Back in 2008, Jody Bottum, then the editor of First Things, wrote a fine essay called The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline, exploring the collapse of “mainline” Protestantism. There’s been a lot of talk of this: that Protestantism in America is rapidly losing its grip on the culture.
It’s easy to exaggerate this idea, but I think there’s really something to it. Consider the Supreme Court. Of the nine justices, there are exactly zero Protestants. This would have been completely unthinkable even a generation ago. From 1789 until about 1969, nearly every justice was Protestant, and even as recently as 1994, a majority of justices were Protestant. Today, in the words of Christianity Today, we’ve got a Court composed of 6 Catholics, 3 Jews: Kagan, Breyer, and Ginsburg are Jewish, while Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Sotomayor are Catholic.
Catholic Vote noticed that we’re seeing a similar phenomenon now in the GOP primaries, where the three candidates credited with a shot at winning (Romney, Gingrich, and Santoroum) are either Catholic or Mormon (with another Mormon, Huntsman, having recently dropped out of the race). What’s even stranger is that this thing that was very recently unthinkable wasn’t newsworthy.
In a talk he gave this summer, Cardinal George said that he was much less worried about Protestant America, and much more worried about post-Protestant America. I think we’re going to have to start thinking much more seriously about just what this entails, because America’s post-Protestantism is descending upon us rapidly.