Americans will remain a religious people for decades to come.
In 1999, I asked Michael Novak, the great scholar of religion and public affairs, to name the one book published after 1950 that most influenced how serious-minded people think about religion. Normally circumspect and slow to speak, Novak answered instantly: Harvey Cox’s The Secular City (1965). Cox, who taught at Harvard Divinity School, was a liberal Baptist theologian. In The Secular City, he predicted that religion would recede as more people came to reside in demographically and culturally diverse cities. Cox was none too broken up about this forecast. “[T]he cosmopolitan confrontations of city living,” he argued, would expose “the myths and traditions men once thought were unquestionable.” This global “secularization” would bring about “the dispelling of all closed world views, the breaking of all supernatural myths and sacred symbols.”
The famous April 8, 1966, edition of Time—whose cover asked, “Is God Dead?”—featured Cox and other, still more radical theologians. They were accompanied by sociologists foretelling a death of religion to go with the death of God—including Peter L. Berger, an eminent Austrian-born sociologist who taught at several American universities. In his 1967 classic, The Sacred Canopy, Berger reckoned that urbanization, industrialization, technological innovation, and other modernizing
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