Americans Want Religion—for Everyone But Themselves
show comments
  • Pete

    Sure, just about every dirty businessman (or university professor) wants his personal accountant to be a paragon of virtue and truthfulness to him/her, right?

  • bpuharic

    Well with any luck at all, there won’t be a ‘reinvigoration’ of religion and it will die the death it so richly deserves. Studies have shown that more religious societies are more dysfunctional, and the ‘red states’ with their fundamentalism, high teen pregnancy rates, beliefs in creationism, etc., are all textbook reasons why religion should go the way of the nickel beer.

    • AlanCK

      You seem to have some law or principle by which you are making your judgments. What is the source of this law or principle? And does it have the capacity to function as an ethic in a world where God is dead? Nietzsche would describe your statements as sheer will. Is his assessment correct or incorrect?

      • bpuharic

        Irrelevant questions. I’m not arguing for the superiority of some moral system. I’m arguing that the idea religion is, in and of itself, a ‘good’ is mistaken. I’m not a moral philosopher so I don’t have to invent an ethical system.

        • AlanCK

          Irrelevant? Criticism of any sort, whether religious or non-religious, implies an ethical system. There must be some reason that you take the time to read the article and comment. My sense is that you at least prefer a non-fundy world to a fundy world. What informs your preference?

          • bpuharic

            The reason I commented was to dispute the claim that Christianity is a foundation for morals.

            I don’t have to claim an alternative to say that this assertion is wrong.

    • Fred

      Is that why “red state” Texas is doing so much worse than “blue states” California and New York these days? Oh wait. . .

      • bpuharic

        Ah, yes, Texas…the Somalia of America

        • Fred

          That’s too silly to deserve a response.

  • qet

    One word: Ethics. The reason people want to see a greater religiosity is because we implicitly understand that (i) social life requires that there be a code of ethics that we all (mostly) observe, and (ii) over the past century, and especially the last 50 years, no ethical code has arisen to replace the code grounded in religion–specifically, with regard to Western nations, Christianity. Nietzsche wrote: “One still hopes to get along with a moralism without religious background, but that necessarily leads to nihilism.” The last 100 years have proved him right . Enlightenment-derived positivism is not a moral or ethical code. Words like “science,” “tolerance,” “diversity” are not moral or ethical terms. Every complaint raised today about US society and politics—that it has become too partisan, uncivil, uncompromising etc.–is at bottom a complaint that we no longer live by a shared code of ethics.

    • bpuharic

      For 1900 years we had religion. For 1900 years we had slavery. Nothing is more nihilistic than that. Perhaps we need a new ground for ethics, but religion is incapable of providing it.

      • qet

        That kind of reductionist reasoning is exactly why we are in the state we are in. Not only is it factually incorrect, it is logically a non sequitur. For 1900 years we had religion; for 1900 years we had smallpox. Ergo. . . . . (I can also reverse the argument: for 1900 years we had religion; for 1900 years we did not have global warming. Ergo. . . .)

        • bpuharic

          Not too quick on the uptake are we? How many moral and ethical systems are based on smallpox?

          • qet

            Perhaps those are not the best analogues, granted. But as far as I know the only ethical system based on slavery was the pagan system, which was not grounded in pagan polytheism. Maybe the caste system of the Hindus can be called a close relative of slavery, I don’t know. But slavery was unknown in Christian Europe and in fact Christianity eventually provided the impetus for the abolition of US slavery. Your complaint is not that US slavery (which is the only slavery you can mean, and which only existed for 200 or so years, not 1900) was an ethical system based in religion, but only that religion-based ethics co-existed with US slavery for all that time, suffered it to continue for so long. A legitimate complaint, but not one that at a stroke undermines the more general point about ethics.

          • bpuharic

            Well there weren’t a whole lot of pagans in 19th century America. If Christianity provided the impetus for elimination of slavery, it took it’s good time in doing so.

            Christianity provided an ethical and moral foundation for slavery. In fact, the largest US Christian churches, the Catholic and S. Baptists, were proslavery, especially the S Baptists, having been formed in 1845 specifically to support slavery. So it seems Christian morality was not up to the challenge, given the fact it took the bloodiest war in US history to put an end to that ‘peculiar institution’.

          • Fred

            Your bias is showing. The abolitionist movement (like the civil rights movement later) was profoundly influenced by Christianity and many of its leaders were clergy. Humans are sinful creatures and their institutions are not immune from that sinfulness. Gee, where did I hear that?

          • bpuharic

            And to think it only took 1800 years and 2,000,000 deaths along with 12,000,000 enslaved.

          • Fred

            Human beings are complex and, as I said, sinful creatures. The history of science hasn’t exactly been all sweetness and light either: Eugenics, social Darwinism, “scientific racism,” the atomic bomb. The human potential for evil is bottomless. Still, just as a matter of common sense, which seems more likely to produce ethical people: 1) a belief system that says we are all children of a transcendent being whose nature is love, with fundamental dignity deriving from our creation in that being’s image and sanctified by the incarnation of that being as one of us and are enjoined to treat each other accordingly or 2) a belief system that says nothing exists outside of our perception and what is within our perception is utterly meaningless, and we are nothing but pleasure-maximizing machines reducible to chemical reactions in our brains? Another enlightening tome to add to your library: “My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility” by neuroscientist Eliezer J. Sternberg.

          • Fred

            It’s still the same fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc.

      • lukelea

        Slavery and servitude have been constant features of all societies everywhere since history began. The real miracle which needs explaining is that these institutions came to an end in the Christian West.

        • bpuharic

          Why is it a miracle that took almost 2,000 years?

          • Fred

            I have to agree with Luke on that. Only the Christian West came to see slavery as an evil. I also don’t believe it is a coincidence that only the Christian West developed science. Both developments sprang from elements intrinsic to Christianity even if individual Christians and Christian societies managed to ignore those elements for a long time.

          • bpuharic

            It’s no accident science developed when people started questioning religion. And it’s wonderful Christians can rewrite their own history at will to discover things that previous Christians missed. Great talent, that

          • Fred

            Nonsense. Descartes (who was trained by Jesuits by the way) was attempting to put the existence of God on a firm footing. Pascal and Leibnitz were theologians as well as mathematicians. Newton was a devout Christian, as was Boyle. Even most of the anti-Christian enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire and Diderot were deists and not atheists. And if you want an eye-opening account of how much Christianity was actually residual in the thought of the philosophes, I highly recommend “The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers” by Carl Becker.

  • Matthew Brotchie

    “Professionalization, bureaucratization and politicization: this distinctly unholy trinity is sapping the vitality of American religious life.”

    I would say this trinity is sapping all apsects of American life.

  • I would be satisfied if we re-introduced the Bible into the public school history curriculum as a primary document of Western culture and civilization. A big part of the problem is ignorance.

    • bpuharic

      That can’t happen. unfortunately. US fundamentalists (about 30% of the population) would object to it being taught as merely a ‘primary document’. You’re right, it’s truly shocking how ignorant the most religious Western country is of the bible.

      • rheddles

        That is why we should get rid of the public schools, not try to get them to teach the Bible.

        • bpuharic

          We did have a time when there were no public schools; the 19th century. It was a disaster. The US libertarian right has a rather mythological view of the way economics works, but going back to the 19th century is not going back to the future.

          • rheddles

            The 19th century was when we eliminated slavery.

      • What do you mean “merely.” As long as you stick to the contents alone and not make theological assertions one way or the other, there would be no real objections from most fundamentalists. I know them.

        • bpuharic

          Everyone knows fundamentalists. “Sticking to the contents alone” IS a theological assertion since they assert, by definition, the bible is the literal word of god. “Stick to the contents” is not something that can be done absent a discussion of history, culture, literature, etc. And they’re not going to stand for that.

  • wigwag

    “Professionalization, bureaucratization and politicization: this distinctly unholy trinity is sapping the vitality of American religious life.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Actually, the “blue” model for religion was invented by the Roman Catholic Church centuries before our Republic was even a glean in the eyes of America’s founders. An elite clergy invested with powers not available to the average man by a guild that rigorously controls who can join its fraternity describes the Roman Catholic clergy to a tee.

    As for bureaucratization, is there any religious organization in the history of our planet where the demand for the respect of hierarchical structures or the complexity of those structures is more imponderable than those established by the Roman Catholic Church?

    If you want to talk about politicization, start with the Borgias and the Medicis and continue is a straight line to Benedict XVI and you can have a unending discussion about politicization of religion.

    Actually, the single greatest disintermediator in human history may have been Martin Luther. By removing the priestly class as a mediator between the devout and the divine, Luther changed everything. At the heart of Luther’s revolution was the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church as an intermediary. The Church didn’t take this laying down any more than the publishing companies, newspapers, telephone companies or music companies now being destroyed by the likes of Amazon and Apple.

    Our current priestly class, the professors ensconced in the hallowed hallways of academia, are reacting to online courses and other new educational technologies with precisely the same horror that priests, monks and other Roman Catholic clergy reacted to the threat by Henry VIII to shut down the monastaries.

    Professor Mead gets the punch line right; but his timing is off. The “blue” model for religion isn’t new, it’s ancient. Disenchantment with the “blue” approach to religion isn’t new; it’s existed for centuries; in fact, wars have been fought over it.

    As for those who bemoan the decline of institutionalized religion in the United States, don’t fret, be of good cheer. Religious awakenings have been cyclical in the United States; less religious periods have always been followed by more religious periods. Surely this trend will reappear.

    • Fred

      One problem with your analysis is that Roman Catholicism is now the single largest denomination in America (though admittedly it is shrinking). Luther hardly destroyed the church. While it is shrinking some in America, it is growing by leaps and bounds in other places. I, for one, am not terribly afraid of you heretics.

      • wigwag

        Fred, its not my argument that its the “blue” model that’s destroying religious institutions, it’s Professor Mead’s argument. I am merely pointing out that the “blue” model in religion is far older than the American Republic. I am also pointing out that contrary to Professor Mead’s suggestion, the idea that non-religious people might view religion as valuable to society even though they believe its all hocus pocus is not new; in fact, it goes back to Plato and his “Republic.”

        • bpuharic

          George Will suggested as much recently in one of his columns where he said he was an agnostic but that religion had its uses. Res ipsa loquitur.

  • Anthony

    Peter Berger: “…developments extraneous to religion (mostly political and economic) will greatly influence the direction taken by religion in all countries.” TAI contributor Peter Berger writes a related and instructive piece – Fire Transforming the World. “It will come from where we don’t expect it, and it will change us in ways we won’t always welcome.”

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.