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28 October 2020

The 3B's and Politics

I've written before about the 3 B's approach to understanding religion. Essentially, it argues that we should think about religion as a combination of believing, behaving, and belonging. All religions can be understood to fiddle with those three dials. For example, Evangelical Protestantism sets the knobs for believing and behaving very high, while belonging is fairly low; Reform Judaism sets the knob for belonging at 11, but turns down believing and behaving. In other words, Evangelicals are definitely about having the right beliefs about Jesus but don't care about what denomination or congregation they are a part of, and Jews won't bat an eye if you're an atheist as long as you belong to the tribe. The cultural dominance of Protestantism broadly has hampered the study of religion by focusing too narrowly on believing. We gain predictive power by paying attention to belonging, in particular.

I think that we could gain a lot to apply this same approach to understanding politics. How do people set their relative knobs for political ideas (believing), political participation (behaving), and party identification (belonging)? We've been hampered by an insistence on the importance of political ideology (i.e. conservative vs. progressive) for too long. People's beliefs are often internally inconsistent and at times not in their own best interest (e.g. working-class folks against social benefits programs). If we take party identification as belonging more seriously, these kind of dissonances become less perplexing because people may have the believing dial turned down and the belonging dial turned up. This is quite evident here in the South, where I live, among Republicans. Many have internalized this label in the same way that they have their loyalty to their favorite college football team (which is to say to the bone). They care far more about their "team" than they do about actual policy. Instead of being dismissive of that, we should take it seriously, just as they do.

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