Perkins is now praying that economic failure will be a stimulus for his family-values business. “As the economy goes downward,” he has theorized, “I think people are going to be driven to religion.” Wrong again. The latest American Religious Identification Survey, published last week, found that most faiths have lost ground since 1990 and that the fastest-growing religious choice is “None,” up from 8 percent to 15 percent (which makes it larger than all denominations except Roman Catholics and Baptists). Another highly regarded poll, the General Social Survey, had an even more startling finding in its preliminary 2008 data released this month: Twice as many Americans have a “great deal” of confidence in the scientific community as do in organized religion. How the almighty has fallen: organized religion is in a dead heat with banks and financial institutions on the confidence scale.I called it "vulture theology:" the idea, prevalent among more than a few clergy, that people would "return to church" as they got older, or faced mortality, or just ran into the trials and tribulations of living. It made us sound like a particularly gruesome set of undertakers, sure that we'd "get you in the end." Nothing succeeds by awaiting failure. This isn't a zero-sum game.
This, too, is a replay of the Great Depression. “One might have expected that in such a crisis great numbers of these people would have turned to the consolations of and inspirations of religion,” wrote Frederick Lewis Allen in “Since Yesterday,” his history of the 1930s published in 1940. But that did not happen: “The long slow retreat of the churches into less and less significance in the life of the country, and even in the lives of the majority of their members, continued almost unabated.”
The new American faith, Allen wrote, was the “secular religion of social consciousness.” It took the form of campaigns for economic and social justice — as exemplified by the New Deal and those movements that challenged it from both the left and the right. It’s too early in our crisis and too early in the new administration to know whether this decade will so closely replicate the 1930s, but so far Obama has far more moral authority than any religious leader in America with the possible exception of his sometime ally, the Rev. Rick Warren.
The long slow retreat of the churches into less and less significance in the life of the country, and even in the lives of the majority of their members, continued almost unabated.There is indeed nothing new under the sun.
The new American faith, Allen wrote, was the "secular religion of social consciousness.”Moral Man and Immoral Society was published in 1932.
History is cyclical, and it would be foolhardy to assume that the culture wars will never return. But after the humiliations of the Scopes trial and the repeal of Prohibition, it did take a good four decades for the religious right to begin its comeback in the 1970s. In our tough times, when any happy news can be counted as a miracle, a 40-year exodus for these ayatollahs can pass for an answer to America’s prayers.My one quibble: Rich is thinking of the movie, not the history. I think the exodus of fundamentalism from the halls of power will be at least that long, though it may seem slow in going. But I also know people still fighting the battles to distinguish Protestantism from Roman Catholicism, fights that erupted 500 years ago.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and striving after emptiness. Inherit the wind, indeed.