Changes have produced a society without key cultural bulwarks supporting Christianity (Cold War, WASPs), and which created a much more two-tier, top down society with power concentrated at the top. In this environment, it was much easier for religiously skeptical elites to impose their vision on society than it would have been not that long ago. These changes in effect helped pave the way for the negative world.
As I laid out back in 2017 and refined for my recent article in First Things, I divide the period from the 1960s to today into three phases distinguished by the way official American culture viewed Christianity: the positive, neutral, and negative worlds.
In the negative world, which we live in now and in which came into existence around 2014, official culture now views Christianity negatively. To be known as a Christian is a social negative in the elite domains of society, and Christian morality is expressly repudiated and treated as a threat to the new moral order of society.
One of the questions I was asked was, what factors brought about the negative world? I want to elaborate on that a bit.
First, we can see the negative world as a simple outworking of the very long story arc of secularization in the West, as recounted by people like Charles Taylor.
But what are the proximate causes?
The highest reaches of intellectual and cultural life have probably long been very religiously skeptical, particularly towards traditional beliefs. But a number of changes since 1960 enabled cultural elites to impose their culture in a top down manner in ways that were not possible before, especially when it came to its view of Christianity.
1. The end of the Cold War. Because communism was an atheist system, Christianity became part of America’s fight against the Soviet Empire. The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s, for example. Christianity was part of the regime of freedom in the West and our moral propaganda against the Soviets. Hence it would have been hard to turn negative on Christianity while the Cold War was still ongoing. In fact, I could have dated the end of the positive world and the start of the neutral world to 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall) rather than 1994 – and maybe I should have.
2. The collapse of the WASP establishment. Until the 1960s, American was run by a hegemonic upper class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. Not for nothing was there a Protestant in their name. Protestantism was a key part of their identity.