The Death of American Religion
In the aftermath of the re-election of President Barack Obama, conservatives searched the heavens and the earth for answers. Some suggested that Mitt Romney lost because Republicans didn’t reach out more to Latino voters; some suggested that Romney lost because his “get out the vote” system fell apart on Election Day. Romney himself said that he lost because President Obama separated voting groups with particularly calibrated “gifts” designed to curry their favor.
In truth, Mitt Romney lost for the same reason that traditional marriage lost on Election Day: America is becoming a less religious country. And that bodes ill for the future of the United States.
It’s not that religious voters didn’t turn out for Romney. They did in droves. Fully 26 percent of voters – 3 percent more than in 2004 – were white evangelicals who supported Romney 79 to 21. Fifty-three percent of the electorate identified as Protestant; another 25 percent identified as Catholic.
But a full 40 percent of voters attended church or synagogue rarely; 17 percent of voters never attended church or synagogue at all. Indeed, 12 percent of the voting base didn’t report a religious affiliation at all. That adds up to 69 percent of the population. And this population broke for Barack Obama.
This isn’t to argue that secular people can’t be good, hard-working Americans; the vast majority of them are. It isn’t to argue, either, that they don’t vote Republican; many of them do. But the increasing secularization of America means the increasing importance of the state in American life. For generations, the religious community looked to two sources for inspiration and support in times of crisis: God and fellow members of the community. The secular community looks to one source: the state. Where the religious believer understands that it is immoral to deprive someone else of their property by force, even when such stealing is given legal cover by the state, the secularist believes that the morality of redistributionism takes precedence over the morality of respect for the rights of others. The same folks who voted for gay marriage and abortion voted for a broad expansion of the state and for higher tax rates.
That’s not because Republicans are pro-life and pro-traditional marriage; even if Republicans ignored the issues – as, indeed, Mitt Romney tried to do – secularists would still link a larger state with a pro-abortion, pro-same sex marriage position. That’s because the same position that rejects the sanctity of unborn life tends to reject the sanctity of private property; both are based on the John Locke-ian premise that man is special in the universe, and that the product of his labor is an extension of his special place in the universe. Ignore man’s Godly origins and his property becomes a dispensable commodity rather than a fulfillment of a divine mission.
More than that, the religious society rests on two fundamental principles: personal responsibility and belief in responsibility to future generations. Secularism rejects both principles. Personal responsibility becomes societal responsibility in the secular view; we are all shaped by our genetics and our environment, both of which are out of our control. How, then, can we be held responsible for our actions? As for responsibility to future generations, the prophet of modern day leftist economics, John Maynard Keynes, summed it up best: “In the long run, we are all dead.” Tap out the public treasury now, and grab your redistributionist cash for there is no kingdom of heaven – and you won’t be around to reap the consequences of your decisions.
Perhaps libertarianism is a solution. But historically, it hasn’t been. Every godless society has turned radically to the left. There are religious societies that turn to the left, too – Islamic societies tend toward Marxist economic schemes – but the traditional Judeo-Christian philosophy has forwarded capitalism.
So, can American society survive its turn to secularism? It can, but only in a different form – a more European form. The best hope for a return to fundamental American principles is a return to the fundamental American philosophy embodied on our coinage: E Pluribus Unum on one side, In God We Trust on the other.
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