Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Relax at Your Peril

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Relax at Your Peril

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The Prophet Motive" by John Lamont, in First Things, April 2010.

FOR THE CATHOLIC CHURCH to stay relevant in the 21st century, it needs to stop accommodating modern life and revive a more fundamentalist, demanding approach, proclaims University of Notre Dame Australia philosophy professor John Lamont. Take a lesson from history: If you don't want to go the way of the dodo, make your religion more extreme.

Over time, churches throughout Europe became too secure in their cozy relationship with the state in their home countries. Operating more or less as monopolies, they did little to compete for new believers, and lapsed into bland, unaffecting routines. The outcome is well known: Modern Europe is quite secular.

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America's story is the opposite. Without state support of any particular faith, religions competed and innovated and, over time, Americans grew more observant. During the Revolution, less than one-fifth of Americans claimed church membership. By the mid-19th century, one-third did so. Today, more than half are church members, and approximately 40 percent attend church once a week (a number that has remained fairly constant since at least the 1930s). The American example contradicts Max Weber and Emile Durkheim's secularization thesis, which holds that as societies industrialize and advance technologically, populations abandon religion--if you know how to irrigate, you don't pray for rain. …

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