America was Methodist, once upon a time… Methodist, or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Episcopalian. A little light Unitarianism on one side, a lot of stern Calvinism on the other, and the Easter Parade running right down the middle: our annual Spring epiphany, crowned in bright new bonnets.
Of course, the average American nowadays would have trouble recalling the dogmas that once defined all the jarring sects, but their names remain at least half alive: a kind of verbal remembrance of the nation’s religious history, a taste on the tongue of native speakers.
And yet, even while we may remember the names of the old denominations, we tend to forget that it all made a kind of sense, back in the day, and it came with a kind of order. The genteel Episcopalians, high on the hill, and the all-over Baptists, down by the river. Oh, and the innumerable independent Bible churches, tangled out across the prairie like brambles.
Through most of the nation’s history, these endless divisions and revisions of Protestantism renounced one another and sermonized against one another. They squabbled, sneered, and fought. But they had something in common, for all that. Together they formed a vague but vast unity. Together they formed America.
In truth, all the talk, from the eighteenth century on, of the United States as a religious nation was really just a make-nice way of saying it was a Christian nation — and even to call it a Christian nation was usually just a soft and ecumenical attempt to gloss over the obvious fact that the United States was, at its root, a Protestant nation.
Well, my friends, that culture is over.
Continue reading “Death of the Protestant ‘majority’”