A large part of American Christianity seems to have become politically and socially conservative, and the consensus on that side of the church is that Christians interested in social justice are not good moral Christians. Conservative American Christians – especially fundamentalists – are interested in personal salvation, and not particularly interested in social justice. Fundamentalists are prone to believing that God blesses America and American Capitalism, and that God’s blessing is manifested in personal success, wealth and social status. Conservative American Catholics are also inclined to assuming that God blesses the political and economic status quo, although not the cultural status quo. Given that the Catholic church has been persistently critical of liberal and modern philosophy and secular culture, this leave American Catholics picking and chosing which parts of modern society they can embrace with a clear religious conscience.
There are a couple of ideas at play. One is the continuing influence of what the sociologist Max Weber described as the Protestant (Work) Ethic, which Michael Novak recently revisited in an article in First Things, “Weber goes Global“. The other is the sense of American exceptionalism, the idea that America deserves its special place in the world because it has been blessed by God and chosen for greatness. The relationships between conservative churches, affluent churchgoers, conservative business people and conservative intellectuals produce a political culture that honours wealth and public expressions of piety over social action and political engagement to use power to relieve poverty.
The relationship between liberal Christians, liberal atheists and American popular culture, on the other hand, produces a political culture that honours intellectual and cultural fashion over participation in the activities that lend cohesion and strength to the churches.
Religious people, whether their sense of justice is conservative or liberal, all try to hold on to the emotional and social comforts of religion and the material and social comforts of modern culture at the same time.