A few weeks ago, Bradford Wilcox published an insightful essay called More Government, Less God: What the Obama Revolution Means for Religion in America. The gist of it was that an inverse relationship between government size and religious vitality exists, and has been demonstrated in countries like Sweden and Denmark. Moreover, “when government assumes moral responsibility for others, people are less likely to do so themselves.” Social solidarity is down and social pathology—from drinking to crime—is up, says Wilcox. In summary, Wilcox argues:
While many social conservatives have focused attention on Obama’s liberal social commitments, few have considered what effects an expanded welfare state will have on religious belief—or how these religious effects will in turn impact civic virtue, personal responsibility, altruism, or solidarity. If the European experience with the welfare state and religion is any indication, the Obama revolution could well lead the United States down the secular path already trod by Europe.
Mark Galli of Christianity Today responded to Wilcox, opining:
This line of argument, while no doubt accurate statistically and sociologically, cuts two ways. It makes socially conservative Christians sound like one more interest group, and an insecure one at that. As if the success of the Christian faith hinges on whether a society produces enough poverty and other forms of social instability.
I am no friend to socialism, but if indeed a state can ameliorate a large number of social problems, it seems that Christians of every political stripe might rejoice. That living in a socialist state seems to make it harder to take religion seriously not only suggests a flaw in socialism but, much more so, a serious flaw in what we promote as Christian religion. A Christianity that depends on massive social dislocation for its success is a religion we of all people would be happy to see die away.
To which Wilcox offered a brief response, the gist of which was:
Historically, the Church, and faith more generally, has played a key role in addressing both the spiritual and physical—including financial—needs of people. Moreover, the Church seems strongest when people connect both their bodily and spiritual lives and needs to the faith. Indeed, physical and financial suffering can open people up to the missing spiritual dimension of their lives.
Having already connected the rise in government with the decline of religion, in a Wall Street Journal article last Friday, Wilcox connects both trends with the decline of (and delay) of marriage (a subject on which I’ve previously written):
The secular tide appears to be running strongest among young Americans. Religious attendance among those 21 to 45 years old is at its lowest level in decades, according to Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow. Only 25% of young adults now attend services regularly, compared with about one-third in the early 1970s.
The most powerful force driving religious participation down is the nation’s recent retreat from marriage, Mr. Wuthnow notes. Nothing brings women and especially men into the pews like marriage and parenthood, as they seek out the religious, moral and social support provided by a congregation upon starting a family of their own. But because growing numbers of young adults are now postponing or avoiding marriage and childbearing, they are also much less likely to end up in church on any given Sunday. Mr. Wuthnow estimates that America’s houses of worship would have about six million more regularly attending young adults if today’s young men and women started families at the rate they did three decades ago.
Meanwhile, connecting the dots between the younger generation and big government convictions is Paul Waldmon in the left-leaning publication The American Prospect. Referring to a pair of new reports from the Center for American Progress on the present and future of American ideology, Waldmon writes (in part):
While they cover a great deal of ground, the reports contain some particularly interesting points about the millennial generation. In “State of American Political Ideology, 2009,”, we learn that young people are the most progressive age group overall and the most progressive on social issues, which might not be surprising. But they are also the most progressive age group in their opinions about the role of government, which might be. And as the other report, “New Progressive America,” points out, this generation’s share of the voting population will increase every year until 2020, when they will represent nearly 40 percent of the electorate.
(HT: Albert Mohler)