Reviews > Q&A

American abyss

"American abyss" Continued...

Issue: "Race to the finish," Nov. 3, 2012

Sociologist Peter Berger’s most famous comment is that India is the most religious country in the world, Sweden the least, and America is a land of Indians ruled by Swedes. Have you flipped that? In part. When you go to the Harvard faculty the percentage of people who profess religion goes way, way down: very low religiosity at the very top. But in the upper middle class, while religiosity has declined, it hasn’t declined as much as it has in the white working class. The bottom has fallen out of religious observance in the white working class. This collapse of religiosity has profound implications for how working-class communities work: It’s a kind of growing social disorganization that goes to the heart of what in the past made America exceptionally vibrant in community life.

Why has the decline occurred? You had Darwin and evolution. Then you had Freud and the discovery of the unconscious. … It’s not that the intellectuals read Thomas Aquinas and said, “No, he’s wrong.” They basically said, “The Sunday school stories we grew up with are obviously wrong, and therefore there is nothing worthy in Christianity.”

You have provided the sociological equivalent of what theologian Francis Schaeffer talked about: living off the interest. Biblical belief leads to positive social developments, but you can’t keep living off the interest. At some point you’ve got to replenish the capital. We haven’t replenished the capital, and it also has all sorts of implications. We do not know whether a secular society can remain a virtuous society, because we’ve never had in the history of civilizations a society as secular as Western Europe is now. 

And in America? The Founders said emphatically that the Constitution they had created would not work for any but a religious and moral people. They saw religion as the foundation for morality, so the key requirement for the American experiment was self-government. I don’t mean self-government in terms of governmental institutions. I mean government of the self, by the self—and religion is the basis for that to happen. Insofar as that has declined, you have a classic case of living off the interest.

Video

Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Charles Murray:

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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