Religion, Politics, and the Catholic Laity
The extent to which Catholics are influenced by their bishops has been a question of much debate. Response to their bishops' political activities has been mixed. The evidence suggests that few Catholics are even aware of the bishops' pastoral letters, and the laity is in stark disagreement with the hierarchy on such issues as abortion, divorce, and birth control. But while abortion and sexual ethics are often emphasized as issues that separate Catholics from their leaders, these are only a few of many issues addressed by the bishops. Too much emphasis on disagreements over sexual ethics obscures areas of commonality. While most Catholics may not be conversant in the social teaching of their Church, the permeation of Vatican II ideas throughout Catholic culture may work to stem the movement of Catholics toward conservative politics. American Catholics have felt the pressures from a changing Church, changes that have moved Catholicism toward the politics of the Left. The politics of American Catholics and their response to their bishops must be viewed in this light.
In an increasingly secular age, it is difficult to know the extent to which religion still influences the social views of the people. As religious attachment declines, one might expect that religion would have a minimal impact on political attitudes. On the declining social influence of organized religion, Bryan Wilson writes, "Religion no longer explains the world,