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  An American Manifesto
Monday September 1, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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ROAD TO THE

MIDDLE CLASS

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Bibliography

Chapter 2:
Down in South Carolina and Out in Brooklyn

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[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.   —Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM among western cultural elites is that God is dead and we are well rid of him.  Who, after all would want to relive all those religious wars and suffer again under the merciless rule of the Spanish Inquisition?  No, whatever superstitions may have warped men’s minds in the past, the world is clearly moving away from God and towards a secular future. In God is Dead: Secularization in the West, British sociology professor Steve Bruce interpreted the modern era as a normal process of secularization from the enthusiasm of the Protestant reformation, a society based on egalitarianism and individualism naturally evolved out of a society “much more preoccupied with supernatural beliefs and practices.” 

In the United States, things look a little different.  According to Robert William Fogel the United States of America is in the midst of a Fourth Great Awakening.  The revival in religious activity that began in the 1950s with preachers like Billy Graham has blossomed into a great movement of religious awakening, one that ranks with the Great Awakenings of the eighteenth century.  But this Awakening has not merely been a purely religious phenomenon; it has spilled over into politics and into the so-called “culture war.”  The enthusiastic Christians enrolled into the religious awakening have spilled over into politics and become part of the “base” of the Republican Party.  According to the theories of Fogel and McLoughlin, this is not surprising, but part of a familiar political-religious cycle in American life.  Yet many people have been taken by surprise, for conventional wisdom maintains that the capitalist West is on a trend of irreversible secularization.  Why should the United States have experienced this upsurge in religious enthusiasm?  And why should it have been so clearly a Protestant phenomenon, of simple people attracted to a simple faith reduced to the essentials of Bible study and faith in Jesus Christ?

Many Americans are not just surprised by the rise in religious enthusiasm: they are dismayed.  Millions of Americans are deeply suspicious of the power of religion.  They echo the psychologist who wrote that Americans face “a continuing struggle to move from a Puritan, pioneer, outlaw heritage of fighting for basic survival needs... to a civilization that is nonviolent, fair, and respectful of others.”  For such people, the task before the United States is to cleanse society of “rigid views of gender, parenting and punishment” that prevent the resocialization of the nation to the more advanced ideas of community and caring.  They wonder how anyone can continue to believe in the antiquated Protestant ethic that might have had some relevance in the nineteenth century, but hardly in the global community at the turn of the twenty-first century.  We shall analyze this worldview in later chapters.

The idea that religious faith is outmoded is not, of course, a new idea.  If Time magazine stumbled onto the Death of God in the 1960s, keener minds had experienced it earlier.  Provoked by Hume and Kant and the investigations of German philologists into the authorship of the Bible, the generation of Carlyle and Emerson had already lost their faith in the 1840s.  After the hammer blows of Lyall’s Principles of Geology and Darwin’s Origin of Species, it was left to Nietzsche in the closing decades of the nineteenth century to inaugurate an era of atheist orthodoxy, even atheist respectability, and to try to imagine a creative life beyond the good and evil of Christianity.  At the end of the twentieth century, educated people understand that religion has been dying for 200 years.  Back in the old days of superstition the churches were full to bursting with people terrified of God’s wrath.  But now people take a more sanguine view of religion and are no longer frightened by fire and brimstone and the fake emotion of the sawdust trail.  They are no longer persuaded that the world is a battleground between God and Satan, between Good and Evil.  No longer paralyzed by the fear of God, society has relaxed its religious enthusiasm, and people have become more secular in their outlook.

The only trouble is that the educated people are wrong.  Religion is not dying out, at least, not in the United States.  It is growing, and has been for 200 years.  Back in 1776, according to sociologist Rodney Stark, only about 15 percent of Americans were religious adherents.  Two hundred years later, in 1980, 62 percent belonged to a church.  The present outburst of religious enthusiasm is not surprising or unusual.  It is merely a wave in a continually upward rising tide. 

But what about the well-known fact that churches are becoming more secular?  How does that square with evidence that more and more people identify with a church?  Stark explains this with a theory of secularization and renewal.  There is no doubt that churches do become more secular with time.  The fierce Puritan sects of the seventeenth century became in time rigid Calvinist churches—Presbyterian and Congregational—with well-paid, well-educated ministers.  And in the twentieth century, they became “mainline” churches: highly secularized, worldly organizations retaining barely a whisper of their former rantings.  The Methodist church that grew from nothing in 1750 to several millions at its peak in 1850 became in time the “mainline” United Methodist church, with declining membership and weakly propagated doctrine.  But swirling against this ebb tide of secularization is a flood of revival and renewal.  New sects are forever splitting off from mature churches in rebellion against the secularization of the mother church, and committing themselves to return to a pure religion uncontaminated by secularization.  Those churches that do not decline are those that implement a deliberate policy of revival and renewal.  And new cults are being formed all the time.  The evidence is all around for those with eyes to see.

In the aftermath of the key South Carolina presidential primary of February 9, 2000 in which candidate George W. Bush salvaged his campaign for president with a decisive victory over John McCain, The New Republic published an article by Hanna Rosin, Religion Editor of the Washington Post.  Her piece, “Upwardly Mobile,” used an interview with church volunteer Mary Johnston to try to capture the essence of the religious right, the controversial group of evangelical conservative Christians that formed a key part of the Republican party base in 2000.  It was the overwhelming support from voters like Mary Johnston that had made Bush the winner.

Mary Johnson lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a striver suburb just across the state line from Charlotte, North Carolina.  She had voted for George W. Bush out of “class envy,” wrote Rosin.  She wanted to give her children all the opportunities he had.  “‘We don’t have the money the Bushes had, but I’ll make sure they go to the best schools, first grade to college.’” 


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Click for Chapter 3: Awakenings of Monotheism

 

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 TAGS


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill