Do you think Catholics are Christians?
US election campaign"The Catholics are one of the most interesting groups of voters"
In Milwaukee, the Democrats officially named Joe Biden as their presidential candidate for the November 3rd election yesterday. The American politician from the state of Delaware was Vice President under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. Biden is of Irish-American descent and grew up in a Roman Catholic family - if Biden were to become American President in November, he would be the second Catholic President in US history. Only John F. Kennedy has made it into the White House as a Catholic so far. What are the odds for the Catholic Joe Biden to be elected by the Americans? The question goes to the sociologist of religion Philip Gorski from Yale University, he has written a book about the relationship between Christians and US democracy.
Susanne Fritz: Mr. Gorski, when Kennedy ran for election in 1960, it was still a blemish for a presidential candidate to run as a Catholic. Is that still the case for Joe Biden today?
Philip Gorski: You can't say that anymore. It is by no means recessive for Biden, nor would I call it an advantage, because the Democrats have become such a diverse party in the meantime, where many non-believers also feel at home.
All contributions to the presidential election in the USA (dpa / Daniel Bockwoldt)
"Cleaning up 'the nation of non-Christians"
Fritz: Donald Trump questioned Biden's religiosity during the election campaign: He said that Biden had no religion, that he was violating the Bible, and that he was against God. Whereupon Biden verbally defended his Christian faith. Why is the connection between faith and politics in the USA still so close in this election campaign?
Gorski: Above all because the Republican Party increasingly sees itself as a white, Christian party, which sees the USA as a white, Christian nation. And definitely wants to defend the supremacy of white Christians and sympathizes with it, to "clean up" the nation again, so to speak - that is, of non-Christians and non-whites.
Philip Gorski teaches sociology of religion at Yale University. (Private)
Fritz: What does that ultimately mean, this connection between faith and politics?
Gorski: So for some, I'm now talking about the conservatives, Christian conservatives, who understand the US to be based on biblical values or even on biblical institutions - they understand the US constitution as a religious, Christian document, so to speak.
(Godong) Study on Religion and Value Systems - 45 percent of respondents consider God essential to morality
Do you need a religion to develop moral standards? The US Pew Institute asked about this connection in 34 countries.
Second, many believe that morality can only be sustained on religious foundations. So if there is a non-Christian in the White House or the population increasingly turns away from the Christian religion, that endangers the moral foundations of the nation. Of course, there is the great mystery of how one can understand Trump as a true Christian.
"Some believe Trump was sent by God"
Fritz: So far there are hardly any signs of this, except that there are symbolic gestures like standing in front of a Christian church with a Bible, right?
Gorski: So, from my perspective, yes. And I think there are some even among the white evangelicals who see it that way too. But you have to say: They really believe that Trump is a good Christian, that he is a converted person. And this opinion is also reinforced by the leaders of the evangelical movement. So prominent leaders of the evangelical movement who also put him in this light.
Donald Trump is supported by evangelical leaders (imago images / MPI04 / Media Punch)
Fritz: Is that why so many conservative evangelicals support Trump? Because he has this connection with many important, influential leaders of the evangelical churches?
Gorski: This is of course very important. There are other reasons as well. So first of all there would be judgeships and the question of abortion - that is, who is against it, who promises to appoint conservative, anti-abortion judges, who will be elected.
And secondly, there are really very many who have the feeling that they are somehow being persecuted, they are being marginalized. So they need a strong protector - and they think they see him in Trump. Some even believe that Trump was sent by God to protect them and to give them back the land, so to speak.
(AP) US Democrat Joe Biden - Slightly left of center
US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is a politician who tries to reconcile American society rather than divide it. His ability to empathize makes him a dangerous opponent for Trump.
US Catholics: "From reactionaries to Marxism"
Fritz: About 22 percent of Americans are Catholic. Joe Biden describes himself as a devout Catholic, but also stands for liberal politics, advocating abortion. A priest in South Carolina had therefore denied him communion in the primary campaign. What do Catholics in the US think of Biden?
Gorski: So the American Catholics are one of the most interesting groups of voters in the USA, so they really keep the political center occupied, so to speak. And so the opinion picture ranges from reactionaries to Marxism. I can give you two specific examples - first of all reactionary:
So, the current prosecutor, Bill Barr, is also a devout conservative Catholic and recently called the Democrats Jacobins in a television or radio interview who want to overthrow and destroy the system. And it was just left open whether they want to set up guillotines right away and start with the beheadings.
And on the other side of the spectrum of opinion, the young Catholic convert who writes for the Washington Post and now the New York Times, Elizabeth Bruenig, who professes liberation theology and who explicitly understands Marxism as being compatible with a certain understanding of Catholic theology.
So it is a very broad community and I believe that this has to do with a deep tension also within the teachings of the church itself. So on the one hand the social doctrine, which has the welfare state and so on as a consequence. And on the other hand, the family and sex doctrine, which lead to such an opposition to homosexual marriage and, above all, to abortion. And that just leads to a very deep tension. And how the Catholic weighs these two moral imperatives against one another, I believe, ultimately determines the voting decision.
"Republicans don't need bridges"
Fritz: These are deep rifts that have to be overcome, not only within the Catholic electorate, but also in general, there are the strictly religious conservative whites that we have talked about, there are also Evangelical Afro-Americans who are committed to the church and there are the core voters of the democratic ones Party, the secular young people. Can Joe Biden even manage such a huge balancing act?
Gorski: It's difficult, of course. It is about setting up a certain vision, a certain narrative of national togetherness, making it credible and also embodying it personally.
I think he's doing that too, in a way, by choosing Kamala Harris of California as Vice President who, as you probably know, father from Jamaica, mother from India, was raised in Hinduism, raised in Oakland, California, a very diverse and rather poor city in Northern California. So together they actually represent the democratic position very well.
(AP / Alex Brandon) Evangelicals in the US - Trump, the "Anointed One"
In the Bible, kings are also referred to as "God's anointed" ones. In the US, evangelicals are now claiming that President Trump is "anointed by God". And more and more people agree.
But the problem is that Republicans have a much more homogeneous electorate. And it's not that difficult to build bridges, you don't need any bridges. In this respect, as you say, the symbolic work that a democratic candidate has to do is much more difficult.
Fritz: What do you think personally? What is the name of the next American president? Joe Biden or Donald Trump?
Gorski: So, like many social scientists, I am personally so traumatized by the outcome of the last presidential election that I hesitate a little to make any predictions. But if you read the polls and look at the course of the campaigns so far, then you have to place your bets on Biden. So I assume that he will be elected. For me, the big question is whether he will be elected with a sufficient majority that it really sends a signal and that it doesn't raise questions about electoral fraud or something like that. And I think he should be eight to seven percent ahead, that's really the big question for me. Otherwise there will be major unrest.
Philip S. Gorski: "At the Crossroads - America's Christians and Democracy Before and After Trump"
Verlag Herder, 2020, 224 pages, 24 euros
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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