Why don’t people believe in God anymore? Walter Lippmann on religiosity by political analogy and secularization

“These pictures of how the universe is governed change with men’s political experience. Thus it would not have been easy for an Asiatic people to imagine the divine government in any other way but as a despotism, and Yahveh, as he appears in many famous portraits in the Old Testament, is very evidently an Oriental monarch inclined to be somewhat moody and very vain. He governs as he chooses, constrained by no law, and often without mercy, justice, or righteousness. The God of mediaeval Christianity, on the other hand, is more like a great feudal lord, supreme and yet bound by covenants to treat his vassals on earth according to a well-established system of reciprocal rights and duties. The God of the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century is a constitutional monarch who reigns but does not govern. And the God of Modernism, who is variously pictured as the elan vital within the evolutionary process, or as the sum total of the laws of nature, is really a kind of constitutionalism deified.

Provided that the picture is so consistent with experience that it is taken utterly for granted, it will serve as a background for the religious experience. But when daily experience for one reason or another provides no credible analogy by which men can imagine that the universe is governed by a supernatural king and father, then the disposition to believe, however strong it may be at the roots, is like a vine that reaches out and can find nothing solid upon which to grow. It cannot support itself. If faith is to flourish, there must be a conception of how the universe is governed to support it.

It is these supporting conceptions — the unconscious assumption that we are related to God as creatures to creator, as vassals to a king, as children to a father — that the acids of modernity have, eaten away. The modem man’s daily experience of modernity makes instinctively incredible to him these unconscious ideas which are at the core of the great traditional and popular religions. He does not wantonly reject belief, as so many churchmen assert. His predicament is much more serious. With the best will in the world, he finds himself not quite believing.

In the last four hundred years many influences have conspired to make incredible the idea that the universe is governed by a kingly person. An account of all of these influences would be a history of the growth of modern civilization. I am attempting nothing so comprehensive or so ambitious. I should like merely to note certain aspects of that revolutionary change which, as Lord Acton says, came “unheralded” and “founded a new order of things . . . sapping the ancient reign of continuity.” For that new order of things has made it impossible for us to believe, as plainly and literally as our forefathers did, that the universe is a monarchy administered on this planet through divinely commissioned, and, therefore, unimpeachably authoritative ministers.”

Bonus: Aristotle in The Politics

“That is why men say that the Gods have a king, because they themselves either are or were in ancient times under the rule of a king. For they imagine not only the forms of the Gods but their ways of life to be like their own.”

Walter Lippmann anticipates Kenneth Gergen’s Saturated Self

“Novelties crowd the consciousness of modern men. The machinery of intelligence, the press, the radio, the moving picture, have enormously multiplied the number of unseen events and strange people and queer doings with which he has to be concerned. They compel him to pay attention to facts that are detached from their backgrounds, their causes and their consequences, and are only half known because they are not seen or touched or actually heard. These experiences come to him having no beginning, no middle, and no end, mere flashes of publicity playing fitfully upon a dark tangle of circumstances. I pick up a newspaper at the start of the day and I am depressed and rejoiced to learn that: anthracite miners have struck in Pennsylvania; that a price boost plot is charged; that Mr. Ziegfeld has imported a blonde from England who weighs 112 pounds and has pretty legs; that the Pope, on the other hand, has refused to receive women in low-necked dress and with their arms bare; that airplanes are flying to Hawaii; and that the Mayor says that the would-be Mayor is a liar…

Now in an ordered universe there ought to be place for all human experiences. But it is not strange that the modern newspaper-reader finds it increasingly difficult to believe that through it all there is order, permanence, and connecting principle. Such experience as comes to him from the outside is a dissonance composed of a thousand noises. And amidst these noises he has for inner guidance only a conscience which consists, as he half-suspects, of the confused echoes of earlier tunes.”