Secularism and Establishment

I really liked Roger Cohen's line about Mitt Romney's "Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring 'the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims' and 'the ancient traditions of the Jews'" but I think he makes the wrong point about Romney's condemnation of Europe's empty cathedrals. To me, the point to be made is that this worry about the US becoming like Europe is in stark tension with the oft-expressed conservative worry that religion is being pushed "out of the public square." For whatever you may say about Europe's relative lack of religiosity, it's not a lack of entanglement of religion in public life that led to it.

In the United Kingdom from which Cohen is writing there is, after all, an established church. And so it goes across northern Europe where each country traditionally had its own established Protestant church. And then across southern Europe, the Catholic Church always had official or quasi-official status. There was no question of pushing the church out of the public square. It's just that many people (the image of Europe as an all-atheist land tends to be overblown, there are churchgoers there, just not as many as in the US) wound up turning their backs on the church. This development most likely seems specifically related to the undue public-ification of religion in Europe. American religious groups, by contrast, have traditionally had to compete in a market of sorts for congregants. A church nobody wants to attend winds up shutting down, a popular church grows. Consequently, people have found ways to keep bringing people into the pews. Trying to make the United States a more officially "religious" country seems likely to accomplish the reverse. At the end of the day, the mast majority of people hate politicians and politics and respect religious leaders and religion -- getting the latter involved in the former is unlikely, at the end of the day, to enhance the esteem in which it's held.