America Goes the Way of Europe: Christians Becoming Minority

View of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 26, 2009
View of the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 26, 2009 (Jon Dawson)

America is going the way of Europe. There are fewer Christians. Young people in particular are losing faith. White Christians have become a minority.

The Public Religion Research Institute interviewed more than 100,000 Americans across all fifty states and found that:

  • White Christians comprise only 43 percent of the population anymore. As recently as 1976, that was 81 percent.
  • Catholic and mainline Protestant churches have gradually lost flock. A decline in evangelical Christians — once thought to be bucking the trend — has been more sudden. They went down from 23 percent of the population in 2006 to 17 percent today.
  • The Catholic Church is undergoing an ethnic transformation. A quarter century ago, 87 percent of Catholics were non-Hispanic whites. Today that’s 55 percent.
  • 38 percent of Americans under the age of thirty call themselves unaffiliated with any church. Only 12 percent of seniors do. Read more

Dutch Leaving Churches at Faster Rate

View of the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013
View of the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, February 11, 2013 (Bert Kaufmann)

The Netherlands has continued to secularize at a rapid pace in the last decade. A survey conducted every ten years by the country’s largest Christian broadcaster found that less than one in five still attend church on any regular basis.

A quarter of respondents described themselves as atheist, up from 14 percent in 2006.

Only another quarter said they worried the country’s dwindling religiosity could precipitate a moral decline, down from 40 percent ten years ago. A majority argued that faith should play no major role in either politics or education. Read more

Putin’s Holy War: A Challenge the West Underestimates

Russian president Vladimir Putin lights a candle during a visit to the Saint Sergius of Radonezh Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, December 8
Russian president Vladimir Putin lights a candle during a visit to the Saint Sergius of Radonezh Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, December 8 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

The West is in new cold war with Russia, argues national-security expert John R. Schindler. Beyond the geopolitical standoff in Ukraine, where the two blocs support opposing sides in a civil war, Russia and the West advance rival visions of the world.

After Russia’s annexation of the Crimean from Ukraine in March, America’s president, Barack Obama, insisted his country was not entering into another cold war with the Russians. “After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations. No global ideology,” he said.

Schindler disagrees. A former National Security Agency analyst and former professor of national-security affairs at the United States Naval War College, he argues at his blog that Russia should be seen as “the vanguard of the diverse movement that is opposed to Western postmodernism in its political and social forms.”

During the last couple of years, the contours of that movement have become more defined.

Nationalist revival

Where Putin cautioned against nationalism shortly before his reelection in 2012, warning that Russia’s multiethnic society would lose “strength and durability” if it was “infested” by it, his regime has since revived medals and military parades from the Soviet era and mandated the increased use of the Russian national anthem and flag. Relations between the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church have also warmed.

This nationalist revival has seemed design to shore up Putin’s popularity.

Urban and middle-class Russians, whose economic prospects had improved during the early, more liberals years of his rule, have grown dissatisfied with corruption and nepotism at the top of Putin’s “power vertical”.

Rural and working-class voters, by contrast, have seen little economic improvement and are starting to turn to communist and nationalist, rather than leftist, opposition parties.

Putin’s appeals to Russian patriotism and tradition, including his infamous ban on gay “propaganda,” look like attempts to charm those constituencies.

Russian exceptionalism

The rehabilitation of the Church, after many decades of suppression under communism, echoes in Russian foreign policy. The country has become more vocal about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Syria, where Russia’s ally, Bashar Assad, is fighting an uprising of mostly Sunni Muslims against his secular dictatorship.

When Putin informed parliament of the Crimean annexation in March, his speech contained various appeals to Russian nationalism and Orthodox mysticism, including citations of saints from the distant past.

“This was the culmination of years of increasingly unsubtle hints from Putin and his inner circle that what ideologically motivates this Kremlin is the KGB cult unified with Russian Orthodoxy,” according to Schindler.

Russia defended its role in Ukraine by arguing that Russian “compatriots” in the former Soviet republic were in danger from a new, pro-Western government.

Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor and Wikistrat analyst, argued at the time that Russian propaganda revealed “a growing belief in what we could call Russian exceptionalism, a belief that Russian civilization has a distinctive and unique place in the world and must be protected from homogenizing Western influence.”

Where anti-Westernism was previously a means to an end — to rally public support for Putin’s policies — it became an end in itself, according to Galeotti.

Imperial ambitions

But this also presented a problem, as the Atlantic Sentinel reported: Russia’s appeals to ethnic nationalism necessarily excluded the millions of non-ethnic Russians who live in the country and its “near abroad.”

This website predicted that Russia’s regional integration schemes, like the Eurasian Union, which is due to go into effect next year, were now more likely to be seen in neighboring countries as attempts to reconstruct the Soviet Union.

“The price of a prouder, stronger Russia may well be the defeat of Putin’s imperial ambitions,” we warned.

Alternative worldview

Infusing Russia’s alternative worldview with religion could preempt that. The Orthodox Church is transnational and it has “become the close political and ideological partner of the Kremlin,” writes Schindler — “a preferred vehicle for explicit anti-Western propaganda.”

[Church] agitprop, which has Kremlin endorsement, depicts a West that is declining down to its death at the hands of decadence and sin, mired in confused unbelief, bored and failing to even reproduce itself. Patriarch Kirill, head of the church, recently explained that the “main threat” to Russia is “the loss of faith” in the Western style, while [Russian Orthodox Church] spokesmen constantly denounce feminism and the LGBT movement as Satanic creations of the West that aim to destroy faith, family and nation.

Whether or not Putin really believes all this is immaterial. His regime has created and nurtured a virulent ideology that justifies its actions and explains why the West must be opposed at all costs.

Given the economic crisis that Russia now finds itself in, thanks to Western sanctions, during the long and cold winter now starting, we ought to expect more, not fewer, Russians turning to this worldview which resonates with their nation’s history and explains the root of their suffering.

This is an ideology that resonates beyond Russia. Some Europeans, like French nationalist party leader Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, sympathize with Putin’s outlook.

Schindler warns, “As discontentment with American-led Europe spreads, the Russian option may look plausible to more Europeans, worried about immigration, identity and the collapse of their values and economies, than Americans might imagine.”

Crossed Swords? Rethinking the “Clash” of Christians and Muslims

Ian Almond, Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe's Battlegrounds (2011)
Ian Almond, Two Faiths, One Banner: When Muslims Marched with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011)

Since Samuel Huntington unveiled his “Clash of Civilization” thesis in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article, a cottage industry of critiques have emerged to challenge it. Great thinkers, such as Amartya Sen, Amin Maalouf and Edward Said, have expended time and ink to refute Huntington’s controversial thesis. For the most part, these works have presented rationale critiques that focus on theoretical problems raised by Samuel Huntington’s board game like simplification of geopolitics and global history. Few of these critiques have, however, tried to counter Huntington’s argument with primary source research or been as readable as Ian Almond’s Two Faiths One Banner: When Muslims Marches with Christians Across Europe’s Battlegrounds (2011).

In this slim book, Almond shows that European history is far more muddled than Huntington’s depiction of one overarching “clash” between two visions of Abrahamic monotheism. Indeed the individual motivations and allegiances proves far to complex to paint with even the most vivid neoconservative or Marxist brush strokes. In making this argument, Almond cuts across wide historical periods, as well as the politics of several different centuries, demonstrating a mastery of facts, figures and a flair for colorful details. Read more

Ayn Rand and the Christian Right

Politico announced it last month: “Ayn Rand is having a mainstream moment.” The fountainhead of Objectivism, the philosophy that holds man as an heroic being and values life as an end in itself, died in 1982 but two recent biographies, rumors of an Atlas Shrugged (1957) film adaption and her embrace by the popular right have reinvigorated interest in Ayn Rand’s work. Reason Magazine summed it up on their December cover: “She’s back!”

As Politico notes, this revived popularity “comes at a time of renewed government intervention in the private sector. […] It’s an era of big government all too similar to the dystopia described in Atlas Shrugged.” Not surprisingly therefore Congressmen and media personalities that are skeptical of this comeback of big government are more prone than ever to come out as Objectivists.

That is not to say that the right has embraced Rand entirely. Writing for the National Review Peter Wehner, a former Bush Administration official, describes Objectivism as “deeply problematic and morally indefensible.” Rand herself, he believes, was “a nut”. Her small-government philosophies have “very little to do with authentic conservatism,” according to Wehner, “at least the kind embodied by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith […] and James Madison. […] What Rand was peddling is a brittle, arid, mean, and ultimately hollow philosophy.” Why? Because Rand was an atheist and therefore represented “the antithesis of a humane and proper worldview.”

Bill Greeley, a blogger at the New Clarion is not impressed. “Authentic conservatism was the first enemy of capitalism,” he counters. Wehner has not to fear Ayn Rand so much — “it’s capitalism, human nature and ultimately the facts of reality” that are religion’s foremost enemies.

The Christian Science Monitor is rather more pragmatic in its assessment of Rand’s newfound popularity and gives the floor to Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009). “Though she’s not religious,” writes Burns, “Rand brings a strong sense of good and evil to the debates over economic policy.” The Christian Right, she opines, “is being swept to the side by the rush of events.” That might be overly optimistic though considering how brain-dead the GOP has become in recent years, it wouldn’t be a bad development at all.