirely agree with you. The disproportion is shocking and disgusting. 'Liberals' (the term is very elastic) can legitimately choose where they wish to orientate themselves in relation to the bible, because it is Jesus who is the word (and whose interpretation is flexible and on-going). Evangelicals (at some point in the scale) can't, and yet they obsess over genitals and their use and downplay the much clearer social and economic messages. I'm not personally attacking David, whom I do take to be an honourable person and who obviously wishes to 'maintain the conversation', as I do, with everybody, especially Anglicans.

Posted by john at Wednesday, 11 April 2012 at 7:21pm BST

Actually, Merriam-Webster has:

"Definition of COMMUNISM

1 a : a theory advocating elimination of private property

b : a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed"

So, Acts describes communism.

"For instance, Paul encourages the Corinthian converts to 'On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.' (1 Cor. 16:2). Income? That still allows for personal accumulation, rather than centralised redistribution. The means of production remains private."

Communism does not mean "no income" rather the pooling of the produce of work - i.e. income - which is also what Paul is describing in a time in which there was no banking transfers or universal e-currency. He speaks of collection. Collection for redistribution. The pooling of income into a common treasury. By recommending it be done before he came, he is simply making a point of efficiency, not a statement of economic theory. Indeed, there is no implication of request, in that - it isn't "why don't you consider tithing?" but "rather than waiting for a whip-round, go ahead, figure out what you need, take the extra and have it ready." The necessity of having collections rather than sending everything to some centralized regional authority is because this is a communist - communalist, if you prefer - economy within the official Imperial economy. The movement was far-flung, but relatively small, and the center of the movement was in Jerusalem - the collections were gathered by an itinerant(sic) preacher to be brought to the central authority. Paul's comment, in relating only to collections, also doesn't point us to what was expected of the local churches - relatively tiny communities. "Each one of you" would earn a private income, because of the Imperial economy, but the church community may well have held a communal economy. There is also the fact that this is Corinth, not Jerusalem, and so moving into the vision of Christian community as Jerusalem modelled, rather than being the model of that community, itself.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 12 April 2012 at 6:18am BST

The Merriam-Webster definition is not all-encompassing and so does not preclude the refinement in Erika's standard definition, that of a society 'structured upon common ownership of the means of production'.

Very laborious.

Posted by David Shepherd at Thursday, 12 April 2012 at 12:56pm BST

David Shepherd,

Our conversation will not be continued here - it is not on topic, and you have continually drawn it into the personal sphere.

I invite you, and anyone else who is tired of this rigmarole to go to:

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 13 April 2012 at 6:08am BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.