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.