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My Take: Welcome back, culture wars (and Rick Santorum)
Opponents of Proposition 8, California's anti-gay marriage bill, outside the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.
February 8th, 2012
11:09 AM ET

My Take: Welcome back, culture wars (and Rick Santorum)

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

So much for the cease-fire in the culture wars.

With the rise of the tax-focused tea party, the slump into recession and the emergence of Occupy Wall Street, U.S. politics was supposed to turn to economic matters. But recent developments on the Holy Trinity of bedroom issues — gay marriage, abortion and contraception — demonstrate that the culture wars are alive and well and (among other things) propelling Rick Santorum to a clean sweep on Tuesday in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.

Last month, the Obama administration announced a new rule requiring that health insurance plans offer birth control to women for free. This rule specifically exempts, on religious liberty grounds, Catholic churches, but it does not exempt Catholic-affiliated institutions such as universities, hospitals and charities.

In recent days, the Obama administration has been pummeled in the press by Catholic leaders and Republican presidential candidates for purportedly sacrificing religious liberty at the altar of its health plan. On Tuesday, Romney called the policy an "assault on religion."  Earlier, Bishop of Phoenix Thomas Olmsted sent a letter to his flock stating, "We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law."

The abortion fight has also been running hotter, with the Komen Foundation cutting funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, only to reverse course a few days later under tremendous pressure from supporters of abortion rights.

Then comes the federal appeals court in San Francisco, which by a 2-1 vote overturned on Tuesday a California referendum banning same-sex marriage approved in 2008. According to this three-judge panel, Proposition 8 violated the 14th Amendment right to “equal protection” of California’s gay men and lesbians.

So once again U.S. politics has turned to sex, religion, privacy and conscience, and the culture warrior par excellence in the Republican field, Rick Santorum, is for the moment at least the latest new non-Romney thing.

One side (the left) speaks of rights: the rights of women to privacy and protective health care and the rights of men and women of all sexual orientations to choose whom they want to marry. The other side (the right) speaks of religious liberty and the downfall of a society so married to moral relativism that it can't even protect the unborn and a tradition as venerable as heterosexual matrimony.

David Axelrod, a key Obama political adviser, signaled Tuesday on television and radio that the Obama administration might be up for a compromise of some sort on the birth control issue, but none of these bedroom issues is going away, at least not until the 2012 presidential election is over.

But just how deeply ingrained are these divisions inside the American public? Not so deep, really.

In a 2006 book called, "Is There a Culture War?" James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe disagreed fiercely over the reach and power of the culture wars, but they agreed on one thing: These wars are fought by politicians and pundits far more than by ordinary Americans.

Take the question of birth control. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has raised a stink, most U.S. Catholics are actually in favor of the rule. So if the bishops want to go to war, they may well find they won’t have any foot soldiers.

According to a poll released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, 52% of Catholic voters support the Obama administration requirement that health plans cover prescription birth control without a co-pay. A similar poll, also released Tuesday, conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Planned Parenthood, found that 53% of Catholic voters support the Obama administration on this question.

On gay marriage, polling also indicates that ordinary Americans are nowhere near as divided as are pundits and politicians. A Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday shows a remarkable convergence on this question between 1996, when the overwhelming majority (65%) of Americans opposed gay marriage, and 2011, when only a minority (46%) do.

But Pew did not just poll Americans as a whole. It broke down its results by generation, and here the findings are telling. While only 37% of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) support gay marriage today, that figure rises to 64% among millennials (born after 1980).

Finally, on the abortion question, ordinary Americans seem far less agitated than their elected representatives. Over the past decade, poll after poll has shown that most Americans want abortion to be legal yet far less common. A 2011 Gallup poll is typical. Although Americans remain split between the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" labels, only 20% think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, while 77% say it should be legal under all or some circumstances.

The takeaway? While the culture wars are, to Santorum's delight, with us at least until November, the cultural questions that beset us are likely to shift and shift quickly. Conservative Republicans can read polls as well as liberal Democrats can, and as the years go by, there will be less and less political hay to be made by opposing gay marriage or contraception.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Bishops • Catholic Church • Church and state • Culture wars • Gay marriage • Mitt Romney • Politics • Rick Santorum • Same-sex marriage • Sex • United States

soundoff (738 Responses)
  1. The Prophet Mohammed

    Mormon women are u gly that is why it was outlawed.

    February 8, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  2. evensteven

    The founding fathers envisioned a country where tolerance of differing belief systems would be accommodated.

    The Conservatives are breeding intolerance into our country . . . and therefore undermining the vision of our founding fathers.

    February 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  3. Drake

    So let Catholic hospitals and universities deny contraception and abortion to its employees.

    Lets see what kind of doctors, nurses, professors, administrators etc actually want to work there.

    February 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • jn0224

      I bet they'd be overwhelmed by applications.

      February 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  4. JenniferUCD

    Stohlat on page 8 of the comments said…
    “Scripture says that your name was written on the palm of God's hand even before you were even born, and that even if a mother forgets her child He will never forget you.
    “The killing of an unborn child through abortion via abortifacients or any other means is an intrinsic evil, a sin that goes against God's plan for our salvation. It was that way 2,000 years ago for the early Christians and it remains that way today, no matter how many people approve and partake in it.”

    I tried to reply to that but this blog is sometimes jacked up. So let me post my reply here…

    Hey stohlat, if you believe so hardcore in scripture, then don't have an abortion. This should be the end of the discussion since we don't live in a religious state. My problem is with people like you superimposing your beliefs on people like me who believe that until the brain is distinguished from the other cells making up the embyo, it does not possess enough human quality to warrant protection under the law. Who says you're right and I'm not? God? Then who's God? That's why we have freedom of religion so we can each live our live according to what we believe is right.

    February 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  5. JenniferUCD

    this blog pi$$es me off! I can't figure out why my posts sometimes show up and othertimes do not. Grrrr CNN! (shakes fist in air!!)

    February 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      I know! I think it decides to moderate them out based on some random innocuous word, and you don't even know what you said wrong . Just copy your message before you try to post so you don't have to type it all over again

      February 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • It's lie this, Jennifer

      Here is the gig: There is no human moderator, though occasionally we do get some hilarious responses from dingbats that think there is some conspiracy to censor their views.. Based on some of the regular contributors like Prothero and Merica, I am not sure there are any writers either.

      What is happening is that words with naughty fragments inside them automatically vanish. Words like Consti_tution cannot be written without a dash or underscore or space. Because "tit" is such a shockingly bad word. Similarly, "circu mstance" is a big no-no, even though anyone can c u m all they want here just by a few small adjustments.

      There is a way to get past the fucking censor bot, but I won't tell you how.

      February 8, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • LinCA

      @JenniferUCD

      You said, "this blog pi$$es me off! I can't figure out why my posts sometimes show up and othertimes do not. Grrrr CNN! (shakes fist in air!!)"

      CNN uses automated censoring that looks for words, or fragments of words, that are considered offensive. My guess is that your post had had a forbidden word in it. Posts that contain too many URLs will also get rejected.

      Repeat posts, even those that were previously censored and not displayed, will show a message stating that you posted it before.

      The following words or word fragments will get your post censored (list is incomplete):
      arse
      bastard
      bitch
      cock
      coon
      cum
      cunt
      douche
      effing
      fag
      ftw
      fuck
      homo
      horny
      jackass
      jap
      jism
      kinky
      kooch
      nipple
      orgy
      pis
      porn
      poo
      prick
      rape
      sex
      shit
      slut
      snatch
      spic
      tit
      twat
      vag
      whore
      wtf

      To circumvent the filters you can break up the words by putting an extra character in, like: consti.tution (breaking the oh so naughty "tit").

      February 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • HUNGLIKEABIRD

      SOCKPUPPET – Don't bother to copy your posts. No one is truly interested in what you have to say, anyway.

      February 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Kitten Puncher

      I think I figured out how to circumvent the word filter.

      Let's see if this bloody shit works.

      February 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • Kitten Puncher

      Yep. It works. Took me all of 60 seconds to figure it out.

      February 8, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  6. Vote Democrat!

    Since when do women deserve rights?

    February 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You know your brain you your a Moron Moron

      February 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Vote Democrat!

      What are you trying to say? Maybe try that again in English.

      February 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  7. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I feel incredibly warm. You know you are all the best something it doesnt matter Wher is everybody?

    February 8, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  8. P Blackmore

    I don't wish to dictate how religious people should worship or act and I definitely want them kept out of my life. Belief in the bible is a personal choice and to continuously attempt to force issues down others throats is idiotic, totalitarian and alienating. Keep your bible and your church to yourselves, be glad you have personal religious freedoms, you people could still be fighting for this right.

    February 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • pat carr

      that;s true. I dont believe in the "christian lifestyle" but you don't see me whining about it like the rest of these religious lunatics

      February 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  9. HUNGLIKEABIRD

    "...but these enemies of mine , who did not want me to reign over them, bring them in front of me and slay them in my presence"-Jesus Christ. MATTHEW 19:27 I wonder what these confused ,religious screwballs would think if they even KNEW this existed in the bible. Most go to church thinking it will get them a ,"Better place in Heaven"

    February 8, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      um hahaha why don't you actually look up Matthew 19:27 it doesn't say anything like that

      February 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      Now, Mr Littlepeepee, if you are going to quote Bible scripture, you should first of all, know the right book. Secondly, you should quote the entire passage, not just one itty bitty part, and thirdly, have some understanding of the context. Christians DO know that exists in the Bible because believe it or not, they actually read the Bible, unlike you. This verse is from a PARABLE. Do you know what a parable is? It's like an analogy. It's not literal; it's meant to convey an idea by telling a STORY. This story tells the man of a nobleman. I will not go into detail at this time. But it basically talks about how people will be judged in the afterlife by how they treated Jesus. Enemies who hated Jesus will be "slayed", meaning judged harshly, in the afterlife. It has nothing whatsoever to do with killing people.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • HUNGLIKEABIRD

      SOCKPUPPET -Just google it . It's right there in plain English. Now of course you bonehead religious bozos have to re -interpret it to ,"Fit", so it looks like it isn't what it says. But IT IS WHAT IT SAYS!!! Why else would someone have written it that way? It reminds me of a verse that says that a woman will be SUBMISSIVE to her husband. When asked about this , the loony bird Michelle Bachmann did what you did and said ,"Submissive means respectful". BWAHHAAHHA . Like I said , Religious people will change anything to make it ,Fit", so as not to have to answer to the B.S.that's sometimes appears in the bible,Parable or not.

      February 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • HUNGLIKEABIRD

      Wrong gospel writer. It would be LUKE19:27 . Now get back to me and try denying it again.

      February 8, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      wow, you know, I tried to tell you that you need to actually read the whole passage, but of course you refused. It's the equivalent of a person standing up and saying "I once heard a guy say "I will kill you all". And then everyone started screaming "OMG He said he's going to kill us all!" Because they disregarded the first part of the sentence. Here, let me make it EASY for you. This is the beginning of the passage, Luke 19:11 "While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a PARABLE, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 HE SAID: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return"....and then it leads on to tell the story. How you choose to interpret the story is one thing, although Jesus made his meanings quite clear. But the fact that he was TELLING A STORY is not a matter of interpretation. IT'S WRITTEN RIGHT INTO THE PASSAGE. So like I said, try actually reading the entire passage in context before you quote something that you clearly have ZERO knowledge of. It doesn't matter anyway, because you still won't understand what the parable means, but at least you may begin to get a glimmer of understanding of how Jesus preached. He often spoke in parables, and it's always obvious when he is telling a story or when he is just simply speaking.

      February 9, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • HUNGLIKEABIRD

      Poor SOCKPUPPET- When confronted with texts from the bible he/she (I'm guessing you're a dumb broad) will try to deflect the truth .Let me ask you this, do you really believe the humanity is a mere 6 thousand years old and was created by only two people?LOL

      February 9, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Patrick

      @Suckpuppet

      You really do sound like an idiot. Talk about blind fiath.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  10. tnmtl

    Why does it have to do with polls? I would respect politicians who stand for what's right, regardless of what the loudest whiniest minority thinks. It's why i detest republicans who constantly use these issues to divide and portray themselves as saviors of the world.

    February 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Meg

      Agreed.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  11. Nedom

    And I repeat, these hopefuls are doing Obama's job. Like it or not, He will get re-elected.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  12. Mike Gentile

    Get the Vaseline out.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • John

      Take it from a doctor: you really should use something more water-based when you do that.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Gentile Ben

      If I ever do take it from a doctor I'll be real sure to do that John.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  13. keeth

    Politics is just like driving: D for forward, R for reverse.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • JenniferUCD

      like!

      February 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Meg

      Favorite. 😀

      February 8, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Sue

      Like! Love!

      February 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Mike P

      Except that when you are running off a cliff the last thing you want is to keep (D)riving. That's when (R)everse is what you want.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Curtis

      Reverse when you're about to drive off a cliff

      February 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Dr.K.

      Like most republicans, you immediately forget that we were in (R)everse as we drove full speed toward the cliff.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Kitten Puncher

      Like most retards, you all argue over politics instead of real issues.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • Patrick

      You actually want to brake first regardless of your direction. But feel free to go ahead and slam it into reverse…blow your transmission and go right off that cliff. Sounds about the level of logic I’d expect from the (R) crowd.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  14. Meg

    It would be so great if we could just have a Mind-Your-Own-Bodily-Business Policy where everyone does just that. No need for government to step in and regulate, or anyone to give you grief about what you do. Shouldn't Christians be leaving the judging up to God? Live and let live.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  15. John

    Why is it that the word "war" and "Republican" seem to go hand-in-hand? I would vote for more Republicans if they stayed out of the American citizens' bedroom. Why are they so focused on what we do with our bodies?

    February 8, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • FunkyMonkey

      Just like war also goes hand in hand with Democrats? (Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton). I'm sorry, but that statement goes both ways

      February 8, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Mike

      I would not care what disgusting things gays do in their bedrooms. It affects me when you ask me to support their lifestyle and treat them as normal. It affects me when you tell me that my children must be taught that gays are good models. It affects me when you force me to do business with gay couples.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • No please ...

      Mikey,
      Why, exactly, are the things you do in your bedroom NOT "disgusting" ?

      February 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Meg

      Gay people ARE normal, they just love differently for whatever reason. And they only ask you to support them the way they would probably support you if you asked them to. You have the option of telling your children that you don't agree with their lifestyle and why, just as they deserve to hear why someone is gay. It opens their minds to diversity and, in the long run, accepting of other cultures, races, or heritages. To vilify a community is to close down communication and understanding and that is where the downfall of society begins. Working with a gay couple will not make you gay. It's not contagious. Don't act like it is.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @Mike

      Your arrogance and bigotry are astounding.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • pat carr

      "I would not care what disgusting things gays do in their bedrooms. It affects me when you ask me to support their lifestyle and treat them as normal. It affects me when you tell me that my children must be taught that gays are good models. It affects me when you force me to do business with gay couples."

      No it doesn't. It doesnt' affect you. at all. well maybe except then you can't force your beliefs on others

      February 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      MIke: "force you to do business" or "treat them as normal"? It's like listening to some crazy KKK bigot from the 60s. You, SIR (although it's an insult to gentlemen everywhere to refer to you as such) are a disgusting individual that wouldn't KNOW normal. They apparently are more human they YOU are.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • JenniferUCD

      sockpuppent said it best Mike. You're just a bigot of a different variety. I can't wait till your kind die off and we wonder why we ever thought gays were less human that heteros.

      February 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  16. angie

    social conservatism always leads to the backwardness of a society. Just look at saudi arabia and most of the third world.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • FunkyMonkey

      Backwardsness is a relative term. You cannot identify what is "backward" without knowing what is "forward." I'm pretty sure to a Middle Eastern person, what Westerners call social progress is actually backwards progress towards the barbarity of a life away from the laws of Allah, their god

      February 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • angie

      to funkey monkey
      there is no allah, gods, goddesses... are all made up by human beings

      February 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  17. msadr

    I'm so sick of these arguments over things that shouldn't be issues. I can respect an opinion that is formed based on facts. But most Americans have an opinion based on some bologna that a special interest group spits out. Fact is, Jesus of Nazareth never said a single word about contraception so the Catholic Church has no business mandating a "Christian" stance on the matter. Fact is that "gay marriage" is a a contradiction in terms... really... Gay and Marriage is a logical contradiction. And gay couples offer zero return on public investment. It's bad public policy to grant incentives to gay couples. Absolutely nobody, gay or straight, has any "right" to take from the public coffers and not offer something in return. Lastly, a fetus has no consciousness. Therefore, it has no thought, no awareness of itself or anything else. It is not a sentient being. It is not a person by any wild stretch of the definition. It is not a baby and will not be until it has conscious awareness. Those are the facts. But Americans believe fetuses are babies, gay couples are somehow capable of being one, and Jesus hates contraception! How did this country get so messed up? crazy.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • stohlat

      Jesus did not say anything about slavery either so I guess religious organizations including the Catholic Church shouldn't have spoken out about it 160 years ago in our country.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • No please ...

      So childless straight couples can't marry ? HAHAHAHAHAHA !

      February 8, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      how laughable

      February 8, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  18. GodPot

    Yeah, what he said!! 🙂

    February 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  19. Jim Rousch

    If those on the right insist on fighting culture war, they will be demolished in November.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Meg

      I hope so. However, the number of fanatics in this country makes me uneasy.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  20. Larry C. Wilson

    If we had religious freedom in the U.S., the Mormons would be able to practice polygamy, a basic article of faith as preached by the Prophet Smith

    February 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Jim Rousch

      Polygamy leads to accidental incest.

      Ew.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • P Blackmore

      @ Jim Rousch – Thank you!

      @Larry Wilson – The area Jeffries followers occupy has one of the highest incidents of mental retardation in this country. There is a reason polygamy is illegal. If the Mormons want to birth a bunch substandard humans make them stay in UT.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • evensteven

      If people want to practice polygamy, have at it. I think it would be a big mess and is just an excuse for a man to have multiple partners. Lots of people have multiple partners, but they'r not married. Although it's not my cup of tea, they are free to do what they want with whom they want as long as it's consensual.

      The government needs to get out of the business of telling people what they can do with their own bodies. Bottom line.

      February 9, 2012 at 1:33 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Yes, the government should stay out of everyone's bedroom and houses of worship so that religious shamans (charlatans all!) have free reign. If only the religious cults would stay out of everyone else's lives...

      February 9, 2012 at 1:42 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.