Religious Polarization

Dr. Daniel Cox’s take on White Evangelicalism.


Courtesy of Ariel Abdallah

Dr. Daniel Cox, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, with the student members of the AEI Executive Council after the lecture.

Korbin Breeden, Staff Writer

Last Wednesday, Dr. Daniel Cox, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), came to Westmont to share an analytical lecture on White Evangelicalism and its relation to politics today.

Cox, who has been featured in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, CNN, and most recently FiveThirtyEight, is fascinated by the current climate and polarization that has come from religious beliefs.

Cox shared a new theory about why America is so polarized. He believes that America is currently seeing a change in identity as people begin to shift toward “religious polarization.”

Cox indicates a shift in beliefs that identifies the ‘left’ and ‘right’ in politics to be associated with religious beliefs where the ‘left’ is a place for those outside of Christianity, and the ‘right’ is the prominent Christian party.

The claim of a new era of “religious polarization” was followed by statistics showing the gap between generations within the white evangelical circle and their beliefs towards others outside their beliefs. The youngest generation of white evangelicals, as Cox identified while working with Pew Research Center, is becoming more heterogeneous. They’re inherently “more likely to know an atheist.” Such a momentous change in culture has led Cox to the conclusion that more individuals see morals as not defined by a belief in God.

Where does this leave the church? Dr. Cox shared with an eager audience statistics highlighting drops in religious exercise in younger generations. He identified the split in the United States surrounding the support of President Donald Trump.

Statistics done by the Pew Research Center are showing trends suggesting that the younger generations of white evangelicals are increasingly split on their support of the current administration. The statistics of presidential approval, as Cox illustrated, ran in correlation to the split within the white evangelical churches on how to treat the new changes surrounding beliefs on marriage.

Senior Brianna Newport “appreciated Dr. Cox’s data-driven presentation. He made it clear that decreasing religious affiliation in the U.S. is correlated with weaker structural incentives for not only engagement with, say, a church but also with people outside of one’s personal identity categories (party, ID age, etc.).”

Will Walker, a senior, understood Dr. Cox’s words and statistics “like a mirror.” Walker found these statistics extremely important considering that, “White Evangelicals are some of the most avid supporters of the current wave of Christian-supremacist and racist nationalism.”

“White evangelicals  are some of the most avid supporters of the current wave of Christian-supremacist and racist nationalism.”

-Will Walker

After Dr. Daniel Cox’s talk, Newport and Walker alike were left hopeful. Newport, when looking at the statistics, observed “that tolerance increases with relationships with those holding different beliefs than your own.” Walker found hope in the Trump statistics, which shared that “young white evangelicals, though worse than the general American population, are not nearly as blindly fanatic as older white evangelicals.”

The event as a whole provided extremely important statistics and wisdom on White Evangelicalism and its relation to politics today, along with an understanding of what may be to come in “religious polarization.”

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