End of Days

Via Lexington, I find the claim in a WSJ op-ed that, contra Newsweek's cover story, the end of Christianity in America is not nigh, ergo....uh...well, ergo nothing except that I felt I needed a Latin triumvirate in this sentence--oh drat, that made four. Caveat lector, and all that. What was I talking about? Oh yeah:

Betting against American religion has always proved to be a fool's game. In 1880, Robert Ingersoll, the leading atheist of his day, claimed that "the churches are dying out all over the land." In its Easter issue in 1966, Time asked "Is God Dead?" on its cover. East Coast intellectuals have repeatedly assumed that the European model of progress, where modernity equals secularization, would come to the U.S. They have always been wrong.

Claims about the death of American Christianity are as frequent and fervent as a prisoner's prayers on the eve of execution, so why is religion so robust?

[I]n Salem, Mass., the setting for "The Crucible," 83% of taxpayers by 1683 confessed to no religious identification.

America became religious after the Constitution separated church from state, thus ensuring that religious denominations could only survive if they got souls into pews. While state-sponsored religion withered in Europe, American faith has been a hive of activity: from the Methodists, who converted close to an eighth of the country in the half century after the Revolution, to the modern megachurches.

In other words, it's the economics stupid!

I've had the chin-stroking suspicion for a few years that pastors were the most overlooked entrepreneurs, but apparently it's recognized enough to have a portmanteau:

Meanwhile, the supply seems as plentiful as ever. Religion, no less than software or politics, is a competitive business, where organization and entrepreneurship count. Religious America is led by a series of highly inventive "pastorpreneurs" -- men like Bill Hybels of Willow Creek or Rick Warren of Saddleback. These are far more sober, thoughtful characters than the schlock-and-scandal televangelists of the 1970s, but they are not afraid to use modern business methods to get God's message across.

The church-as-business doesn't give me any moral queasiness, but--bless me, Father--I must confess there's much to it I don't prefer. Why should a church need a slick logo emblazoned on interstate billboards; shouldn't being the purveyor of the meaning of life sell itself? In truth, I often feel the same way about well-marketed businesses. I have some training in graphic design and love a well done corporate identity, but many times the designs feel too good by half, as if compensating for some core deficiency. With churches, clever business-style marketing signals to me they are there not to give me the truth, but to flatter me and make me feel good.

But it's just a preference, and at least in the American system that counts for a lot.