One of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking research projects I’ve read during the past several weeks has been George Yancey’s What Motivates Cultural Progressives. It’s a four-part series that I’ve linked below:

The series is based on his book by the same title, and it seeks to examine the overt assault on the Christian right from a position of research and documentation. Its material is derived from open-ended questions in an online survey sent to members of organizations that have as part of their purpose opposition to the Christian or religious right. Yancey says:

Those fighting the Christian right have attracted little academic interest. But recently I have conducted research on such individuals who I will call, for lack of a better name, cultural progressive activists, and some of that research is in my latest book, What Motivates Cultural Progressives.

Yancey sees in CPA (cultural progressive activists) an actual social movement. He defines this in part 1 as the ways that “meet the social needs of a particular group as well as provide members of that group a social identity.” In his research, he found that “demographic information on the members of this group revealed they are relatively likely to be white, male, wealthy and highly educated.” In fact, the stats on the sampling revealed CPAs as:

  • 93% white
  • 64% male
  • 52% making more than 75K
  • 43% with graduate degrees
  • 75% atheist or agnostic

In his words, “Cultural progressive activists do quite well.”

Part 1 of the series focuses on CPA’s fear of “mixing religion and politics” which was a predominant concern among this movement. Results found that CPAs expressed deep concern about the need for separation of church and state, to the extent that they were willing to take steps to silence the opinion and exclude the influence of Christians from academia and government. CPAs especially want to control the means of communication (mass media) in our culture to assist in these goals.

Part 2 of the series examines the concept of rationality. Research reveals that CPAs believe the Christian right is irrational. Consider this quote from the research material from a respondent:

The Christian Right appears to be composed mainly of lower-middle class, blue-collar Caucasian workers with limited formal education who use their limited mental abilities to come up with illogical arguments, and then angrily enforce their positions with fear and intimidation (Male, age 56-65, master’s degree).

It is not whether or not CPAs are actually more rational than Christians. It’s their perception that they are. Indeed, Yancey affirms this in one of his conclusions on their motivations:

it is not really that important whether cultural progressive activists are more rational than those in the Christian right. My argument as a result of this study is that the value of rationality characterizes cultural progressive activists, not actual rationality… They honestly believe themselves to be more rational than their counterparts and because of that belief can assert that they have the best plans for our society. Cultural progressives conceive their plans as being well thought out instead of based on the emotional fears of the Christian right.

Part 3 of the series examines the political progressiveness of the CPA. The results found that across the board, as you might suspect at this point, that CPAs identify themselves predominantly as liberal and affiliate with either the Democratic or other left-leaning political parties. It’s not just their “feelings” or values that lead to this identification. Because “rationality” is a value for the CPA, Yancey says,

Acceptance of political progressive ideology is a marker for intelligence. Consequently, the opposite is true for these respondents as well. Those who accept a conservative political ideology must not be very intelligent or are being misled. (italics mine)

In fact, where most CPAs are religiously atheistic or agnostic, it’s interesting to note that they have a belief system in which “the more progressive an individual is the higher level of morality that person possesses.” Their political progressiveness is expressed in high activism, seeking to transform culture and society and institutions into their vision. They have a tendency to disdain anyone that disagrees with them as being unintelligent, uninformed or “misled.”

Part 4 wraps up the series (and I hope tempts you to buy the book) seeks to identify the “action frame” of this social movement. Yancey explains that an action frame is a way of explaining how people in a movement “find ways to ‘frame’ their movement that justify their participation in the movement” and “whereby movement participants argue what has gone wrong… and why movement participants take the actions that they do.”

While CPAs do not oppose religion that is confined to the home, they seek to keep its influence out of society at large. One respondent indicated:

Christian fanatics have not yet reached the stage of active persecution but it is only a matter of time to where they become as bad as the Islamic fundamentalists.

It’s worrisome at the least to understand again the demographics of this group. As Yancey said earlier, “Cultural progressive activists do quite well.” Unfortunately, they abandon their embrace of rationality when they embrace fear as a motivator to hinder the Christian worldview from influencing culture at large.

Fear is a powerful motivational tool that social movements can use to maintain loyalty and commitmentIt is often difficult to persuade individuals to provide resources to a social movement based purely on the vision of a better society… Thus, it is not surprising that primary literature from some of the organizations run by cultural progressive activists paints Christian conservatives as a powerful enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

Yancey ends the series with a worn-out term that I believe is overused – “culture war.” For me, it doesn’t communicate much hopefulness in dialogue to paint a militaristic picture. I did appreciate his attempt to unpack for us what motivates a person or organization that is a cultural progressive. I wonder what your thoughts might be related to the material, particularly in light of an election season?

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