Easter, Gallup, Tocqueville and Kids Wrapped Up in Aluminum
First things first. Happy Easter.
Editorially, I’m taking a chance to raise the topic. According to a new Gallup survey, fewer than half of U.S. adults say they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque.1
Still, I think I know the audience well enough to go out on a limb and send best wishes based on that well-known series of events in Jerusalem long ago.
Or as our eloquent President Joe Biden likes to say about famous stuff, “you know, the thing.”2
So bear with me. In keeping with the nature of this weekend, I’ll get a little bit religious; but it’ll mostly be straight up, Old Overholt-style, 86-proof Whiskey & Gunpowder.
That is, we’ll discuss religion, American culture and Alexis de Tocqueville. Then bring it home with a look at the disaster that’s taking shape down at the U.S. southern border with Mexico, and in turn rolling across the vast landscape of the Republic.
Yes, this is what you get with your Easter Whiskey.
Let’s dig in…
Omaha-based Gallup began measuring U.S. church membership in 1937 during the Great Depression. Back then, pollsters determined that 73% of Americans belonged to a church. The number remained in the range of 70% for the next six decades. Then something happened:
Gallup poll of U.S. adult church membership. Courtesy Gallup.
Around 2000, the Gallup church number began a steady decline, as you can see in the chart.
What’s going on? Begin with basic demographics.
Consider that at about 2000, America’s Depression and World War II generations began to reach the age of mortality. The people Gallup was surveying in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, etc. started moving en masse to the Great Beyond.
The statistical legacy of this vanishing generation was more and more Gallup respondents coming from what’s called the “unchurched” crowd.
Look at it this way. People may believe in the Supreme Deity or not. But in terms of answering Gallup’s questions, they’re not sitting in pews or kneeling on prayer mats.
At a personal level, everyone has a reason for belonging to a church or not. People find places to go and things to do things that give them comfort. Church? Yoga? Netflix? It’s a land of many choices out there.
For those in the heath beyond the walls, perhaps some were driven from castles of worship by the awful music that comes from many a modern organ pit. Ugh. And to think that Mozart and Beethoven used to compose for churchy patrons.
Or perhaps others walked away after sitting through more than a few sermons in which preachers spent precious time bellyaching about real estate battles with the diocese, or how they were getting hosed by the pension fund.
Another way of saying it is that perhaps the act of going to church stopped being a fulfilling religious experience and became more of a distasteful political one.
Pastors who should’ve been intermediaries between parishioners and God instead regaled captive congregants with arguments not from the Bible, but from the editorial pages of the Washington Post.
Along those lines, I recall a memorial service in 2012 for Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon.
You would think that any reasonably decent preacher could take Armstrong’s “one small step” and give a soul-searching sermon that knocked the proverbial ball out of God’s park and across the Great River. But no.
This particular Vicar of the Almighty took the idea of immense national effort, astonishing human achievement, and the symbol of a humble man on the far away moon…
And turned it into a sophomoric campaign-style speech to reelect Barack Obama.
“To all things there is a time,” states Ecclesiastes 3:1. And the memorial service for Astronaut Armstrong was not the time to discuss how much a certain partisan bishop admired a certain President Obama.
No doubt, dear readers, you have your experiences. Draw your own conclusions about why America’s pews are emptying out.
Meanwhile, let’s return to that notable date, the year 2000.
Bill Bonner, who owns St. Paul Research, recently opined that American power and wealth “peaked” around 2000. He called it Peak America.3
Just the other day, Bill was writing about his recent efforts in Ireland, clearing weeds and underbrush on a farm he owns over there.
“The wild weeds grow every day,” said Bill. “Give them a chance, and they take over.”
No doubt they do. But of course, Bill wasn’t just talking about mere weeds on his Irish plot. As is his wont, he took the idea and nailed a broader theme.
Weedier, per Bill, in the sense of worsening economic and political conditions.
Illustrations are legion, via all manner of metrics. War and combat deaths. More government control and overreach. More federal, state and local debt. More bureaucrats. More college administrators and student debt for silly pseudo-scholarship. More baseless businesses that boast high market caps but will never make money. More foolishness in so many ways.
In general, more of many things that are not good, long-term. And apparently less of the things that make the world a better place.
And while correlation is surely not causality, since 2000 we also see that Gallup-documented decline in church affiliation. Call it Peak Church.
Definitely, this is an ahistorical development when you consider America’s past.
In his monumental 1835 book, “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that, “the religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me on arrival.”
It was a perceptive observation, all the more significant because Tocqueville set out in America in the early 1830s to investigate jails and prisons. Instead, he stumbled into many a church.
Throughout Tocqueville’s two volumes, he repeatedly marveled at the number of American religious sects. He noted their mutual toleration and respect. He admired the willingness of Americans to live-and-let live in terms of how people worshiped, almost to the exclusion of religious doctrine.
At one point, Tocqueville even described an American “indifference” to the type or manner of religion because Americans were more focused on the fundamental point of belief in a moral and Almighty Power.
Then again, Tocqueville made his American sojourn at the height of what scholars call the Second Great Awakening. Preachers and revivals swept the country bringing religious-based reform to all corners, from the oldest cities to the most primitive frontier areas.
And again historically, this religious architecture within American culture had much to do with other great, contemporaneous themes of the country’s history.
One critical element of the American story, grounded in no small measure by the same religion that impressed Tocqueville, was the idea of country’s so-called “Manifest Destiny.”
That term underscored and justified the nation’s westward expansion across North America into new lands, accompanied by formation of new states. Call it religion backstopping politics.
Stated another way, the U.S. grew and rose to power as much on how people perceived the Bible as on how they perceived its Constitution.
A second element of the American story underpinned by religion was the growth of a national-scale abolition movement in the pre-Civil War decades.
Historically, the roots of abolitionism trace back to the early 1700s (long story). But the religious revival that Tocqueville noted in the 1830s also reflected rapidly changing religious views toward fundamental issues of morality.
The morality-immorality dynamic went hand-in-hand with North-South sectional differences over economic growth, and in particular with the growth of Washington-based federalism (pre-Beltway, to be sure) as a new form of national-scale political power.
It all makes for another long story. But what Tocqueville documented in the 1830s came to a head in 1861. Normally I’d say that “you know the rest,” but…
One astonishing thing about American history is how quickly it changes anymore.
Indeed, sometimes I wonder if even at my modestly advanced age, I’ve outlived the country.
Then again, tumult is in the political nature of much American history. That is, it’s not as if those 19th Century seismic-level fault lines in American cultural-political DNA ever really healed up within the national character.
Which brings us to the current border crisis down south, and in truth across the country.
You’ve probably seen accounts of massive waves of people crossing the Mexican border. Hundreds of thousands of people are moving north, all along the line of control from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.
My colleague Jim Amrhein discussed this in an excellent deep dive here in Whiskey a few weeks ago.
For a long list of reasons, many Americans think this movement of humanity is a bad idea.
But some, like President Joe Biden and his supporters, are evidently fine with it. Indeed, this new migration must be okay because from many accounts, Biden’s subordinates are actively taking things from bad to worse while they revel in the utter cruelty of it all.
No doubt, many people sneak into the country and head north, outside of any immigration or border control whatsoever. No one has any idea who or how many they are. Somehow or another, that’s supposed to be okay.
Then we have others who are detained, such as these Guatemalan children at a U.S. government holding facility, wrapped up in government issued aluminumized blankets.
Kids in government aluminum. Washington Post.4
There’s much to say, but I’ll just point out that none of this is happening by accident or happenstance.
Those kids are wrapped in government aluminum, such that they look like baked potatoes, because vast forces absolutely want it that way.
It’s no overstatement to say that for all the laws and regulations that govern entry and/or immigration into the U.S., the country has exactly the fractured system that a lot of people want. It’s an evil license to steal, literally and figuratively.
These kids and the countless adults who are not in the photo pay something between $2,000 and $10,000 each to human traffickers to cross the border. Multiply by recent numbers, and billions of dollars are in play. Plenty to spread around, if you get my drift.
An entire industry of vendors and providers make money off the kids and adults after they cross the border. These range from suppliers of goods (like those aluminum blankets) to food purveyors, housing, transport and so-called “migration assistance” that will deposit these new unknowns in a city or town near you. Again, it’s many billions of dollars in play.
Entire industrial sectors will hire these new arrivals at low wages to do the alleged “jobs that Americans won’t do,” in the immortal and foolish words of former President George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, the only way that people can live for long on low wages in high-cost America is because there’s a massive, super-expensive welfare state out there to subsidize food, housing, medical care, school, transport and much else. All this so that unscrupulous employers can exploit a vulnerable, expanding underclass.
But of course, billions of dollars are in play here too, so this is what you get.
Indeed, the border crisis reflects how we now live in a country that, collectively, scarcely knows what it is anymore. It’s a crowded country with the doors thrown open, one where people just walk right in to do whatever comes next. It’s that easy.
All of this reflects a country of bitterness and division, where not even old unifying forces like religion carry much weight if the empty pews are any indication.
I have no answers for you. But on your end just work to preserve your wealth. Own some precious metals.
And ponder it all as we celebrate another Easter Sunday, another marker along the eternal orbit of the earth around the sun. Because despite everything else, this one day is based upon the very definition of hope.
On that note, I rest my case.
That’s all for now… Thank you for subscribing and reading.
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder
P.S. – Feel free to forward Whiskey & Gunpowder to friends, family and colleagues. If you received this article from someone and would like to subscribe, click here. Thank you.
4 Senators see Dire Conditions in Packed Border Stations, As Officials Consider Flying Migrants North, Washington Post