A study released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is fueling speculation that the culture war is "overblown" and not, well, as warlike as some of us think.
I found the study's results to be simultaneously hopeful and depressing. It should be read by everyone interested in cultural issues. However, I don't see that it means that cultural bombs aren't being hurled and that people and their rights aren't suffering wounds or even worse. At the very least, that doesn't match my experience out here in the Heartland.
On five prominent social issues -- abortion rights, stem cell research, gay marriage, adoption of children by gay couples, and availability of the "morning-after" pill -- most Americans did not take consistent stances.The Pew Forum notes of its findings:
Just 12 percent took the conservative position on all five issues, while 22 percent took the opposite stance on all five. The bulk of Americans had mixed opinions.
On the subject of gay unions, 56 percent opposed giving gays the right to marry, but 53 percent favored allowing gays to enter into legal agreements that provide many of the same rights as married couples
Americans cannot be easily characterized as conservative or liberal on today's most pressing social questions. The public's point of view varies from issue to issue. They are conservative in opposing gay marriage and gay adoption, liberal in favoring embryonic stem cell research and a little of both on abortion. Along with favoring no clear ideological approach to most social issues, the public expresses a desire for a middle ground on the most divisive social concern of the day: abortion.What does seem clear is that the armies on both sides of the cultural divide aren't as large as previously thought. Most people appear to be standing on the sidelines and to be unwilling to sign up to seve with either side.
Together, the results of the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggest that the public remains reluctant to move too far from current policies and practices on many key social policy questions. Despite talk of "culture wars" and the high visibility of activist groups on both sides of the cultural divide, there has been no polarization of the public into liberal and conservative camps.
To imply that there isn't a battle, though, is to ignore the very real suffering of lesbians and gays and many other Americans. Every time the cultural warriors on the right curtail and block our ability to be treated fairly under the law, our children are hurt, and we are hurt.
Also, to argue that this study shows there isn't a culture war is to pull people's attention in the wrong direction. This is a fascinating study. It has much to say about how people really think. Let's take a look at what the numbers really say and ignore those who might argue that despite the blood and despair, there really isn't a battle going on.