December 25, 2013


Christmas and Christianity: Why religion remains a mainstay of American culture. (JAMES Q. WILSON, December 24, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

Let me suggest that there is a link between religious freedom and the size and vigor of most American churches. We are more religious than any European state precisely because in this country there has never been a national church against which to rebel.

Matters are very different in Europe. The English were dismayed by the constant struggle between a nationally supported Catholic church and a nationally supported Anglican one, interrupted by a brief period of Puritanical rule.

The Scandinavians, when they came under the rule of Social Democratic parties, were expected to dismantle their state-supported churches, but instead they chose to make them instruments of their new welfare states governed by state-managed bureaucracies. The Swedes eliminated all religious qualifications for serving on church boards, so that, as Professors Rodney Stark and Roger Finke have pointed out, control of the Swedish state church has passed into the hands of atheists.

Since the French Revolution in the 18th century, the government has worked, with some ups and downs, toward state regulation of churches. An appointment to be a Roman Catholic bishop must be approved by the government, and an organization called the Observatory of Cults oversees "dangerous" religious groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and other evangelical movements. Messrs. Stark and Finke argue that state control, however weak, leads to a reduction in church affiliation. [...]

[I]n general, there has been in Europe very little that resembles the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Here, where the free exercise of religion is guaranteed and there is a ban on laws "respecting an establishment of religion," there has never been a national church. Without one, there is no enemy to defeat, and so there has never been a political reason to either rebel or become secular.

In this empty space of religious freedom aspiring ministers compete for adherents. The more skilled the ministers and the more demanding the benefit of becoming an adherent, the more people join them. As a result, mainline Protestant churches, lacking both evangelical zeal and a deeply meaningful religion, have lost the struggle for members to fundamentalist churches that recruit members and expect a lot of them.

This fact worries many people in the Blue States just as it pleases many in the Red ones. Those who are alarmed by the extent of religious belief in this country have roused themselves to make the so-called wall of separation between church and state both higher and firmer. In insisting that we describe our late December holiday as having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, in fighting to keep every nativity scene away from any government property, by arguing that our freedoms will be compromised by any reference to Christianity, they have succeeded only in intensifying religious beliefs among the great majority of our people who are angered by these assaults.

They would be well advised to let matters alone.

They can't though, because they're trying to establish their religion.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at December 25, 2013 5:40 AM


We are more religious than any European state precisely because in this country there has never been a national church against which to rebel.

Gee, sounds like things I've said recently.

Maintaining a strictly secular government has led precisely to the outcome you desire (which, as it happens, I also find to be the best humanly achievable). So what's the problem?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 24, 2004 1:45 PM


No one thinks there should be a national chuch, rather we should maintain our religious nation. We have the most religious government in the West and you're right, we should maintain it. You'll have noted by now that you are continually objecting to the way things have always been done, but claiming you're more consistent with the Founding.

Posted by: oj at December 24, 2004 3:41 PM

The secularists insist on waking the sleeping giant and filling him with a terrible resolve not just because they are concerned with establishing their own religion, but also because they are so blinded by hybris so as not to see their impending nemesis and ruin. Quos Deus vastat, remember?

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 24, 2004 10:28 PM

The problem isn't the seeping of religious ideals back into government, it is the growth of government into traditionally family and religious arenas (like healthcare and education).

Furthermore state churches were not established for religious, but political reasons. It is no wonder they have no validity, just surprising it took so long for people to notice.

Posted by: Randall Voth at December 25, 2004 10:42 AM


You are correct about state churches. I do believe people did notice their sterility and duplicity before, but there was precious little they could do about it. Today, people vote with their feet but due to the disgust that these rapacious bodies filled their parishioners with, they have soured on Christianity not merely the officially subsidized version.

Posted by: Bart at December 25, 2004 10:46 AM

Bart, who plundered/siezed who by force?

Posted by: Dave W. at December 25, 2004 3:08 PM

This country is marked by a pretty strict neutrality towards religion. Unlike some European countries, that doesn't constitute hostility towards religion.

But neutrality hardly counts as religious.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 25, 2004 8:56 PM


That's it precisely. We're neutral between monotheisms, but not at all neutral about it.

Posted by: oj at December 25, 2004 9:19 PM


You obviously aren't familiar with the history of European Christianity. All that land and all that art and all that treasure that European State Churches have piled up over the centuries didn't happen because of voluntary donations.

Posted by: Bart at December 26, 2004 6:20 AM

It is an exercise in dishonesty to claim that the lack of a government sponsored church equates to officially sanctioned agnosticism. It's simply not the case. The Christian (universalized Judaism) presumptions which form the foundation for the seperation from Britain as well as the constitution of American government is plainly obvious. A nation of religious sects cannot have a national church while it does have a set of theistic assumptions regarding the nature of man and the proper role of the state. The ever changing face of science and reason cannot supply those basic, fixed values upon which a humane social order can be built. It has been tried and the experiment should cease.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at December 26, 2004 9:48 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus