Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
If you followed media coverage of the horrible shooting in Norway this summer, you probably ran across the controversy over whether violence committed in the name of religion was interpreted differently if the perpetrator self-identified as a Muslim or a Christian. That’s a mouthful, but read on: we have data to prove that there is indeed a double standard on religious violence, which our CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones explains in his latest article for his blog at the Washington Post On Faith, “Figuring Faith.” As usual, here’s a teaser:
When the news of a bombing in downtown Oslo, Norway, was closely followed by the shocking mass shooting at a teen youth camp on the island of Utøya, major news outlets were quick to pin the blame for the attacks on Muslim extremists. The New York Times briefly reported that a terrorist organization called “Helpers of Global Jihad” had claimed responsibility, while the British newspaper The Sun declared that the events were “Norway’s 9/11.” Hours later, it was clear that these early reports that the violence was related to religious extremism were correct, but the religion with which they associated the violence was wrong. The perpetrator turned out to be a blond-haired, blue-eyed Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who publicly identified himself as Christian on his Facebook page and also posted online a 1500-page ideological manifesto in which he declared himself to be a “cultural Christian” crusader standing up for Europe’s “Christian culture” against the forces of “Islamization.”
This revelation re-opened a fundamental question: are those who carry out acts of violence in the name of a religion true followers of that religion, or not? A new survey from Public Religion Research Institute, and a new joint report by PRRI and the Brookings Institution, reveals that Americans literally apply a double standard when answering this question, depending on whether the perpetrator is Christian or Muslim. More than 8-in-10 (83 percent) Americans say that those who commit violence in the name of Christianity are not truly Christian. On the other hand, less than half (48 percent) of Americans extend this same principle to Muslims and say that those who commit violence in the name of Islam are not truly Muslim.