Mr. Douthat mentions suburbanization as a cause of our religious decline. His other causes include political polarization, brought on by Vietnam and worsened by the abortion debate; the sexual revolution; “ever-growing wealth”; and a “global perspective,” which, in introducing Christians to other faiths, undermined their convictions.
Finally, the old WASP elite was replaced in the class structure by a media, university, and intellectual meritocracy that either rejected Christianity outright or demanded that it accommodate the new post-1960s liberalism.
Of all these Mr. Douthat is shrewdest about the role of wealth. “Entering the ministry had always involved sacrifice,” he writes, but with salaries rising so swiftly in other sectors, “the scale of that sacrifice grew considerable steeper during the 1960s and ’70s.” The quality of the clergy declined, as did its ability to preach about charity and encourage sacrifice. Worshipers grew richer, and on Sundays they wanted to drive S.U.V.’s to megachurch campuses, guilt free.