Does Rubio’s malleable religious identity have something to tell us?

It is the American way, it seems. I recall the social ethnographer Joseph Campbell recounting how the religious rituals of native American tribes would shift substantially when they moved from farm to plain. Context is all in religious conviction.

One of the more interesting of the other candidates in the US Republican primaries is Marco Rubio. His parents were Cuban and he was brought up a Catholic, whilst they lived in Florida. When the family moved to Las Vegas they converted (albeit) to Mormonism.

After their return to Florida they went back to Catholicism. Interestingly it is his dual attendance at a Baptist Church and Mass which seems to have ruffled some feathers, although there are those who think having a foot in three fundamentalist camps won’t do him any harm.

And Catholicism brings with it a certain political and economic hazard for all right leaning Catholics these days:

…in 2012, he told Politico’s Mike Allen, “I am a Roman Catholic and support 100 percent the teaching authority of the church.”

In hedging closer to his Catholic roots, however, Rubio inadvertently set himself up for criticism from another class of Catholic faithful: Catholics who skew progressive on many issues, including the pope himself.

When the wildly popular Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation in 2013 on progressive economics and unveiled a papal encyclical in 2015 calling for action on climate change, Rubio — like other Republican Catholics — found himself in a theological quandary.

Unable to completely reject the moral authority of the Church he worked so hard to reclaim, he attempted to sidestep the debate, claiming the pope could speak authoritatively on some issues, but not others.

In the land gave the world consumerism, Church shopping is something that affects 40% of all Americans, suggesting that identity is much more malleable than we sometimes take for granted in Northern Ireland.

It has always happened within the Protestant community, which if anything is diversifying even further in the era of peace than ever before. Traditionally crossing the Protestant Catholic divide has been a one way ticket with attendant loss of family, traditions and community.

But I wonder if this is beginning to change? The US has come a long way since JFK’s speech in Houston on ‘the religious issue’ in 1960 (transcript).  What about Northern Ireland now the price of being something you shouldn’t be has lessened in peace.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty