Commentator Patrick J. Buchanan was twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the Reform Party's candidate in 2000. He served three presidents and is the author of seven books. He now chairs The American Cause, a conservative group that advocates for national sovereignty, limited government, and traditional American values.

Buchanan talked with Beliefnet's religion producer, Deborah Caldwell, about his controversial new book "The Death of the West."

Why do you assert in your book that America is being de-Christianized?

Certainly the Supreme Court has thoroughly de-Christianized the public square and the public schools. It's undeniable. You can't put up a nativity scene in a public park without the ACLU having it torn down. Crosses that commemorate war veterans who have been killed have been taken down. I think there's been a thoroughgoing de-Christianization of public institutions, the public square and the public schools. There are no longer Christmas carols, Christmas plays and Christmas celebrations in the public schools. Easter was removed a long time ago. That's the public realm.

In the private realm, I think America is really almost a post-Christian nation. Sure, there are tremendous numbers of devout Christians-evangelicals, fundamentalists, and traditional Catholics--but at the same time, I think a huge slice of America is only nominally Christian..In people's hearts and minds and souls, I think, the traditional moral code no longer is as binding on as many people as it was in the 1950s and early 1960s.

But was America ever really all that Christian anyway?

There's no doubt that in the post-war era, all the Catholic seminaries were filled up. All the Catholic schools were taught by nuns. I didn't have a lay teacher in a single class in my grammar school, and every homeroom teacher I had in high school and college was a Jesuit. The nuns have now almost vanished and I think the median age of Catholic priests is now 65. And it's undeniable that in terms of church attendance, in terms of vocations, the Catholic Church in America is in a very deep crisis--and it's in a deep crisis in Europe. And the strength of the converts is in the Third World.

Yes, Christians talk a lot lately about the idea of Christianity strengthening in the developing world. And these new Christians are now becoming missionaries to secularized Americans and Europeans.

I think the West is increasingly becoming mission territory. Speaking as a Catholic, I find that a good thing. That's what the West needs, or it's not going to survive.

And I do think this: what I have found is that wherever faith dies, the culture dies, and the country and civilization begin to die. For example, people say it's affluence causing the depopulation of the West. But the point is, Russia is a poor country and it is dying and Utah is a very wealthy state and it is booming because of the very strong, healthy faith-the Mormon faith-of the folks in Utah. And white folks in Texas have a higher birth rate than the white folks in California, and it's because Texas is part of the Bible Belt. If you take Asia-the Philippines, which is Catholic, has a rising birthrate, but the Japanese birthrate is declining and their faith is dying. And there's not a single Islamic country I could find whose population is not growing or exploding. So I think the correlation between faith and rising populations is absolute.

But you also say immigration causes trouble for this country.

First, the folks who come here--the longer they stay here, the more they succumb to the popular culture, the dominant culture, the MTV culture. Secondly, the folks from Asia and from the Middle East are predominantly non-Christian. Third, those coming from Mexico--the problem is not the religion, the problem is they're not being assimilated into an English-speaking country and to our culture. They're retaining their language, they're retaining their culture, their civilization, their TV, their radio--and their loyalty--to a foreign government. This is the problem of the immigration coming from the south. It's not the religion--it's the failure to assimilate.

But if they're Christian, they're starting Korean Presbyterian churches, for instance...

Some of them are starting churches, but the problem here is in language and assimilation into an English-speaking nation and American culture. What you're liable to end up with is Balkanization. The Serbs, for example are devoutly Orthodox, and the Croats are devoutly Catholic, but no assimilation has taken place between them. And so what I'm saying is that religion alone is not enough. Religion is one component of a nation, usually. But it's not enough. Language is almost more important.

But if people are then learning English and remaining devoutly Christian...

But they're not remaining Christian. Many of them are caught up in the popular culture. If you take a look at the Hispanic folks, in terms of the social decomposition of the family, the Hispanic situation is far worse than the native-born American white folks. It's not as bad as African-Americans, but these families are decomposing very rapidly. They have twice the crime rate, twice the welfare rate, and there are huge sections of America where the English language is not even spoken. What we need is a time-out on immigration. Look, the melting pot can work, but it is cracked and broken and it takes time to work.

Of course, if we have a time-out on immigration, all those potential missionaries wouldn't be allowed to come here.

Well, we'll get those folks a green card.

President Bush, as you know, has talked a lot about Islam since Sept. 11 and has made a point of describing it as a religion of peace. What do you think of that?

Islam historically has been a fighting faith. Islam is a religion that inspired one of the greatest civilizations in the history of man and from around 600 A.D. to around 1700 it was a superior civilization to what the West had produced in some ways. But something happened to Islam back there, and the civilization almost seemed to have fallen backwards. But what has happened is there's a tremendous rebirth of energy and fire in the Islamic world that is directly related to their faith, and their populations are exploding and that is a manifestation of health, on one side.

On the other side, there's not a single country that has embraced Islamism as a ruling philosophy and has succeeded. Only three have tried: Sudan, Iran and Afghanistan and all have failed. So I think the great struggle in the Islamic world is how they reconcile this burgeoning faith with the requirements of modernity, that if you want to be a great power on the order of the great nations of Europe, the United States and Japan, you have to marry the two. And they haven't done it yet, and they're going through a tremendous turmoil over this issue. You see it clearest in Iran, where the mullahs have been rejected by the young who seem to be very sympathetic to the United States, even though we've been estranged from that country. But there's no question that in the area of who is dying and who is living and expanding, Western man is dying all over the world. And every Islamic country's population is growing. So I think the poor folks of the Third World are going to inherit the earth.

Do you think President Bush has done Christian Americans a disservice by going out of his way to be kind to Islam?

No, I think the President was reacting to the mistreatment, the alleged mistreatment, of Japanese Americans during World War II and to the historical incidents where individuals who represented a particular ethnic group or faith might have been persecuted in times of conflict. He wanted to rush to prevent that from happening to Islamic Americans for a couple reasons. One, because it would be wrong to have these folks harassed or singled out or persecuted, who had nothing at all to do with Sept. 11; and secondly, as a strategic interest he wanted to convey to the Islamic world that we do not want this clash of civilizations that Professor Samuel Huntington talks about. We are not at war with Islam--we're at war with the terrorists who performed these acts on Sept. 11. Now, you might say the President went overboard in this regard, but I think his motives were sound.

Some conservative Christians say he has gone overboard, by hosting an iftar dinner at the White House, therefore sanctioning Islam at the highest levels of the government.

I don't fault the President on this. The truth is, these folks are here in this country now, and they're American citizens, by and large. And under the First Amendment they've got a right to preach and practice their faith. But you raise an interesting question: Is it as easy to assimilate in a Western society rooted in Christianity true believers from the Islamic world, as it is to fully integrate folks from other Christian countries? And I would concede you have a point. It's much more difficult. Because there are a number of things that make a country, and certainly, usually, a common religion is one of them.

And really, if Muslims have not surpassed Jews in number in this country, they are very close. They have surpassed them in Europe. Islam is the number two religion in Europe. There is no doubt Islam is a large, vibrant and growing faith, and it is making converts and will one day clearly outnumber Judaism and probably already outnumbers Episcopalians. That's another sign of the de-Christianization. The mainstream churches are disintegrating and have been since the 1950s.

It depends on your point of view, but that doesn't necessarily mean Christianity is dying out.

Well, it does to me. They've so compromised themselves by their desire to be trendy and relevant that they've made themselves irrelevant.

But evangelical churches and Catholic churches are certainly vibrant.

Well, they are, but the mainstream churches are not vibrant.

Getting back to Islam: Given that Islam is an Abrahamic faith, wouldn't it be better to say, Let's enlarge the tent and recognize equally the three monotheistic faiths?

You're talking about what America is obviously going to have. But the question is, how well will everyone get along in America? Is the melting pot working that makes us all part of the same single American culture? If you have a new militant faith, Islam, which has previously not been in this country in significant numbers, is it easy to assimilate that faith? These are questions that Americans better sit down and consider...You've got a tremendous amount of turmoil in Europe, which has no history of immigration, and there is no way Europe can keep them out.

Let's go back to the Huntington argument. He says there is a clash of Western and Islamic civilizations--yet many people say that the Islamic world lacks confidence because its economies are a mess and those countries don't have freedom. And therefore, the West will win if there is this clash.

In terms of governments and economics and industry and technology, they have fallen far, far behind where they were in 1700, and I concede that. On the other hand, there is clearly a vibrancy to the faith, when their families are growing and more and more are very devout in their faith. And on the far extreme, many manifest a desire to die for their beliefs. These are markers of a rising faith. Some of this may not be attractive to folks who feel threatened by it, but if you look at that world.there's something going on there.

I mean, what must the Christians have looked like to the Romans. They were probably talking like me. (Laughs) They were saying, Look, those guys can't park a bicycle straight, but there's a lot of them and they're growing in number and they're all down in the catacombs and they're baptizing all these kids and they're going to overwhelm us. There's something alive there.

Let's say we step back from the question of who is winning and ask-so what? So what if other groups and faiths are rising?

That's why I think the West is dying, because so many Americans are saying so what. If you told the Japanese they would be a minority in their home island by 2050, they would be shocked, stunned, awed, silenced. But President Clinton tells a number of Americans that they're going to be a minority in their own country--the country that their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers built--and they applaud him. Look, if the species doesn't want to preserve itself it will pass out of existence.

But what if the Islamic world gets democracy, gets freedom?

Where do all these things come from? The Judeo-Christian tradition and the flowering of Christianity spoke of the dignity of man as a child of God, that we have God-given rights and therefore it follows that the state must necessarily be limited in its power and what it can do. It cannot interfere with our right to practice our faith, it cannot interfere with our right to speak. Many of these things are flowerings of Christian culture and civilization, and the government is an expression of these deep beliefs. Now, if you cut all the roots that created these institutions and you put something else there, why will the institutions themselves not die?

In the Islamic countries, there is no equality of religion. There is no right to go in and proselytize for the Mormon faith or the Catholic faith or the Jewish faith, and what is to lead one to believe that folks who come in from a different culture and a different faith and a different civilization, who accept what we impose because we're the majority, what leads us to believe that if they're the majority they'll follow what we follow? That's the point. They talk about all religions being equal. They don't believe that for a second.

Christians don't believe that either, do they?

Well, we believe we've got a superior system. We don't say it because we're intimidated. We're supposed to say all cultures are equal, all civilizations are equal-but nobody believes that. We think ours is superior. I think it is, too. But I also think the people who carry it in their hearts and minds and souls and have been acculturated and assimilated in it, if we die out, will it be preserved? I don't think so. And I want to know why we're taking that risk.

Let me take the Irish for example. Now if the Irish, when they came here in 1845-1853, if they had assumed full power in Boston and everyone else had left, would they have created an American city or an Irish city? It took generations to where we don't speak Gaelic anymore. We speak English, we study Shakespeare and all our institutions are based on English institutions. It takes time to become an American, accepting of all our rules, regulations, traditions-and that's why I say we need a time-out on immigration.

We have this wonderful complex society that's been built up organically over time. We're overwhelming it with folks who are not from Europe. Now they're coming from continents and cultures and civilizations that have never in great numbers been assimilated. I think we can do it, but the numbers are huge and the challenge is so much greater, and the country they're coming to no longer believes that some groups even should assimilate. Keep your language, keep your culture, ask for racial entitlements, ask for ethnic entitlements and preferences. If we all become minorities, we're going to be like Yugoslavia, instead of a country.

One of the things I find interesting about your book coming out now is that people say Sept. 11 has made a difference in Americans' sense of the need for unity.

Everybody teaches diversity, but what we found on 9/11 was that our unity is our strength. We all came together, no matter who we are. You see those ads they're running. "I am an American." They've all got different faces but they're all saying, "I am an American." None of them are hyphenating it. I think that is healthy. Second, there is an awakening that we're in the real world and it's a dangerous world and there are people out there who hate us and some of them have gotten inside the gates. And third, the unity and resolve that you have, as in World War II, is that these people did a wicked thing to us, and we have to punish them and that means the real use of American power. So there's been tremendous unity behind this war, the sense that this is a moral war.

But can this sentiment bring together a nation as divided as we were over the Florida returns? That was over something that went to the heart of what people believed. The best criterion to judge how people voted in 2000 was how often they went to church. People who went to church voted for Bush; people who rarely or never went to church voted for Gore. That is for me the moral and social divide in America. We don't believe the same way anymore. We don't believe in the same ideas of right and wrong, and morally speaking, we live on a different continent.

But the election was in essence a tie. And the guy who represents the people who go to church won, so you could argue that--at most--these two clashing worldviews are equal.

But take the example of the 1972 election between Richard Nixon, who represented tradition, and the candidate of acid, abortion and amnesty-Senator McGovern. We beat him in 49 states to one. And we would have beaten him even more if it hadn't been for Watergate. Because on issues of morality and patriotism at that time, the Democratic Party was seen as the party of Woodstock Nation, and Nixon was seen as the party of traditionalism. But now it's 50-50 with maybe even a tilt to Clinton-Gore-ism. And the Republican Party is raising the white flag on issues of morality and life. I have a friend who calls President Bush a Log Cabin President [a reference to the group representing gay and lesbian Republicans]. I mean, clearly he isn't as hard-line on these issues as previous Republican candidates or platforms. Mr. Bush would call himself on social and moral issues a moderate.

So if America is de-Christianizing, is the problem immigration or secularization?

There are two forces. In the public realm, a minority captured the Supreme Court and thoroughly de-Christianized our public institutions. In the private realm, the lure and appeal of individualism, hedonism, consumerism, and secularism in the culture has captured an enormous number of Americans. For example, a pro-life Republican could not win California today, I don't think, even though Ronald Reagan carried it four times and he had a pro-life position identical to mine. And Roe v. Wade has been the law for 29 years, and among the younger generation, my view is a clear minority now. And on gay rights, it's clear that the country has moved socially to accept gay marriages as equal to traditional marriages. That wouldn't have existed in the 1950s or even the 1960s.

The de-Christianization of America is different from mass immigration. They're coming into a country whose institutions no longer enforce a certain morality. They're coming into a country, half of which is deeply secularized and says keep your language and your separate institutions and your ethnic entitlements. And the other half is deeply traditional. It's not just that they're coming into a country that's bifurcated. They're bringing beliefs and ideas and languages in such enormous numbers that that alone would make it far more difficult to assimilate.

So it all argues, for heavens sake, for a timeout. Maybe I'm wrong, but if I'm right we're risking the country.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad