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The Non-Existent American Culture War

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

There is widespread belief that America is currently engaged in a second Civil War, a culture war that pits liberalism against conservatism. The liberal side is thought to include secularists, Humanists, modernists, and progressive religionists. They tend to espouse Enlightenment values, often supporting religious pluralism, equality, and individual rights. Liberals believe in a strong, centralized federal government that focuses on promoting justice and equality.   The conservative side, on the other hand, often includes Evangelicals, libertarians, and republicans. They value tradition and adherence to the past over radical change. Conservatives detest “big government” and sometimes desire a less secular government. These two ideologies certainly oppose each other, but do they amount to a “culture war?”  I would argue that, in spite of the two clearly contrasting ideologies, there is not actually an ongoing culture war in America.

Unsurprisingly, when viewing America through a religious lens, several notable differences exist between religious liberalism and conservatism, but I do not think they warrant the title “culture war.”  Conservative religious branches views the United States as a divine entity, blessed by God as a chosen nation. Similar to their political and moral counterparts, religious conservatives value tradition and private, individualized morality. Religious conservatism, at its best, outlines the political and moral positions of numerous Americans. Yet, at its worst, religious conservatism can lead to a form of religious nationalism. Religious liberalism, on the other hand, considers the United States to be an entity for spreading the ideas of justice, equality, and civil rights. Religious liberals typically reject the idea that God granted the United States a divine superiority over other nations but, alternatively, suggests that the vast resources and power of the United States have indebted them with a responsibility to aid struggling nations. Certainly, there are significant differences between religious conservatism and liberalism, but, once again, I think that amounting some ideological differences to a “culture war” is unfair and, ultimately, counterproductive for America.

In actuality, while there are certainly some devout liberals and conservatives, most Americans fall somewhere in the middle, holding some conservative and some liberal positions. Many people, for instance, describe themselves as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.” I think that the current highly partisan political parties overrepresent the polarization of actual Americans. Most Americans are neither radical liberals or devoted conservatives — they fall somewhere in between the two. Thus, I believe that, although there are certainly stark differences in the ideologies of liberalism and conservatism, comparing some ideological differences to a “culture war” is a melodramatic, sensationalist way of describing modern America.

I actually believe, at its best, America represents a place where people with fundamentally opposing viewpoints can come together and typically resolve their differences through compromise. I think that working through political and cultural differences is the best and most effective way to create lasting legislation that improves the lives of Americans. While I think that partisan politics have certainly created some level of toxicity in Washington, I think that these political differences amount to far less than an all-out “Culture War.”

The overdramatized term  “culture war” does nothing more than to stoke the ideological differences of Americans. Instead, a more accurate term for the religious, political, and moral differences in America would be an “ideological contest.” Sure, there are significant philosophical differences among Americans about religion, government, and morality. But they certainly don’t amount to any sort of “culture war” in America, and saying such is a drastic over-exaggeration.  

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