December 19, 2014

The godless frontier

If you watch any of the endless reality shows set in Alaska, you might notice something strange — for a heavily Republican state, religion doesn't appear to play much of a role in their lives. No crosses or other iconography around the house, no prayers, no attending group services, no usage of Biblical examples in their everyday speech (whether to make a serious point or just joking around).

That impression is backed up by Pew Forum research on religiosity across the nation. Here is a review on Alaska's empty pews from the late 2000s. And here is an interactive map that allows you to study religious beliefs and practices state by state. Alaska is near the bottom for believing in God, having any religious affiliation whatsoever, and attending religious services regularly.

The picture doesn't look much better in other red states out West, such as Arizona, Nevada, or Montana. Of course Colorado is near the bottom too, along with the Pacific coast. The only outlier is Utah, a colony of settled-down Midwestern types within the otherwise wild West (until it gets overrun by Californian transplants).

On the whole, Alaska looks like a state colonized by Republican-voting refugees from the Pacific Northwest. Hardly anybody has roots there, typical of the Mountain and Pac NW regions, which have attracted mainly rambling transients since the frontier days.

But nomadic peoples around the world practice religion, so why is it so thin throughout most of the frontier? Religion bonds a group together and allows for the enforcement of norms in a way that doesn't seem biased in favor of any particular group of people — the moral source is supernatural, something that every mortal human being is being held to equally. The main function of religion is maintaining social cohesion.

But if the frontiersman dreams of a place of his own, with no one else to tell him what to do, and no one else he'll have to keep in regular touch with, what need does he have for religion? The individualist impulse that led the original frontiersmen out West gave rise to the libertarian streak of the western half of the country.

And from "liberty from government" there arose "liberty from God." Any higher power, whether mundane or sacred, that could hold sway over an individual's affairs, in the service of appeasing some other individual, could not be tolerated. I don't need the gubmint bossing me around, and I sure don't need no God bossing me around.

It's no wonder that amoral hedonism took root right away in the original frontier days. It's not just that the West was "wild" — the Bible Belt isn't exactly peopled with tame, no-sex-having geeks, but they didn't have saloons and red light districts all over the place.

And the Deep South still doesn't today. Even today it's the West that is home to the pornography industry, the epicenter of gambling, flamboyant Pride Parades, and the highest levels of alcohol consumption.

Religion cannot be expected to play a large role in a region where the guiding moral principles seem to be "Leave me alone to indulge my vices" and "How dare you want to curb the commercialization of vice?"

New England shows that you don't need to be on the frontier to have low levels of religious behavior and high levels of booze drinking, but it does suggest a link to "don't tread on me" individualism and libertarianism, even if its origins are different in the founding region of the country compared to the frontier.

Someone who doesn't want to be duty-bound to others is not going to discriminate too much between a mundane and a supernatural law-giver. And the tenaciously combative stance toward the gubmint on just about all issues goes against Jesus' saying to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

Conservatives who were raised back East may be curious about the potential for the old frontier states to serve as a bulwark against liberal degradation — some of those states are pretty red, and Arizona sure doesn't welcome the spic invasion like California does. But the more you scratch beneath the surface, the more you discover its quicksand foundation.


  1. though I'm sure such frontiersmen would claim to be religious and to have traditional values, but only when it suited their lifestyle.

    somewhat unrelated, but if it is true that inequality spurs the settlement of new areas, this must mean that the inequality phase seems to have some positives. or is it more complicated? For instance, how to explain that the space program reached its zenith during a period of rising equality(Steve Sailer always points to the moon landing as an example of how much better America used to be). seems to me the public began losing interest in space travel around the 80s, when inequality was kicking up...

  2. So how DO we start shaming "conservative" and right-leaning people to stop engaging in their cocooning ways? I can only think of only one other (Catholic) bloggers who is criticizing American "conservatives" for this cowardly, sheepish, behavior. Obviously, shaming liberals, at the moment at least, is a non-starter.

    For example, my fellow millennial-aged "manosphere" crybabies hate feminism, and the products of the sexual revolution, but they love sodomites and throw a hissy fit anytime someone actually suggests rolling back the sexual revolution, or that,*gasp*, traditional religion (NOT the megachurch variety) may slow the feminist tide. Then they claim they are enlightened "men going their own way" (more cocooning) for refusing to do anything about restoring social norms that would benefit them. I don't deny their frustrations, but I cannot approve of their "decision" to go "on strike." How do you shame these, to put it bluntly, petulant children?

    Another example are the "moderate" conservatives and libertarians who will post on any story about sodomites (or their enablers) doing outrageous things, and cry out "I don't care that you're gay! Stop harassing me!" First of all, once you are aware of the disease rates, suicide, mental illness, etc, of sodomites, it's outright callous to "not care" if someone's gay, second of all, surely the reason why they are acting this way and getting away with it is because you "don't care!" How do we communicate to these people that we are well past the point with these people where you can merely be neutral? These "moderates" either don't understand or are in denial that the sodomites are coming for them, regardless. They don't care that you "don't care."

    Right-leaning people are generally more capable of experiencing shame in my experience, so how do we start provoking it? I don't necessarily want "conservatives" to start acting like activist leftists, but seriously, there come a point where you have to start being pro-active in response to the leftist takeover of the various academic/judicial/media institutions, rather than simply wringing your hands and complaining.

  3. You can't force people to stop cocooning. Its a natural phenomenon, like birds migrating.

  4. though I've often wondered if there is a political solution to cocooning. we know that equalty/inequality correlates with the immigration rate. what kind of legislation does cocooning correlate with? what laws could be passed to reverse the trend?

  5. Advice to Millennials probably deserves a post / open thread of its own...


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."