To paraphrase Twain…..reports of its demise are premature.
That’s sort of the idea in this Acton commentary.
Christian America is busy dying again.
If you believe some partisan historians, it was dead before the
American Revolution, or at least, nobody important was a Christian by
then. The Founders had all moved on to deism. Then again, maybe
Christian America died at the Scopes Trial during the 1920s when
Clarence Darrow pinned down the non-theologian, non-scientist
politician William Jennings Bryan with the power of hostile
cross-examination. If it wasn’t dead by then, it was really dead by the
late 1960s when every other religion book seemed to be about either the
death of God movement or “secular” Christianity. The most memorable
volume of the period was Harvey Cox’s The Secular City, which put a
happy face of the death of public Christianity and heralded a new, more
mature age of secular community.
Meanwhile, a host of prominent sociologists of religion sagely
assured the public (and each other) that public faith simply could not
co-exist with a world full of technological wonders like conveyor
belts, cathode ray tubes, and time and motion studies. The great
sociologist Peter Berger imagined tiny groups of believers huddled
together against the coming of the 21st century.
And yet, in spite of it all, Christian America is thriving much
better than, say, newspapers and other members of the press are these
“Christianity is important in America!” is no more a
story than “dog bites man.” “The death of Christianity,” on the other
hand, grabs eyeballs.
(Hence, the spurt of news stories lately announcing as much.)
So, where do things stand….
The simple truth of the matter is that America turns on
the margins. A movement gets the right politician, finds the right
message, and builds a coalition that can command the levers of power.
Suddenly, it seems the losers have been cast out and the winners are
ascendant. But it is never as simple as that. Nor is it ever really
over. Barack Obama is the president. To many, particularly to many
social elites, he appears to be the avatar of secular enlightenment.
But don’t tell that to the overwhelming majority of his ethnic fan base
or to the young, white evangelicals his campaign actively courted.
Ronald Reagan was president, too. His rise seemed to augur a new era
for religion in the public square. Yet that was not the reason many
libertarians and corporate interests supported him.
America is a complicated place. We are a dynamic society because we
are a free society. From our birth as a republic, we have been a
quasi-stable partnership of enlightenment modernism and vigorous
Christian belief working together for the preservation of ordered
liberty. There will be more proclamations of the death of Christian
America. It is as good a story as the “war” between science and
religion, which gets a makeover every time we have a slow news day.
Good one. (Because it does, in spite of the facts.)
And having seen that Newsweek cover on ‘The End of Christian
America’, it’s a specially fine touch that the writer of this Acton
piece is also the author of a soon to be released book on the subject
called The End of Secularism.