Religious Freedom: Can we transcend value conflict?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Religious Freedom

Click on this PRRI graphic to read the entire report online in PDF form.

The spate of religious freedom restoration acts (RFRAs) is the latest in a long-history of value conflicts in American history. In my first book on American values, published n 2005, I argued that Americans could transcend their conflicts and find a new path forward. Can we rise above our contradictions?

This week, we’ve discussed whether the political battles over RFRAs are on the right side of history, how many people are opposed to these laws in general but not in specific cases, and how tech leaders are lining up to oppose these laws. We also traveled back in history, with the aid of Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer, to see that paradoxical views were common from the earliest days of the republic.

Today, here’s more evidence of paradoxical views, this time when it comes to attitudes about abortion. Almost two of ten (18%) of Americans identify as both pro-life and pro-choice, according to a new Vox poll. Another 21% said “neither” when asked which label they identified with. Millennials are even more likely to identify with both labels, according to a new Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey. About 27% say they are BOTH pro-choice and pro-life. Another 22% don’t identify with either label.

Are all these people just confused?

One school of thought argues that each person should have clear, coherent, and consistent values. Perhaps some people do, but for many this denies the reality of their individual experience. It’s common to hold views that are paradoxical. American is rife with tensions between values, which can erupt in social conflict—or energize and animate the American experience.

Next week, we’ll explore some of these tensions, drawing on a new book and project sponsored by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Can we transcend our paradoxical views on religious freedom?

Your opinion matters …

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  1. David Crumm says

    Wayne, I think you’ve brought this series to a fascinating conclusion in parts 4 (recalling both Jefferson and Ann Lee) and 5, today. One answer to the headline question may be: “Americans already ARE transcending the conflicts.”

    What we perceive as values conflict in polling results actually is a reflection of the large pool of Americans who are in a real-life “middle” on these issues. We understand these issues to be more nuanced than pollsters and political activists prefer. As we are pushed by activists, or pushed by polling questions, we may be expressing a more real-life, middle-ground reaction of: “Well, it all depends …”

    Pollsters actually do us a service by identifying that middle ground that doesn’t conform so neatly to what political activists may be claiming.

    Very thought-provoking this week, Wayne! I’m going to tweet this one to friends.

    David Crumm