God and the state in Europe and America

So why are the Americans more religious than the Europeans? There have been a variety of explanations:

  • Europeans are immoral, untrustworthy, and don’t bathe.
  • Americans are provincial, stupid and inferior. (Gress alludes sympathetically to that view when he speaks of the condescending smiles with which European conservatives would greet a speech by Stephen Tonsor.)
  • American religion has always been an ally of a moderate version of modernity, so there’s less reason to give it up in the modern world.
  • A free market in religion means a better product, more consumer choice and better marketing, and so increased consumption.

No doubt there’s something to all those explanations. My preferred explanation though is that Europeans give much more scope to authority than Americans do, and authority today is technocratic. It believes it can remake the world as it pleases through comprehensive bureaucratic administration and social science. But if man (or at least our human betters) can remake the world ad libidum, God doesn’t have much of a place or function.

The advantage of my explanation is that it makes sense of:

  • The godlessness of American elites, who quite naturally think of themselves as rightful social authorities.
  • The connection between American populism and freedom and American religiosity. All of them have to do with the view that something other than the New York Times and the Social Security Administration is needed to turn the world into an ordered cosmos.
  • The fear, hatred and incomprehension secularists feel with respect to religion. To a contemporary secularist religion is an attack on the principles that order the world, and it threatens to throw everything into chaos. It must be denatured or destroyed.
  • The simplicity and unworldliness of contemporary Europeans. They really seem to believe that the UN, human rights treaties, and economic administrators will save them.
  • The connections among post-Vatican II tendencies in the Church toward modernization, remaking moral doctrine on technocratic social justice lines, refashioning authority on expertized rational-bureaucratic lines, and practical abolition of God.

3 thoughts on “God and the state in Europe and America”

  1. The strange irony here is

    The strange irony here is that Europeans live their lives surrounded by remiders of their religious heritage. Every city is dominated by an ancient cathedral, and every neighborhood by a similarly inspired smaller church, which in most cases can be easily walked to by a child.

    Americans who have built much of their environment in the last 60 years have shown no interest in creating such a landscape of their own. You can’t tell their churches from the supermarkets, gymnasia and floral nurseries nearby.

    An alien visitor judging from brick and stone would naturally think the Euroeans holier.

  2. I think your explanation makes

    I think your explanation makes sense of a division in the European mind that is reflected in its attitudes toward sex, family, culture, politics, economics and foreign affairs. Specifically, I refer to the relative conservatism that I’ve observed in the personal conduct and tastes of most Europeans with respect to sexual and family matters, which I think is a temporary and dying holdover from when its culture was largely created and transmitted by its aristocracy and the various Christian churches, and its modern liberalism in foreign policy and economic matters, which in the last century has been determined by anti-Christian or secular elites (communist, fascist, socialist and liberal). In both cases, Europeans have deferred to authorities because of their authority, because Europeans tend “to give much more scope to authority.” Europe has now rejected the authority of the aristocracy and, increasingly, that of the Church. As Europe spends its Christian and aristocratic capital and replaces it with an increasingly secular source of values and habits, there will be a convergence of values. That is, as the residual authority embodied in the assumptions, habits and institutions founded by aristocrats and churchmen dies, there will no longer be two sources of authority but just one: secular liberalism. And the beautiful but dying conservatism that I’ve perceived in family and sexual matters will have died with it.

  3. Great site here, Jim.

    Great site here, Jim. And good points.
    I think it’s important to remember the viscious Catholic-Protestant wars, and once religious tolerance takes over, irrelavance can follow. The secular fundamentalists do want to replace God authority with secular elite authority, and schools is where the underlying moral relativism is being so heavily promoted by the elites and their wannabees.

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