Prosperity And "Fundamentalism"

Daniel Larison has a couple of good posts up in response to Andrew's attempt to defend Obama's comments about religion. Andrew casts the remarks as a reference, not to faith as such, but to "a certain kind of religion, a neurotic, rigid variety that is often - but not always - part of the fundamentalist psyche," and that can indeed be a manifestation (or so "history has sometimes shown," he contends) of "economic, political and cultural frustration." In response, Daniel makes the point that history may have "sometimes" shown this, but usually it doesn't show anything of the sort - a point that dovetails in obvious ways with my own remarks yesterday about cultural conservatism, prosperity and voting behavior.

I would also add that you can usually tell when religion-infused political movements have emerged in response to economic frustrations, because such movements tend to include (unsurprisingly) a strong economic component - from the Thomas Muentzer-inspired peasants' revolt of the 16th century down through the Christian populism of William Jennings Bryan to the variations on liberation theology that you hear from (ahem, Mr. Obama) many African-American churches today. And the fact that the agenda of post-1970s religious conservatism (what Andrew describes, frequently and inaccurately, as "fundamentalism") does not include a strong economic component ought to suggest - at least to informed observers, a category that apparently doesn't include the leading Democratic contender for the Presidency - that "economic frustration" has very little to do with its appeal.

(It's also worth noting that to the extent that contemporary religious conservatives, Catholic and Protestant alike, do emphasize poverty and economic tribulation, it's usually in the context of exhorting their co-religionists to help others in need, whether in the U.S. or (especially) overseas. Gersonism is a politics for prosperous Christians looking to do good in the world, not economically-frustrated believers clinging desperately to their churches, guns, and bigotries.)