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The Brits look at Ned Flanders and the Evangelical survival of the fittest:

The great battle has to do with religion and modernity. Ever since the Enlightenment, intellectuals have predicted that religion – and particularly the effusive brand of religion now practised by evangelicals – would be doomed by modernity. The high priests of the Enlightenment mocked Christianity as a refuge for superstitious freaks. Edward Gibbon was never happier than when chronicling the absurd activities of the likes of Saint Simeon Stylites, who for more than 30 years lived on top of a pillar 21m (70ft) high and 1m square. In his novel La Religieuse Diderot mocked the religious for their psychological oddities and deviant pastimes, not least flagellation.

The founders of modern sociology, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim, predicted the secularisation of the world. Ned’s fellow moustache-wearer, Friedrich Nietzsche, loudly announced God’s death. Marx cursed the opium of the people. Freud saw religion as a mere neurosis. Ever since Darwin, educated European thought has viewed religion as a dying cult – the refuge of the ignorant, the superstitious and a few guilt-ridden Catholic novelists such as Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.

The land of Ned and Homer, of course, has always been different. While the French slaughtered priests during their revolution, seeing religion as a bulwark of the ancien régime, America’s Founding Fathers separated Church from State, in large part to protect the former from the latter. The First Amendment set off a fierce competition between America’s “multiplicity of sects”, with a succession of evangelising religions vying for people’s attentions: the Methodists converted an eighth of the country within a generation of the revolution. While Europe’s state-sponsored religions shrivelled, America’s free market kept faith alive.


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