New study shows ‘alt-right’ views linked to infrequent church attendance and divorce

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Newly released data shows that those Americans who only occasionally go to Church services are more likely to hold so-called “alt-right” views, compared to those who regularly attend or never go at all.

The Demography of the Alt-Right, a demographic analysis released Aug. 9, breaks down the cultural, social, and economic factors which seem to overlap with a tendency toward white nationalism and “alt-right political views.”

The analysis identified three key attitudes which it says are held by people affiliated with racist and alt-right groups. It then examined what circumstances and characteristics people holding these views tend to have in common. The traits with the highest incidence among those with racist views were found to be infrequent Church attendance, divorce, low income, unemployment, and identification as a political independent – all of which were present in about 18 percent of “alt-right” respondents.

The identifying “alt-right” attitudes used by Hawley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, were a strong sense of “white identity,” a belief in the importance of “white solidarity,” and a sense of “white victimization.”

Hawley gathered data from the 2016 American National Election Survey. Among survey respondents, 28 percent expressed strong feelings of white identity; about 38 percent expressed strong feelings of white solidarity; and about 27 percent felt that whites suffer a meaningful amount of discrimination in American life. A much smaller minority, about 12 percent of respondents, expressed all three opinions.

Of the 12 percent who had all three attitude markers of the “alt-right,” 18.03 percent attended religious services “once or twice a month.” 10.86 percent of those with those attitude markers said they “never attended” services, and 12.28 percent said they attend weekly. 

Hawley noted that the leadership of far-right radical groups “appears to be less religious and socially conservative than earlier far right movements – though parts of the white nationalist movement have always expressed antipathy toward Christianity and other organized religions.”

He also said that while traditional religious beliefs and activities are often associated with “reactionary views” on social issues, “most major religious groups in the United States promote an explicitly egalitarian worldview that stresses the equal dignity of all persons, and all are officially anti-racist.”

There was, he concluded, “not always a clear pattern when it came to frequency of worship and racial attitudes.”

The 12 percent of respondents with alt-right views were also more likely to be divorced than either to be married or have never married at all – 18.24 percent, compared to 10.37 percent who are married and 11.24 who have never been married.

While considering theories that the breakdown of traditional family structures and values had contributed to the rise of far-right identity politics, Hawley said that there was no “compelling evidence that the breakdown of traditional family norms is leading to a new interest in right-wing radicalism.”

“However,” Hawley noted, “the results for divorce are more interesting. On every one of these questions mentioned earlier, for example, divorced respondents were consistently one of the highest scoring groups. This may seem curious, as there is not an obvious connection between being divorced and feelings about race. It is possible that the experience of divorce makes one feel more alienated and negative in general.”

The analysis was presented by the Institute of Family Studies. Its release comes only days before a Unite the Right rally will be held in Washington, D.C., on August 11-12.

The rally will mark the first anniversary of the of the 2017 Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., during which white supremacists marched through the streets, displayed Nazi flags, and shouted racist slogans. Clashes with counter protestors resulted in more than 30 people being injured, and a woman was killed when one man linked to white-supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.

In response to last year’s events, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in 2017 that “Charlottesville matters,” calling it a “snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed.” He lamented the rise of far-right and racist attitudes and the “collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.”

The National Park Service has confirmed that a permit has been issued to Unite the Right organizer John Kessler to demonstrate outside of the White House on Sunday night. That rally is expected to draw an estimated 400 people. Meanwhile, several permits have also been issued to counter-protesters at different locations around Washington. Some estimates suggest that several thousand people could arrive to protest what is expected to be an overtly racist and provocative display.

In November 2017, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington D.C., issued the the first pastoral letter on race by a senior American bishop in almost thirty years. Entitled “The Challenge of Racism Today,” the letter denounced racism “in whatever form” as “ultimately a denial of human dignity.” 

CNA obtained a statement Wuerl plans to issue in advance of Sunday’s rally, in which the cardinal will remind Washington-area Catholics that “in the face of groups whose message we deplore and even as they exercise their First Amendment right, we must stand firm in our convictions.  We cannot let these messages that we reject somehow change us. Rather, we must continue to stand up for a good and just society, speaking the truth in love.”

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