Interview: Author Mary Eberstadt on How the West Really Lost God

Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, and a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. In the 1990s, she was the executive editor of National Interest magazine, and in the mid-1980s, she worked with George P. Shultz and Jeane Kirkpatrick in the Reagan administration.

In the introduction to her new book, How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, Eberstadt does not shy away from asking the big questions about life in the west in the first decades of a new millennium. (Say, how are those things reckoned, anyhow?) She writes:

Why was belief in the Christian God and his churchly doings apparently taken for granted by most Europeans, say, six hundred years ago— whereas today merely alluding to the possibility of the existence of that same God is now guaranteed to provoke uneasy dissent in some sophisticated quarters and savage ridicule in others? How much did the Enlightenment and rationalism and scientifi c thinking have to do with this enormous transformation— this sea change from a civilization that widely fears God, to one that now often jeers him? How much did various historical infl uences fi gure into this reshaping of our shared civilization— factors like technology, the world wars, politics, church scandals, the changing social status of women, and more?

These and other large questions will be considered in the pages ahead— including, at the outset, the radical question raised by some scholars, which is whether Western Christianity has even declined in the first place.

It is the contention of this book that just about everyone working on this great puzzle has come up with some piece of the truth— and yet that one particular piece needed to hold the others together still has gone missing. Urbanization, industrialization, belief and disbelief, technology, shrinking population: yes, yes, and yes to all those factors statistically and otherwise correlated with secularization. Yet, even taking them all into account, the picture remains incomplete, as chapter 2 goes to show. It is as if the modern mind has lined up all the different pieces on the collective table, only to press them together in a way that looks whole from a distance but still leaves something critical out.

As Eberstadt goes on to write, her new book "is an attempt to supply that missing piece." Its Amazon page adds:

The conventional wisdom is that the West first experienced religious decline, followed by the decline of the family. Eberstadt turns this standard account on its head. Marshalling an impressive array of research, from fascinating historical data on family decline in pre-Revolutionary France to contemporary popular culture both in the United States and Europe, Eberstadt shows that the reverse has also been true: the undermining of the family has further undermined Christianity itself.

During our interview, Eberstadt will discuss:

  • What is the relationship between spiritual decline and demographic decline?
  • Is religious belief suppressed in secular Europe and Blue State America?
  • How the rise of "New Age" spiritualism beginning in the 1960s impacted and interacted with the decline of religion in the west.
  • Some background on the book's publisher, Templeton Press, founded by pioneering mutual fund manager turned philanthropist Sir John Templeton.
  • Could today's ongoing economic and demographic crises help to strengthen the family?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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