America This is Quite Serious: Get Thee Behind Me, White Christian Voters

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“What makes white people tick?” It’s a hell of a question. And one that FiveThirtyEight tackled this week, in its FiveThirtyEight way, with a statistical analysis of census data and voting preferences. The full breakdown is worth a read, but the main points are these: Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no clear evidence that economic anxiety points to voter preferences: “Despite the myth that Trump’s base is poor whites, income is the least predictive of white voter support among the seven demographic variables tracked by the poll.”

The most predictive variable, it turns out, was whether a white voter had a high rate of “Religious attendance.” Those who said they never went to church were 71 percent for Clinton, while only 31 percent of people who went weekly supported her. These results are not surprising. But shouldn’t they be?


“…politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity.”

The nexus of faith and politics is a God damned mess. Probably literally. The debates go back to well before Thomas Jefferson, and most of what people have said over that long history sucks. Invocations of end-of-days moral decline are met with charges of scriptural hypocrisy or worse. Everyone stays as mad and divided as they’ve always been, which I’m guessing is not what Jesus wants.

But every now and then, something good comes along. Which brings us to “The Political Magic of C.S. Lewis,” in this Sunday’s New York Times. It is a testimony — and a warning —  from a writer who is both politically conservative and devoutly Christian.

The author, Peter Wehner, has served the last three Republican presidents — which is to say, some of the worst offenders of using Christianity to advance an agenda. Fortunately, he invokes a higher power in C.S. Lewis. Lewis’ Christianity is well known. According to this account, he was also conservative in his politics. But unlike today’s Christian Conservatives, his politics are conservative because — like his Christianity — they are grounded in his understanding of our human fallibility, not our righteousness. He knows that we are easily seduced by anger and the specter of enemies, and that we are far more ambitious than our limited (i.e. not God-level) powers can support.

What makes “Political Magic” exceptional is that it is not just a you’re-doing-it-wrong lecture directed at religious conservatives. Both Wehner and Lewis are deeply sympathetic to the urge to merge fervent beliefs. But as Christians, they warn against the damage that can do:

“The danger of mistaking our merely natural, though perhaps legitimate, enthusiasms for holy zeal, is always great,” Lewis wrote. “The demon inherent in every party is at all times ready enough to disguise himself as the Holy Ghost; the formation of a Christian Party means handing over to him the most efficient makeup we can find.”

The risk, for people of faith, is not that politics won’t be pious. It’s that faith will be poisoned by the worst impulses of politics.

America, this is quite serious, and “The Political Magic of C.S. Lewis” is worth a read.

Read more in our election year series “America This is Quite Serious.”

-Michael Moats

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