The end of the Christian nation of America

Newsweek has an extended essay focusing on the implications of a recent Pew finding that fewer Americans than ever are reporting they are religious. While this comes as no surprise to clergy who are constantly meeting folks who are “spiritual but not religious”, there are some very significant political ramifications.

The Republican Party has made a concerted effort over the past few decades to reach out the religious values voters. For a couple of decades Republicans were able to use their religious base as the key to their electoral strategy. But that’s changing as we saw this past fall.

Reflecting on what this might mean for American politics, Jon Meacham writes:

[Conservative Christians] have learned that politics does not hold all the answers—a lesson that, along with a certain relief from the anxieties of the cultural upheavals of the ’60s and ’70s, has tended to curb religiously inspired political zeal. “The worst fault of evangelicals in terms of politics over the last 30 years has been an incredible naiveté about politics and politicians and parties,” says Mohler. “They invested far too much hope in a political solution to what are transpolitical issues and problems. If we were in a situation that were more European, where the parties differed mostly on traditional political issues rather than moral ones, or if there were more parties, then we would probably have a very different picture. But when abortion and a moral understanding of the human good became associated with one party, Christians had few options politically.”

When that party failed to deliver—and it did fail—some in the movement responded by retreating into radicalism, convinced of the wickedness and venality of the political universe that dealt them defeat after defeat. (The same thing happened to many liberals after 1968: infuriated by the conservative mood of the country, the left reacted angrily and moved ever leftward.)

[…]Experience shows that religious authorities can themselves be corrupted by proximity to political power. A quarter century ago, three scholars who are also evangelical Christians—Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch and George M. Marsden—published an important but too-little-known book, “The Search for Christian America.” In it they argued that Christianity’s claims transcend any political order. Christians, they wrote, “should not have illusions about the nature of human governments. Ultimately they belong to what Augustine calls ‘the city of the world,’ in which self-interest rules … all governments can be brutal killers.”

From here.

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