Way back in the olden thymes, “spiritual” people eschewed traditional religion, in favor of pseudo-paganism and Eastern mysticism. Along with it came sub-cults like saving the whales or saving the environment. Concern for people and things over the horizon is the hallmark of new age religion. Most of these people were miserable to their families and friends, but they had nothing but love for mother earth, nature and oppressed people living far away.
All of that nonsense from the 60’s and 70’s was just religion for people who liked the benefits of public piety, but were not into any of the sacrifices. They had special outfits to wear in public, signaling their goodness. They ate strange foods and got into meditation and yoga. Bumper stickers were a big thing. it was a way for them to impose their values on you without taking an risk. That’s the thing with the self-righteous and publicly pious. It grace without sacrifice for them.
Still, they were a minor nuisance, for the most part. Cleaning up rivers and protecting wildlife is the sort of stuff rich societies can do without causing too much trouble. It is what economist call public goods. Despite the fact the people behind these efforts were mostly monomaniacal weirdos, like Ralph Nader, the goals appealed to people’s Christian sense of duty. It’s the same way the social-welfare laws tag along on the people’s sense of Christian charity.
This arrangement started to change in the 1990’s. Bill Clinton felt it necessary to be open about his Christian faith. It was, in part, to make inroads into the South, but also appealed to northern Catholics. By 2000 Al Gore was dismissive of religion entirely while Bush was the Evangelical. That’s the source of the great divide that has roiled the nation ever since. People who worship the old gods versus those who worship the new gods and have zero tolerance for the old gods.
Obama comes along in 2008 and is clearly non-Christian. Maybe he is a Muslim or maybe he is simply not religious. His membership in the crazy black church hardly qualifies as religious. The clear message was that unlike the people who put Bush in office, Obama was not a Christian. The last election featured a man who never attends services and a man who belongs to a weird cult that is alien to the Judeo-Christian traditions of America.
The point of all of this is to underscore just how far Christianity has fallen in public estimation. In 1980, Reagan seeded his talks with references to the Bible, on the assumption everyone would know what he meant. His opponent was a deeply religious man who felt comfortable discussing his relationship to God on television. Today, it would seem strange to see a presidential candidate discussing his relationship with God or his duties to his church as a Christian man.
One thing you learn when reading about population genetics is religion is near universal. We have evidence of religious practice going back as far as we have evidence of modern human activity. Science thinks religion evolved as one of the first human traits. If you take a step back and look at religion as a subgroup of mass movements, then it is even more obvious that faith and belief are necessary human traits that are integral to our understanding of the world.
Religion was most likely the first solution to the free rider problem. Not only does guilt and moral suasion push the free loader to pull his weight, it justifies taking harsh action against those who take more than they give. Belief in the common gods and common morality would have obvious reproductive advantages. A natural bias toward religiosity would, over many generations, bake belief into the human animal. Like all traits, it would manifest itself more prominently in some and less so in others.
That brings me back to the collapse of Christianity in America. Take a look at church attendance by state. Where are you more likely to find, for example, global warming fanatics? Vermont or Mississippi? If you look at the bottom ten states, there you find the most deeply committed liberals and the most deeply committed warmists. Gaia worship, manifested as climate concern, is the religion filling the void left my Christianity for the people least connected to Christian faith and heritage.
Whether you want to call AGW the master cult, encompassing the lesser cults of environmentalism, or you lump all of it into the same bucket with the other progressive fads, there’s no escaping the religious overtones to all of it. Here’s an interesting bit from a hard core believer site called Think Progress. These are the sort of folks who invest a lot of time counting heretics. Their map is revealing. It is not just party preference dividing the nation. It is religion.
The question is whether it was the vacuum left by the collapse of Christianity in these areas that allowed this pagan faith to spread or do the causal arrows point in the other direction? The American Left has been hostile to Christianity since the end of World War II, mostly in order to include Jews in their cause. Perhaps as the people of these areas became more liberal, church attendance dropped and these weird fads spread or maybe as Christianity died, the people went crazier.