The Demise of American Christianity

Legendary newsman Elmer Davis offered these thoughts on the nature of American anti-Christianity:

This, after all, is the most extraordinary of recent religious phenomena–the welding together of assorted disgrugtlements [with Christianity] into a new church as thoroughly regimented as any Christian body and quite as intolerant. The intolerance has to be taken out in talk at present, other religions controlling the secular arm: but if Mercurianity [disgruntlment with Christianity] keeps on going it is likely to be the State church of America within a couple of decades.

Already it is as strong in numbers and as much stronger in influence, as was Christianity at the beginning of the reign of Constantine. Like fourth-century Christianity it is the slick new city religion, still suspect on the farm; like Christianity it is a sycretion [sic] of diverse elements held together by a fanatical refusal to compromise with older creeds and a firm conviction of its monopoly on salvation. And like Christianity its cohesion is powerfully aided by a ritual language which enables true believers to recognize each other as surely as members of the Loyal Order of Moose.

On the one hand, it is remarkable that a description published in the New York Times in 1927 should remain so uncannily accurate in describing the quasi-religious expression of irreligion in America. On the other hand, it is equally noteworthy that Davis’s prediction that a “couple of decades” would see positive irreligion become the state church of America has not come true. Not even close. Irreligion may be on the rise statistically, but not the kind of militant irreligion typified by groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Religious thought and behavior, and Christianity in particular, remain alive and well in America, nearly a century after Davis could foresee their eclipse by “Mercurianity.” It should be a lesson against too intense an alarmist tendency in the way we assess faith in this country.

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