The dramatic decline of American religious observance | The Editors

The political notion that the government is a check on the moral or religious agenda of the individual has been a recurrent theme of the secular imagination from Socrates to Mark. But the impulse that has given rise to the more recent social conservatism tends to focus on the state’s duty to intervene where individuals are creating or sustaining inequality. But apart from a vague anxiety over sexual morality, more pressing is what has become known in theology as the Creakingsfear: the fear of immorality leading to economic and social disaster. This fear has surfaced most recently in the fearful backlash against the pro-choice movement, the teaching of natural sexual restraint and the liberal intellectual elites and their co-opted values. When it is not aired out loud in hate and in pursuit of partisan convenience, the fear of Creakingsfear exists within political, social and economic spheres. This graph, which plots the trend in religious observance against the US national family composition, shows that religious observance took a sharp downward trend during the Great Depression in the 1930s, bottoming out in 1940, long before the decline was made public. When free markets lead to productive jobs, Americans go to church. When people are expecting the best in life, they stop believing in what should be.

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