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The Failure of Middle Class Christianity

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In looking at the important subject of American religiosity, the spectacular death spiral of the country’s once dominant Protestant culture is truly a feast for sociologists. In the post-WWII secular landscape of Europe, America was often regarded as the ‘outlier’ of irreligion’s somewhat exaggerated march. It was believed that Christianity in the United States had staying power for a number of reasons, the first being it was never subject to the catastrophe of WWI to any notable degree, but also because the establishment clause of the Constitution meant that it was a difficult scapegoat in times of political divides, a reality which crippled the religion in countries such as the Czech Republic. This was the consensus at least, until the early 2000s. What exactly went wrong?

The creepy apostles of ‘New Atheism’ such as the odious PZ Myers would like people to believe that greater knowledge of the scientific method, and widespread access to the internet, sounded the funeral drum of American religiosity. However, this is a pathetic kind of godless wish-fulfilment. Such activists desperately want the decline of religion to be based in ‘facts’, but unfortunately the innate human lack of interest in facts spoils their theory. One might say a reason for the staying power of religion more generally is the human preference for the significance of narratives over facts. Unfortunately, the spiritual autism of ‘out and proud’ atheists prevents them from seeing any significance in narratives at all, and they thus tend to view themselves as the only sane people in a lunatic asylum.

Christianity has suffered a narrative failure rather than an argumentative one (not that its representatives weren’t woefully unprepared for the latter anyway). The reason for this is simple. Like virtually all ancient religions, Christianity is not a creed for shopkeepers. To become such a ‘cult of the dollar’, it has to be diluted and deformed in so many critical ways that it’s no wonder what results is an incoherent mess. The religion of the cross is forged in triumph and suffering, neither of which can be said to embody middle class, bourgeois values. What better symbol of this could there be than the fact that great saints roamed the earth in rags, and were clothed with the most resplendent robes in death? From the holy fools to the great Constantine, Christianity lives on the border of a duality, and it’s a duality that the settled life of the modern American cannot tolerate or even understand. He must necessarily live in a stable mediocrity. Here, the meek are derided for their failure to compete, while the great are hated for not conforming to the bourgeois dogmas of the age.

The more socially liberal, ‘mainline’ Protestants were the first to collapse, and have been followed by the Roman Catholic Church, the American branch of which has been heroically exposed by individuals such as Archbishop Vigano and journalist Michael Voris as a hotbed of homosexual predators and outright satanists, much to the justified consternation of the faithful. Evangelical Protestants, who lack any clerical structure, have weathered the flames of the modern age with surprising vigor, but even now it can be shown that younger self-identified Evangelicals are turning against the morals of their parents.

Today, the Christian religion in the West generally finds itself in an unimaginable dilemma. It is neither convenient or fashionable enough to pretend that the 1970s are still in-effect and people will identify themselves as Christians ‘just because’, yet as a rebellion, as an insurgent or counter-establishment force, it utterly fails from its abysmal lack of inspiring leaders. Those not eager to accelerate the decline of religiosity for media brownie-points are simply maudlin and uninteresting. The reason for this is clear. Not only has lay interest in Christianity withered with the rise of the middle class, but it is precisely from this toxic pool that ‘church leaders’ have been drawn. There are men today conducting mass who wouldn’t seem out of place checking their stock market investments. It is impossible to be inspired by such people. They lack the outer loftiness of heroes and the hidden loftiness of holy fools, instead simply being fools.

For the longest time, American Christianity has been the vector of the national cult and its message of health & wealth, of competition and petty moralism. It has thus cradled the expansion of the middle class, but as a baby outgrows the cradle, the life of American suburbia, of white-collar work and free pornography, has outgrown Christianity.

If there is to be a spiritual awakening in the United States, it will only come through an active rejection of the ‘mass appeal’ approach taken by mainstream churches today. Instead, religion will on the one hand need to explicitly gear itself towards the poor (rather than the middle class who want to pretend they are helping the poor, which is effectively what underlies pro-immigration churches), as well as those who wish to burst up through the humdrum of the middle class, those who aspire to greater understanding, heroism and sacrifice. We speak here of those who are inspired by the European epics more-so than the tales of the Boston Tea Party and the Valley Forge. In this way, Christianity will gain a re-invigorated ‘occult’ significance. Not only will it speak in an exercise of exotericism to those most disenfranchised by America’s rapidly changing economy and social interface, but it will also build an esoteric core of believers well placed to seed its revival in the minds of a new elite. Outside of this, Christianity’s influence on American cultural and political life will only continue to decay, and changes on the Supreme Court will not halt this trend, rather only cement the complacency of Christian leaders.

The era of the moral majority or the ‘religious right’ so-called is over, and has been declared as such by their triumphant opponents, but this should not be taken as a loss for Christianity. In fact, it could instead represent a maturation, and a return to traditional values among a smaller but more genuine chorus of individuals and communities who have nothing to lose by questioning the status quo at a far deeper level. These Christians will be wedded neither to a worship of market economics or the set of social signals demanded by the liberal intelligentsia. Before Christianity can responsibly wield political power once more, it must be truly independent, and present trends will ensure that this independence becomes unavoidable.

Author: K. E. Benois