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.
Welcome to the Morning Buzz, PRRI’s morning dose of religion-related news with a shot of data – because what doesn’t liven up a morning round-up like some public opinion numbers? So I know Super Bowl ads are supposed to be kind of silly and expensive and whatnot, but this? Seriously? Is nothing sacred? Also, an equally important question: how much is Matthew Broderick getting paid to go along with this?
Tomorrow is the Florida primary, and Mitt Romney has a solid lead over Newt Gingrich going into the contest. Gingrich, however, says that his rivalry with Romney is going “all the way to the convention.” Romney is certainly ahead of Gingrich in terms of endorsements from GOP elected officials, but Gingrich got one nod from a former GOP congressman – who just happens to be serving a 100-month sentence in federal prison on conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges. No comment…?
In much sadder news, Rick Santorum canceled events in Florida to be with his 3-year-old daughter, who has a rare and dangerous genetic condition, and was admitted to the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital on Saturday night.
Romney and Gingrich have, in the lead-up to the primary, been attacking each other’s stances on immigration (an area where Romney, in particular, may not have done himself any favors). Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is concerned that the Latino community may have drifted away from the Republican party, outlined four ways the eventual Republican candidate can win them back in the 2012 election.
On a recent conference call, Romney ventured into mostly-untrodden territory: his religious convictions, and how they have influenced his decisions in the business world and in politics. Romney rarely speaks directly about his Mormon faith on the campaign trail, and only 42% of Americans say they know that he is Mormon. Since two-thirds of voters say that it is very important (39%) or somewhat important (28%) for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs, a more concerted effort to demonstrate his strong religious convictions might pay off.
On Friday, President Obama called for an overhaul of financing for higher education, saying that colleges and universities need to take some responsibility for spiraling costs. In Obama’s proposal, universities that did not hold down costs would receive less federal financial aid funding. Since approximately two-thirds (66%) of the general population say the government should do more to help students pay for college and pay off student loan debt, this is likely to be a popular idea – at least among the public. College presidents may see things a bit differently.
I mentioned British philosopher Alain de Botton’s TED talk on “atheism 2.0″ recently, and it’s still worth watching if you haven’t gotten around to it. But maybe you’ll be even more intrigued now that he has announced that he wants to build a 151-foot tower in London’s financial district to celebrate human life. He says the tower is necessary as an antidote to the “destructive” version of atheism perpetuated by famous non-believer Richard Dawkins. Americans are generally fairly uncomfortable with atheists (for example, nearly half of Americans say they would be VERY uncomfortable with an atheist serving as president), but it’s anyone’s guess whether the presence of a tower dedicated to atheism in central London would lessen their anxiety.
And speaking of the beauty of the natural world and/or universe, take a look at these strange but lovely illustrations of outer space by a 19th-century artist. If only one of the drawings was of a moon colony, this would be completely topical.
Find a story you’d like to see in Monday’s Buzz? I’d love to take a look – just reply to this email and send me your discovery! Also, don’t forget to share the Buzz with your friends. Send them this link to sign up. For updates and coverage throughout the day, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Also a reminder that our CEO as well as yours truly are on Twitter: we’re @robertpjones and @PRRIAmelia.