Political Puritanism

Why do some denominations in America try to legislate their version of personal morality on the rest of us?

I’m something of a theological social ethicist, and I think it’s because either their churches don’t do a good enough job of regulating their own members (as Stanley Hauerwas opined), or because most Americans don’t belong to their denomination (whatever it may be) to begin with.  Or both.

Putting it another way, religious pluralism (the second reason above) inspires some religious Americans to try to force persons who don’t believe as they do to act as though they do.  You don’t see this so much anywhere else in the world except maybe the post-Communist Orthodox countries, also coping with a pluralistic situation, recovering from generations of state-sponsored militant atheism.  This is because these are the most religiously pluralistic countries in the world, where no one sect is all-powerful or very influential.  As if to prove the point, we’re starting to see this Europe-wide, as Catholics, conservative Protestants, and some Orthodox Christians get together against perceived secularization, even though each European Union country itself has a state or dominant-cultural religion / sect, witness recent controversies over “God” in their proposed constitution, homosexuality, abortion, etc.

If they can’t get us to join their sect through “evangelism” / proselytism, they’ll try to impose their views politically and/or socially.  (Or they’ll seek the state’s help in enforcing even with their own members, though at least this latter option has a long history in religion worldwide!)  Alcohol Prohibition or limitations, adultery or (consensual) sodomy as crimes, Gay adoption prohibition, Blue Laws, government support for religion, “God/Christianity” in the Constitution, censorship, etc. – nothing ever presented seriously with true public policy implications, mostly religious or “for your own good.”  (*I* have some good public-policy, not-explicitly-religious reasons for Blue Laws, but that’s for another post!)

Cynics say there’s a third reason: that the effort isn’t sincere at all, just a “wedge issue” to energize particular religious-political constituencies.  And one has to wonder, when formerly-reasonable-seeming Republican politicians from the ’80s and before, turn into Bible-thumping censors in more recent years: Are they for real, or just playing politics?  And when some of them get caught with their pants down etc.