A recent survey of politically active religious conservatives and liberals revealed some interesting things:
In terms of religious affiliation, conservative activists are almost exclusively Christian, whereas progressive activists are more diverse. Among conservative activists, 54% identify as evangelical Protestant, 35% as Roman Catholic, and 9% with Mainline Protestantism. Among progressive activists, 44% identify as Mainline Protestants; 17% as Roman Catholics; 10% as evangelical Protestants; 12% as interfaith, mixed faith, or Unitarian; 6% Jewish; and 8% who have no formal religious affiliation or identify as formerly affiliated.
In terms of beliefs, conservative and progressive religious activists have strikingly different beliefs about scripture. Nearly half of conservatives (48%) view scripture as the literal word of God, a view held by only 3% of progressives.
In terms of practices, both groups of activists report religion is important in their lives at higher levels than the public at large. Among the conservative religious activists, 96% say religion is extremely or very important in their lives; among the progressive activists, that figure is 74%; among the public, it is 62%.
Source: Public Religion
None of this is surprising, except perhaps the wide different with Catholics — I would have expected a similar number with the Religious Left as the Religious Right. After all, Catholics are about the same as Protestants when it comes to attitudes towards birth control and abortion, but they are actually closer to Democrats on a host of policy issues like war, welfare, education, etc. Maybe it's just that these moderate, liberal, and progressive Catholics haven't been as politically mobilized as more conservative Catholics have already been.
The lack of diversity in the Religious Right is not at all surprising, but it is worth highlighting. America is becoming more religiously diverse, so a diverse Religious Left will be more reflective of America generally as time goes by than a more exclusively Christian Religious Right. There may be parallels here between the Religious Right representing an ever narrower segment of the population and the Republican Party doing the same.
Abortion. Conservative religious activists are nearly universally opposed to legalized abortion: 95% say either that abortion should be illegal in all cases (60%) or most cases (35%). In sharp contrast, 80% of progressive religious activists say abortion should be legal in all (26%) or most (54%) cases.
Gay and Lesbian Issues. On the issue of same-sex marriage, conservatives overwhelmingly oppose (82%) both same-sex marriage and civil unions, while nearly 6-in-10 (59%) progressives support same-sex marriage, and another third support civil unions.
Health Care. Only 6% of conservative religious activists agree that the U.S. should have comprehensive national health insurance even if it resulted in fewer choices for patients, compared to nearly 8-in-10 (78%) progressive activists who agree.
Environment. Only 13% of conservative activists agree that more environmental protection is needed even if it raises prices or costs jobs, compared to nearly 9-in-10 (87%) progressive activists who agree.
Torture. A significant majority of conservative religious activists say torture can often (25%) or sometimes (36%) be justified. Only 5% of progressive religious activists take either of those positions, with 79% saying torture can never be justified.
Iraq War. Conservative religious activists strongly back the war in Iraq, with an overwhelming majority saying it was either completely (35%) or probably (48%) justified. Progressive religious activists are staunchly opposed, with 80% saying it was completely unjustified and 13% saying it was probably unjustified. The two groups are also mirror images of each other on the so-called “Bush doctrine” of preemptive military action, with about three-quarters of conservatives supporting it and nearly the same proportion of progressive activists in opposition.
Role of Government and Taxes. Sixty-eight percent of progressive religious activists believe government should increase spending and provide more services; 89% say tax cuts should be directed toward lower income people. By even larger margins, conservative religious activists believe that government should provide fewer services and cut spending (86%). Sixty-one percent back tax cuts targeted at upper-income individuals.
Once again, no surprises here, but I think it's worth highlighting the degree to which the positions of the Religious Right seem more consistent conservative politics in America than with traditional Christianity. It's far easier to justify opposition to torture than support of torture through Christian doctrine. It's easier to support universal health care than opposition to universal health care through Christian doctrine.
Religion in public life. Conservative and progressive religious activists both support a role for religion in public life, but the groups have strongly diverging views of church-state separation. Eighty-one percent of progressive religious activists say the U.S. “should maintain a strict separation of church and state,” a position taken by only 21% of conservative activists. Nearly all conservative activists believe America was founded as a Christian nation, a view shared by only 37% progressive activists.
More than two-thirds of conservative religious activists say there was not enough public expression of faith and prayer by political leaders during the 2008 election, compared to only 5% of progressive religious activists. Among progressive activists, a majority (52%) say the amount of religious expression by political leaders in 2008 was about right.
The strong support for not just a "separation of church and state," but a strict separation of church and state is heartening to say the least. However, we must be careful not to read too much into that — after all, "religious expression by political leaders" has been growing in recent years and majority of the Religious Left thinks that it's at a fine state.
I'm not confident that most people, Left or Right, fully understand what strict separation really is or what it entails. It's not unusual for people to express support for separation but then make excuses or exceptions for "just a little bit" of religion which they happen to agree with. The more devout a person is, the harder strict separation can be for them — it's not impossible, but it does become harder and it requires more conscious, careful thought about matters.