Taming the Gods

J9110 Over at Princeton University Press, the Introduction from Ian Buruma's Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents:

The fact that religion is back is more newsworthy in Europe than in the United States, where religion was never supposed to have been away. But even in the United States, for about half a century between the 1920s and the 1970s, organized religion had not been a major politi­ cal force. It was always there, especially outside the urban areas, as a social phenomenon. And it impinged on politics. John F. Kennedy, not an especially pious man, had to reassure the voters that he would never take orders from the Vatican. It would have been impossible for a candidate who openly professed disbelief to become president of the United States, and it still is. But Jimmy Carter’s compulsion to spread the good news of his born­again faith was something of an anomaly. He was a political liberal, however, who never allowed religious authority to interfere with his politics. Since then, the influence of evangelical Christianity in the political arena has grown, mainly but not exclusively as a right­wing, socially conservative force.

Especially during the eight years of George W. Bush’s administration, it was a commonplace in Europe to contrast the secular nature of the Old World to the religiosity of the United States. When the ideological positions that had hitched Western Europe and the United States together during the cold war became redundant after 1989, people began to sense a growing rift between the two continents as though a schism had occurred in Western civilization. Forgetting just how recently the authority of established churches had been diminished even in the most liberal European countries, Europeans talked as though secularism had always distinguished them from the parochial, conservative, God­fearing Americans. It was an understandable perception, because even as the church lost most of its clout in Europe, the faithful gained more political power in the United States, at least in the Republican Party. It is by no means a sure thing, however, that Christianity will not stage a comeback in Europe or retain its influence on politics in the United States.