Friday, April 10, 2009
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
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.
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.