By Jeffrey Guhin
It’s easy to be cynical about the religious right, and, by extension, the direction of our country. Despite representing fewer and fewer American each year, they continue to exploit advantages baked into the Constitution via the Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court. They are now about to flip to the court a 6–3 conservative majority that does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. But while “they really want power and they’re pretty good at getting it” is true enough, it is probably not the most important lesson secularists like me can learn from the religious right.
The religious right increasingly thinks of itself as an embattled minority, as a group that must work hard to maintain its beliefs. And the best ways to maintain those beliefs is through community and through power. There’s been growing interest in the People of Praise community that Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court nominee, joined years ago. No matter what you think about the community’s politics, my perception is that it is a generally supportive and positive environment. But regardless of what happens at this specific community, what’s sociologically important is the community experience itself: More than just accountability, leadership, and moral imposition, communities like People of Praise provide opportunities for shared joy and shared sorrow, being there for picnics as much as for politics.
It’s in those moments of just being with people who believe like you that your moral universe starts to feel true. That’s what secularists need too. As a secular sociologist, I would disagree with the religious right that the source of their moral energy is God. I think the source of their moral energy is these ongoing interactions that affirm their commitments, thanks to other smart, kind people who also believe this stuff. If you see your sensible friend still has hope, then you might as well get up and try again too.
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