Assisted Religious Suicide

by Mary Eberstadt

Charles C. W. Cooke drew attention earlier today to an astonishing new piece in the Telegraph estimating that Christians will be a minority of the British population even sooner than earlier projections had suggested — in fact, within a decade. 

This religious free-fall both across the Atlantic and here at home is one of the subjects of my new book, How the West Really Lost GodThe question of just why so many Western men and women no longer know Easter from the Easter bunny — or care — is one of the most fascinating intellectual puzzles out there. And the going explanations for secularization, as explained recently in the British magazine Standpoint, all come up critically short. So do others, as I argue in the book.

Even so, as this latest example from the Telegraph goes to show, at least part of Western religious decline shares a dark ironic root: the unwitting collaboration of some churches. As sociologists have known for decades, and as observed in this piece in Time, it is the stricter churches that are stronger in the long run — in part because the others don’t reproduce themselves, including literally, as demographer Eric Kaufmann and more recently author Jonathan Last have shown. In effect, the pastors of Christianity Lite who held that the churches were now indifferent to procreation wrote themselves out of their jobs, and the ones who said “anything goes” didn’t realize that this prophesy would include their congregations. 

And that’s just one of the unexpected twists in the real whodunnit over what, exactly, is buried in the “tombs,” as Nietzsche called the churches and cathedrals, of Western Christianity.

Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, just published by Templeton Press.

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