Friday, April 10, 2009


109 Lives

A thought:

America has long stood out among developed countries for its religiosity. This has less to do with innate godliness than with the free market created by the First Amendment. Pre-Revolutionary America was not that religious, because the original Puritans were swamped by less wholesome adventurers -- in Salem, Mass., the setting for "The Crucible," 83% of taxpayers by 1683 confessed to no religious identification.

America became religious after the Constitution separated church from state, thus ensuring that religious denominations could only survive if they got souls into pews. While state-sponsored religion withered in Europe, American faith has been a hive of activity: from the Methodists, who converted close to an eighth of the country in the half century after the Revolution, to the modern megachurches.

Has this model really run out of steam? Betting against American religion has always proved to be a fool's game. In 1880, Robert Ingersoll, the leading atheist of his day, claimed that "the churches are dying out all over the land." In its Easter issue in 1966, Time asked "Is God Dead?" on its cover. East Coast intellectuals have repeatedly assumed that the European model of progress, where modernity equals secularization, would come to the U.S. They have always been wrong.

-John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, "God Still Isn't Dead," The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2009

Whether we like it or not, religion survives because, like drugs or alcohol, it meets deep-seated human needs. Any attempt to eradicate it by the force of law or even the force of arms is doomed to the same failure as Prohibition or its modern-day counterpart 'the war on drugs'

My solution? If you want to undermine a faith follow the British model: make the Southern Baptist church, for example, a state religion and just watch it waste away to impotence and irrelevance.
Colin Patterson made the same point in his infamous American Museum of Natural History lecture that is so much grist for the creationist quote mining mill.

Interestingly, if you look at this Newsweek column:

... about the reaction to its recent cover story on "The End of Christian America," you can see echos of just such an effect after eight years of the Bush administration.
Prior to George W Bush’s first victory, there were numerous ballots everywhere related to gay marriage, and other perceived attacks on the religious. When the church is under attack in the press or in the courts, it rallies. Baptist stands with Catholic with a united front. The church rallied and prayed and came together like never before. I remember something Rush Limbaugh said at the time, something like; you want to elect George Bush? Keep marrying gays. To some degree he was right, the greater the perceived attack, the greater the rally cry.
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