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Divine Intervention

These days, it seems religion is the opiate of the rulers. Consider the recent tales of daily Bible class in the White House, of impromptu church services aboard Air Force One, and of British Prime Minister Tony Blair chastising his aides for being a most "ungodly lot." Yet Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush ...

These days, it seems religion is the opiate of the rulers. Consider the recent tales of daily Bible class in the White House, of impromptu church services aboard Air Force One, and of British Prime Minister Tony Blair chastising his aides for being a most "ungodly lot."

Yet Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush are not the only ones whose religion informs their policy preferences. A forthcoming working paper by economists Joseph Daniels and Marc von der Ruhr reveals how an American’s religion is likely to affect his or her views on a range of foreign policy questions. The polling data shows that Baptists, Jews, and pre-Vatican II Catholics are more likely than believers from other religious denominations to favor unilateral action by the United States. Despite the stress that Catholic teaching places on the right to emigrate, Catholics do not support emigration more than members of other faiths. And African-American Baptists are most likely to back restrictions on imports.

However, Daniels cautions against using the results to predict the American public’s attitude toward the Iraq crisis and the Bush doctrine, noting that he and von der Ruhr conducted the survey both before the conflict and before "unilateral" became almost synonymous with military force. Daniels plans to analyze new data later this year to assess how religious affiliation influences U.S. attitudes toward unilateral military action.

Scott Appleby, a religious historian at the University of Notre Dame, observes that the support of the aforementioned groups for U.S. unilateralism may well stem from their "teleological view of history," in which God drives events toward a certain end — what he calls a "theological version of Manifest Destiny." Appleby stresses that politics also plays a key role, however, especially for Jews who recognize that the state of Israel is supported by U.S. unilateralism.

Daniels argues that "religious groups are pushing American foreign policy," citing the example of the debt relief campaign Jubilee 2000, which received support from a wide range of religious organizations in the United States due to its Old Testament origins. As "Old Europe" continues to secularize, Daniels sees the United States’ growing religiosity pushing U.S. foreign policy in an increasingly unilateralist direction.

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