is the USA already post-Christian?

One of the more astonishing phenomena of our times is the speed at which the United States is becoming a post-Christian nation.

Of course Christianity has been declining throughout the West for at least a couple of centuries. The decline has however been a gradual one. Until three decades ago it seemed like the United States was bucking the overall trend. In the 1980s the Religious Right still had immense political clout and this was based on the fact that conservative Christians (especially Evangelical Christians) really did form an enormous voting bloc. They had power and that power was based on numbers.

Since the 80s it seems to have been all downhill, at a very rapid pace.

It’s worth taking a look at Pew Research’s Religious Landscape Study. They did two very extensive surveys seven years apart, in 2007 and 2014. In that short time span the percentage of the American population identifying as Christians fell from 78% to 71%. It was not just a relative decline – the absolute numbers fell from 178 million to 173 million.

Mainline Protestants fell from 41 to 36 million. Evangelical Christians are holding their own in terms of absolute numbers but declining as a share of the population. Catholics have declined in both absolute and relative terms.

And this is in just seven years.

If you’re a Christian there are other even more disturbing trends in the survey. The number of people identifying as out-and-out atheists has jumped sharply. These are people who are not merely irreligious, but anti-religion. And the decline in Christian belief has been most dramatic among Millennials, and most dramatic of all among the younger Millennials.

Of course there are always problems with surveys such as this. If the US was still 71% Christian then everything that has happened in the past thirty years would have been impossible and incomprehensible. Obviously the vast majority of those who identify as Christian for the purpose of surveys are not Christian in any meaningful sense. That has almost certainly been the case for at least a century. The difficulty is to estimate how many of these people are genuine believers who actually practise their religion and it’s a formidable difficulty. It would also be useful to know not just how many supposed Christians are merely nominal Christians but how this compares to other religions.

It’s also possible that being a Christian doesn’t mean what it used to mean. We’ve seen the hierarchies of most churches become more and more liberal and secular in outlook but does this apply to the ordinary rank-and-file church members? While I would suspect that most members of the rank and file are considerably less liberal than their leaders I would also suspect that they are a lot more liberal than the general run of church-goers half a century ago. If the latter is true then the prospects for any genuine revival of Christianity are grim.

It’s also worth noting that the churches that have tried hardest to survive by compromising with liberalism are the ones that are dying out most quickly. I have very mixed feelings about the Evangelicals but they do seem to be doing significantly better than the other Christian churches.

There’s another interesting conclusion to be drawn from all this. There was a popular idea a while back that Christianity would survive simply because Christians have more children than secularists. That idea is clearly completely wrong. Christians almost certainly are having more children but a very large proportion of those children end up being secular liberals. This is a subject I addressed a while back in my post conservative delusions – the War of the Cradle.

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Catholic converts vs cradle Catholics

There’s an interesting post at A Political Refugee From the Global Village, Anthony Burgess on Catholic converts, on Catholic converts vs cradle Catholics. I’m not a Catholic so I’m not really in a position to have any kind of dogmatic opinion on this subject. I was intrigued though by the suggestion that cradle Catholics tended to react to Vatican II by shrugging their shoulders and accepting it, while Catholic converts like Evelyn Waugh saw it as an unmitigated disaster.

My instincts tell me that the Catholic converts were probably correct in this case.

Converts do seem to be generally speaking more zealous than those raised in a particular creed, whether that creed is a religion or a political ideology. Converts to communism back in the pre-World War 2 period tended to be very extreme, sometimes even to the extent of becoming Soviet spies. Were they more zealous than the so-called “red diaper” babies of the postwar period, who absorbed communism with their mother’s milk? I’m not quite sure.

Converts to cults and fads (such as veganism) are of course usually very gung-ho.

And social justice warriors are often converted to the cause at university so that might explain some of their fanaticism.

The various dissident right groups (alt-right, neo-reactionaries, whatever) are of course comprised entirely of converts, which might have interesting consequences.

Getting back to religion, perhaps one reason for the weakness of modern Christianity is that it’s just not making converts on a large scale any longer. Perhaps a religion needs the zeal of converts to keep it vital and alive?

the trouble with paganism

I’ve been reading Dan McCoy’s The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism which I guess could be described as an exercise in neo-pagan apologetics.

The problem of religion is one that has been exercising my mind for quite some time. I’m fairly clear about the natures of the problem. I don’t think atheism is healthy for society and I don’t think it’s healthy for the individual. What I’m not clear about is the solution to the problem.
It’s a problem that many (possibly even most) people in the dissident right, alt-right or whatever you want to use as an umbrella term for such groups are aware of. The two most popular solutions are a revived Christianity or some form of neo-paganism. It’s the neo-pagan solution I’m concerned with at the moment.
I understand the attraction of the neo-pagan solution. Christianity hasn’t done much of a job of defending our civilisation in the past century or so and neo-paganism has the advantage of offering a distinctively European alternative. Blood and soil and all that.
I have however always had reservations about neo-paganism. This is a short summary of my reservations (and as you’ll see they’re all pretty much related). 
Firstly, any kind of polytheistic religion by its very nature will tend towards fragmentation. There was a time when the whole of Europe was pagan but it was certainly not a golden age of religious unity. At the time that wasn’t a major problem but what we need today is unity.
Secondly, neo-paganism has always been short on doctrine. Certainly very short on anything approaching a unified doctrine. Within incredibly broad limits you can more or less choose your own beliefs. Every man can in effect have his own private religion. The difficulty with that is that it must inevitably lead to the kind of atomisation and sense of alienation which are the very things that make liberalism so deadly. One of the functions of religion is to bring people together, not to divide them.
Thirdly, there’s no standardised neo-pagan morality. Each cult can adopt its own morality and in practice every individual can adopt his or her own moral standards. Obviously that’s a recipe for social chaos.
Fourthly, neo-paganism can very easily become just a vague woolly New Age spirituality. Even worse, it can become a sort of glorified pantheism. And pantheism is itself a sort of glorified atheism.
Fifthly, not only is neo-paganism not conducive to social discipline it’s also not conducive to self-discipline. It’s an open door to every kind of self-indulgence – moral, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
McCoy is aware of these weaknesses but unfortunately he considers them to be features, not bugs. This is one of the many disturbing things about this book.
McCoy starts out in his introduction by assuring us that he has no animus against the monotheistic religions. We then move on to the first half of the book which is a sustained, hysterical, intellectually incoherent attack on what he considers to be the many evils of the three great monotheistic religions. Interestingly enough for McCoy the three great monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity and Science. His main beef with these religions seems to be that they’re anti-Nature and moralistic. For McCoy Nature is all good and morality is all bad. Because we’re all part of Nature, man, and it’s all good because, well, it’s just all good because it is. Morality of course is bad ’cause it’s oppressive, man. This is pretty much the hippie worldview.
The second half of this brief volume is marginally more interesting, giving us a brief rundown on Norse mythology and the Northern European pagan worldview. The problem here is that, to me at least, that worldview sounds impossibly bleak, fatalistic and depressing. Submitting to fate seems to be the essence of it. 
Of course it would be unfair to dismiss neo-paganism out of hand based on this one book. Nonetheless this book does confirm every one of my worst fears on the weaknesses of neo-paganism and the unlikelihood that it is going to be of much use in saving our civilisation. Mind you I suspect that the author would not be bothered by this, since civilisation is oppressive, man.

blasphemy laws and why we may be stuck with them

I wasn’t going to mention the Stephen Fry blasphemy case but now Richard Dawkins has jumped in on the issue. Dawkins of course wants the blasphemy law repealed.
My position on this is a bit complex. I believe that if you have a mono-cultural mono-religion society then you don’t need blasphemy laws. The reality is that we don’t have that type of society any longer. We now have a multi-cultural multi-faith society. In such a society blasphemy laws are an unfortunate necessity. Minority views do need to be protected. If they’re not protected you’re going to have trouble. That’s just reality. We have something even more difficult to deal with – a society divided not only on cultural racial and religious lines but even more bitterly divided on ideological lines. A multi-cultural multi-faith multi-ideology society is a society in which conflict is going to be continuous and bitter. 
We already have a society in which Christianity is under never-ending and vicious attack. Now increasingly we have each of a variety of religions, including atheism, in a state of permanent low-level war. We also have a society in which atheists like Dawkins are permitted to attack religion without limits. If there are no limits to the viciousness of the attacks it’s all going to end very very badly. Unfortunately I do think some limits are needed on the extent of the viciousness of the attacks. Did Stephen Fry cross the line? That would be for a court to decide.
Of course in an ideal world we would never have allowed our society to become a multi-cultural multi-religion war zone. But we did allow that to happen and one of the unfortunate consequences is that blasphemy laws may be required in order to dampen down the conflicts.
This is the world that liberals (like Stephen Fry) wanted. Now they have to live with it. If you want diversity you end up needing all sorts of intrusive and unpleasant laws, such as blasphemy laws. A diverse society will either destroy itself or it will become a police state. You can have freedom or you can have diversity. You can’t have both. We chose diversity.

political, spiritual and cultural struggles

A recent post at Upon Hope offers Some Lessons from Nationalism in Britain. It looks at the political fortunes of both the National Front and the more recent British National Party. 
My take on this is that if you want a revolution to succeed (and by revolution I mean peaceful dramatic changes in the political landscape as well as violent revolution) you have to have some part of the elite on your side. You have to have at least a small number of supporters or sympathiser within the key institutions – the media, academia, the bureaucracy, the churches, the judiciary, the military, etc.
When the British Labour Party set out on its quest to achieve power through the ballot box it did have sympathisers within all these institutions. The same can be said for the Australian Labor Party and for left-wing parties throughout most of the West.
The celebrated Long March Through the Institutions of the Cultural Left succeeded because there were already leftist sympathisers within those institutions and had been since the late 19th century.
The National Front and the British National Party on the other hand had zero supporters within the elites. They therefore had to face the united opposition of every one of the institutions that hold the keys to power. Their chances of achieving anything through the ballot box were non-existent.
That unfortunately is pretty much the situation that faces any modern anti-establishment party. The current liberal/globalist establishment is much more united than the old establishment ever was. Much more united, and much more cynical in its methods.
Which leads on to a post at Vanishing American II which suggests (rightly I think) that the spiritual and cultural struggle is as vital as the political struggle. 
If politics really is downstream of culture then our only long-term hope is to find a way of turning the spiritual/cultural struggle in our favour.
Of course if we hope to win a spiritual struggle we will need to recapture Christianity from the SJWs, homosexuals and atheists who currently control most churches. That will be a difficult task but when you consider the virtual impossibility, at this stage, of recapturing the media or academia or the bureaucracy then it has to be admitted that retaking Christianity is at least possible. A goal that is extremely difficult but achievable is preferable to goals that are simply not achievable.

was the Reformation a bad idea from the start?

I’ve been reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies, published in 1938. The whole book is thought-provoking but I was particularly interested in the chapter on the Reformation. Books in English on this subject tend to have a subtle (or in many cases totally unsubtle) anti-Catholic bias so it was stimulating to read an account written from an avowedly and completely uncompromising Catholic viewpoint.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) was a colourful French-English man of letters who gained immense popularity with his light verse for children although he also made a huge impact as an historian, a Catholic apologist, a literary critic, an essayist and a travel writer. As the years passed his unyielding belief that Catholicism was the mainstay of European civilisation put him more and more out of favour in an increasingly secular world.
The Great Heresies, written in 1938, Belloc deals with the five greatest threats that the Catholic Church has faced in the course of its history. These threats were the Arian heresy, the rise of Islam, the Albigensian heresy, the Reformation and the assault of modernism.
Belloc makes his position on the Reformation crystal clear from the start. While he admits that reform of some sort was desperately required he sees the actual results of the Reformation as an unmitigated disaster for western civilisation. His reasons for taking this view are provocative but rather persuasive.
Belloc believes that the unity of Christendom was essential to western civilisation. The Reformation permanently shattered that unity, with results that could not possibly have been foreseen. 
One interesting point he makes is that the original reformers had no intention of splitting the Church or of establishing a separate religion. Their intention was to reform the entire Church, which would remain a single united universal Church. Until well into the seventeenth century both the Protestant and Catholic camps still intended to maintain the unity of the Church which would be either a universal Catholic Church or a universal Protestant Church. It was not until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that both sides accepted that the split was going to be permanent.
Of course the Reformation did not merely split the Church. The Protestant side kept on splitting. In Belloc’s view once you have countless churches all with their own doctrines then you have opened the door to scepticism. People will think to themselves that if there are dozens of churches all of which disagree on crucial questions then they cannot all be correct, which leads naturally to the idea that maybe all of them are wrong. Thus does scepticism gain a foothold. And that of course is exactly what happened. By the mid-18th century scepticism was firmly established as the outlook of a very large proportion of the ruling classes, and almost the entirety of the intellectual class. Once scepticism takes hold the inevitable long-term outcome will be atheism. 
Belloc also blames the Reformation for encouraging the growth of capitalism. Belloc was no mere conservative – he was a thorough-going reactionary who despised socialism, liberalism and capitalism. The Protestant churches took a more relaxed view of usury than did the Catholic Church and this stimulated the growth of banking and the accumulation of capital and all the other preconditions necessary for large-scale capitalism. Most mainstream historians writing in English are inclined to see this as a good thing. Even Marxist historians are likely to see this as a positive thing, capitalism being the necessary first step towards socialism. Belloc however sees the rise of capitalism as being entirely a bad thing. He is more inclined to regard feudalism in a positive light, as being less dehumanising than capitalism or socialism. Belloc does not share the modern horror of hierarchical societies.
Belloc also has some very perceptive observations to offer on the nature of reforming zeal and why reforms so rarely end well. He also points out, quite correctly, that the elites of the time were happy to support the Protestant cause since it gave them the opportunity to transfer the wealth of the Church into their own pockets (elites haven’t changed much). The Reformation has been described as a rising of the rich against the poor.
In Belloc’s view the Reformation indirectly led to the fatal weakening of all traditional values and beliefs. 
Belloc of course does see all this very much from a Catholic viewpoint but his approach makes a refreshing change from the mainstream of Whig and Marxist historians. Belloc was not merely writing as a Catholic but also as a political and social reactionary, a man who understood that the destruction of traditional beliefs and values and structures will result in a society with no foundation and no moral compass.
Even if like me you’re not a Catholic Belloc is still a remarkably stimulating and provocative writer. He’s very much out of fashion, which is all the more reason to seek out his writings. The Great Heresies is most definitely worth reading.

the secularist bias in history

The victory of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem at Montgisard, 1177

All historians are biased, just as all journalists are biased. Everyone has a bias of some sort or another and becoming an historian or a journalist does not free a person from this basic ingredient that makes us human.

As long as there are lots of different voices each expressing a particular bias there’s no real problem. Of course the situation we have today is that unless you have one specific political bias you aren’t going to get a job as an historian or a journalist, and that is a problem.
A bias is most dangerous when it’s unacknowledged, or even in some cases unconscious. If the reader is aware of the bias of the historian or the journalist he can make allowances for it. When it comes to history one of the biggest unacknowledged biases is the secularist bias. Christianity is a minority faith to start with but over the course of the past hundred years the world of academia has become a rather unfriendly place for Christians. It is an even more unfriendly place for Christians who write history from an explicitly Christian point of view. As a result it has slowly but surely become the norm for history to be written from a secularist perspective. 
The trouble with this is that a great deal of our history is in fact religious history. In some cases – the Crusades, the Reformation, the Thirty Years War, the French Wars of Religion – this is self-evident. In other cases it is a less obvious but equally important factor.
The weakness of the secularist bias is that it assumes that religious disputes are really quite unimportant. Religious motivations are given insufficient weight, and are regarded as being futile and trivial. It’s not just Marxist historians who marginalise the role of religion in history – it’s an almost universal tendency.
Of course in our secular world the idea that kingdoms might be torn apart or wars fought over matters of religious doctrine is both embarrassing and incomprehensible. This is rather odd. We take it for granted that men are prepared to fight and to die for political ideologies, for the destruction of economic rivals, for reasons of patriotism, or even out of paranoid fears that the other side is plotting to attack. Surely religion is an infinitely weightier matter than any of these things. If you’re not prepared to die for your faith do you even have a faith worthy speaking of? Perhaps the men who fought for their faith in the French Wars of Religion were more worthy of respect than the men who fought the Crimean War to satisfy the bloodlust of public opinion manipulated by the press?
I’m not suggesting that one should fight wars over matters of religion but I am pointing out that it’s a perfectly understandable thing for people to do, although an historian blinkered by the secularist bias is scarcely likely to comprehend that.