December 25, 2013
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHEN YOUR NATION HAS THE SOUL OF A CHURCH, WHO NEEDS A NATIONAL CHURCH?:
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]Posted by oj at December 25, 2013 5:40 AM