Post-Christian America

When we reach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Revolution in 2017, will Protestantism still be a presence in the United States?

America is no longer a Christian country. Deal with it and act accordingly. Denial will get you nowhere. After death, however, there is the possibility of resurrection.

What is the definition of a Christian country? Mine is a country that has a majority of citizens who believe in and publicly profess the Nicene or Apostles Creed, as these creeds have come down to us from the Ancient Church – people who at least attempt to live according to the Ten Commandments. 

Of course, we are all sinners. But the proof that we are even more pagan than formerly Christian Europe – or the Islamic countries for that matter – is the piling up of more than a million abortions per year (killing our own citizens) since 1973.

“Christian” America has already killed enough of its unborn to easily surpass Nazi Germany’s extermination camp total and may soon catch up with the death rolls of the U.S.S.R. and Red China. No true Christian country that has recourse to democratic voting could countenance such massacre without regime change or rebellion.

On top of this, the number of divorces and illegitimate births continues to rise, as fewer “couples” bother to get married and the number of people addicted to pornography skyrockets. In short, the social revolution of the 1960s captured the culture and converted much of the nation. According to a new Pew poll, the number of Americans who profess a belief in no religion at all has tripled since the 1990s, now accounting for one in five of our countrymen.

My purpose here, however, is not to prove that America is no longer a Christian country but to reflect on why and how it happened.

Many of the first settlers came to the Americas to escape religious persecution. With the solitary exception of Maryland (my home state, settled by Catholics), these early settlers were Protestants of various persuasions. They differed from one another in dogma, but generally agreed in professing and attempting to live a moral life based on the Ten Commandments.

Though bestowed by God on Mt. Sinai, the Commandments are also commonly held (even when not lived up to) by non-Judeo-Christians and unbelievers who recognize the natural law written on our hearts.

          Alexis de Tocqueville

With the passage of time, homegrown American Protestant sects sprang up so profusely that they now can be counted in the thousands. Despite this variety, almost all shared a biblical moral philosophy not far removed from Catholics. The loosening of divorce laws and the propagation of the birth control pill in the Sixties, however, precipitated further retreat mere decades later by mainstream and traditional Protestant denominations on other moral fronts, including abortion, homosexual activity, and most recently same-sex marriage.

The primary reason is the lack of dogmatic authority in Protestantism and the reliance on the principle of private judgment. Leaving people to rely on only their opinions or feelings as moral guide is not enough to sustain a country that was once Christian and now is increasingly pagan.

What is the solution? Can American become Christian again? In my judgment, mainstream Protestantism is in an irreversible freefall. Don’t count on any great religious revivals. America needs witness, not enthusiasm. The United States will either become predominantly Catholic in numbers, faith, and morals or perish under the weight of its unbridled hedonism and corruption. As Alexis de Tocqueville, the nineteenth-century French observer who arguably best understood the United States, observed:

At the present time, more than in any preceding age, Roman Catholics are seen to lapse into infidelity, and Protestants to be converted to Roman Catholicism. If you consider Catholicism within its own organization, it seems to be losing; if you consider it from outside, it seems to be gaining. Nor is this difficult to explain. The men of our days are naturally little disposed to believe; but as soon as they have any religion, they immediately find in themselves a latent instinct that urges them unconsciously towards Catholicism. Many of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church astonish them, but they feel a secret admiration for its discipline, and its great unity attracts them. If Catholicism could at length withdraw itself from the political animosities to which it has given rise, I have hardly any doubt but that the same spirit of the age which appears to be so opposed to it would become so favorable as to admit of its great and sudden advancement.

One of the most ordinary weaknesses of the human intellect is to seek to reconcile contrary principles and to purchase peace at the expense of logic. Thus there have ever been and will ever be men who, after having submitted some portion of their religious belief to the principle of authority, will seek to exempt several other parts of their faith from it and to keep their minds floating at random between liberty and obedience. But I am inclined to believe that the number of these thinkers will be less in democratic than in other ages, and that our posterity will tend more and more to a division into only two parts, some relinquishing Christianity entirely and others returning to the Church of Rome. 

I hope and believe that readers will live to see that happen in this life – if not the next.




Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.