At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


In a recent issue of Publisher's Weekly there's an interview with promiscuously prolific Anglican theologian Alister McGrath, the topic being his forthcoming book on the history of atheism. This part interested me:

"PW: Why was atheism so attractive for a time?
AM: Protestantism was partly responsible. Protestant worship, which often minimized the sense of the immediate presence of the divine, really encouraged people to think of a world in which God cannot be experienced. And if you don't experience God, it is not a very long step to saying there might as well not be a God."

I wonder if this explanation is correct. True, I too feel the impingement of the sacred much more in the old "smells and bells" liturgy than in Protestant "four bare walls and a sermon" services, but (1) I've heard ex-Catholics describe the boredom they felt attending Mass, so the reaction of people like McGrath and myself may not be universal, and (2) I venture to claim that, on the average, atheism is at least as prevalent in historically Catholic/Orthodox nations as in historically Protestant countries. There aren't many places more secular than France, Italy, or Russia. Nor does it seem to me that there's much of a difference between nations that were historically high-church Protestant and those which were low-church Protestant. The Scandanavian nations (high-church Lutheran) are at least as secular as the Netherlands or Scotland (low-church Reformed).


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