Thursday, 11 October 2012

America is no longer a Protestant country

Two enormously significant milestones in 24 hours for the U.S.A. 

First, America is no longer a Protestant country. The end of an old song. 

File:Grant DeVolson Wood - American Gothic.jpg

I am a Catholic, yet am sad, though I was expecting America, the only industrial country which is intensely religious, to become slowly secular. She will thereby be gravely weakened. The future for America looks European and this means wisdom, sophistication and decline. 
I am much more saddened by this than by the economic statistics showing America losing ground to China. Economics is in itself unimportant - economics reflects culture which reflects, in the broadest sense of the idea, religion (and genetics). In no country have religion, self-belief and sense of purpose always been as closely linked as in America, founded though she was by Deists, with church and state strictly separated. 

As Margaret Thatcher said: "Economics is just the method. I want to change people's souls."

It is a mistake, by the way, to confound American Protestants with the religious right.  There is also a smaller but still large and influential religious left and most American churchgoers are not in either camp. And religious conservatism is found in both parties. Black voters who mostly vote Democrat have voted down homosexual marriage in California. But there is an anti-religious strain in the Democrats and the American Left which is becoming more visible.

To Europeans, American religiosity seems odd. First because Americans, despite being proverbially rich and modern, take religion seriously, including those who do not believe. Second because, while few countries are more religious, none is less mystical. And few countries are more violent, more exuberantly keen on making money or more relaxed about divorce or sex generally. American Christianity is very Old Testament. Nevertheless, this very muscular, very individualistic Christianity is what gives America her self-belief. Victor Frankl learnt in Auschwitz that what gives an individual the strength to endure is the belief that his life has a meaning. This is true of societies too, which are made up of individuals.

The second milestone is a new Gallup poll today that finds that, for the first time, most Americans believe that the government should "not favor any set of values" rather than promoting traditional ones. Until 2004, a majority favoured the promotion of traditional values, and since then, the numbers have been in flux. A slim 52 percent majority now say that "the government should be values-neutral".

Most of that 52% do not in fact want government to be values-neutral. They want government to enforce all sorts of values like sexual and racial equality, just not traditional ones. I should add that I am not sure what traditional values are, and perhaps it is not important to know, though marriage between two people of the same sex is certainly not one of them.

Many of the 52% are 'Millenials'. I was interested to read an American demographer the same day saying that: 

"Millennials say the role of government is to be our parent. Parents set rules. " 

An interesting analogy that suggests that young Americans have been infantilised by the state like West Europeans.

The small-town Protestant America which elected Ronald Reagan is losing ground rather fast. 
This, rather than economic statistics, makes me think that America is starting to decline. It might be a nicer, fairer and more interesting place in decline, like Canada, which is in a much worse state. We shall see.

In twenty or thirty years, the USA will also no longer be a white majority country. Many Americans I learned recently, from the BBC, do not speak English. Everything flows and this tide is flowing quickly. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting take...I agree with much of what you write, although I am myself a "militant" non-believer. I think you overlook one key element: the Protestantism of Small Town America, which you rightly admire, was used and exploited as part of the Religious Right by what we know recognise as the 'oligarchy' in its 50 year plot to undo the New Deal in its own, narrow, destructive financial interest, the first of the 'wedge' issue strategy. Protestant individualism was always part of the capitalist model. The two forces have followed the path as predicted by Marx.The nation rots from ts roots.