Huxley explained that atheists may be more inclined to accept comprehensive socioeconomic ideologies as a substitute for faith. Secularists embrace “absurd” doctrines like Communism or fascism, he wrote, “to satisfy their hunger for meaning.” Atheist literature lends credence to this notion. The Humanist Manifesto III states that an atheist’s “life’s fulfillment emerges” from building a “global community” of “progressive cultures” that “support a just distribution of nature’s resources.”
However, a growing body of research reveals that as the welfare state grows, the church shrinks. Adam Kay of Duke University discovered that church and state have a “hydraulic relationship”: Events “that lower faith in one of these external systems (e.g., the government) lead to subsequent increases in faith in the other (e.g., God).” Another study found that increased welfare spending “in a specific year predicted lower religiosity one to two years later.” It concluded, “The power and order emanating from God can be outsourced to the government.”
There is an undeniable correlation between socialism and secularism, but does it prove causation? A strong case is made by analyzing the “Nones” at different stages of their flight from faith. Pew Research asked “Nones” in late 2017 the reason they no longer affiliate with a religion. The overwhelming majority of atheist “Nones” (75 percent) said they do not believe in God, while a plurality of agnostic “Nones” (38 percent) said they “question a lot of religious teachings.” Those “Nones” who still believe in God are equally motivated by two factors: They question religious doctrines (25 percent), and they “don’t like the positions churches take on social/political issues” (21 percent).
Further, the data show that “Nones” are becoming increasingly secular as time goes on. The percentage of “Nones” who do not believe in God increased by half from 2007 to 2014. This leads to an inescapable conclusion: The social and political issues that drive a wedge between young people and traditional Christianity – including the envy that drives socialism – eventually blossom into full atheism.
For most, the transference of faith is not so coldly transactional as it was for Huxley. Instead, faith in the transcendent gets crowded out by faith in socialism’s utopian promise of equality-of-outcome on earth. This path transformed Michael Harrington from a daily communicant volunteering in the Catholic Worker movement to the atheistic founder of the Democratic Socialists of America. After seeing India’s ghettoes, he wrote in The Vast Majority that “if he were half the God he claims to be, he would leave his heaven and come here to do penance in the presence of a suffering that he as God obscenely permits.” A lesser-known case can be seen in Guy Aldred, a London “boy preacher” at the turn of the twentieth century who became an outspoken socialist and atheist. He belittled Christians who “never realized that charity, even continuous and genuine charity, is not enough. It can never compensate for social injustice and inequality.”
The socialist path to atheism begins by substituting a temporal, class-based morality for divine revelation. Collectivists reject the notion that God’s acts of mercy and providence give us our daily bread, that differing talents result in different economic results, and that wealth acquisition funds charity so that “your abundance at the present time should supply their need” (II Corinthians 8:14). Instead, Harrington blamed God for an inequality that he believed should never exist, and Aldred believed the only remedy lay outside the means sanctioned by Christianity.
The cultural revolution has succeeded in changing millennials’ conscience. Nearly four-in-10 millennials believe it’s “immoral” for society to allow people to become billionaires, however they earned their money. People under the age of 30 are 30 percent more likely to resent wealthy Americans than those over age 65, although Christianity teaches that envy is one of the seven deadly sins. They are more likely to agree that “very successful people sometimes need to be brought down a peg or two even if they’ve done nothing wrong.” And the Cato Institute study found that “resentment against successful people is more influential than compassion in predicting a person’s support for … redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor.”
Martin Luther would recognize their reverse evangelization. In his Large Catechism he wrote, “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress.” Socialism looks to the state to establish “equality” instead of looking forward to an everlasting kingdom. “The Revolution did not adopt a Church. Why?” asked nineteenth-century French historian Jules Michelet. “Because it was a Church itself.”