Sunday, November 25, 2012

Douthat, "Bad Religion"

I’m always on the lookout for intelligent discourse over religious topics, and I’ll tell you as surely as I am a man typing out these words, those debates, rhetoric and conversation are hard to come by. There is little hope, it seems, for the grasp of religious dogma on the consciousness of free thinking people to hold on much longer. It’s always the same old story with the same old Platonic arguments about Deism, followed by feeble attempts to bridge the gaping chasm that exists between ‘it’, and the theist position that wants to say that from this deistic god we can derive a morality. They are struggling against an enormously strong tide of rationalist and scientist dialect, and fighting futily to meet them on their own ground. Theists need to give up this enterprise I think; they need to step away from podiums and get back to their pews and rethink again what the purpose of religion is in society, if any purpose at all.

 These things I can go on and on about, and in the future I shall most certainly do that, however for the moment I did come across a rather intellectually pleasing exchange between Andrew Sullivan and Ross Douthat, author of the newly released book “Bad Religion”. Douthat himself is a bit of an interesting character as his prose dissolves a bit of the usual rationalist rhetoric with a sort of Hegelian historicism that draws you into thinking that he’s really onto something. I don’t want to go too far in my characterization of him (giving him something that he doesn’t deserve) but in one manner or another it reminds me of the intellectual vigor of the late Christopher Hitchens without all the beautiful irony that he was so famous for. That I think, more than anything else, really drew me into this exchange between Sullivan and Douthat. Having said that, I will say that I disagree with them at the very core of their meanings, nevertheless I think this is worth listening to and engaging.

 The main thrust of the conversation centers around the crumbling of religion and the introduction of an ever more secularist society that (according to them) began to happen at an alarming rate in the 1970’s. They begin with two things that will, in a way, serve as the backdrop of the conversation for the remaining time. On the one hand there’s the peak of catholic/religious influence on the American middle class in the 1950’s, and it’s eventual decline following the sexual revolution in the 1960’s. The main issue I have with their thinking on these two very important matters, is that as Hegelian as they’d like to be they’re ignoring the causal reasons for both. That I think is very unfortunate, and left out some higher reason and depth to the conversation. They’re talking about the collapse of Catholicism [specifically] in the face of the sexual revolution. Now granted, they admit that there are several reasons for the eventual collapse, however one of the most important was the just stated.

 The problem to start with then, is again ignoring the causal elements of the sexual revolution so as to stay on task with (to a certain degree) that which has always seemed to be most important to Catholics; namely, the subjugation of one’s sexual desires to Christ. To be more specific they’re eliciting some common felt intuitions about sexual promiscuity in order to draw one towards a more sympathetic position within the conversation. We’re supposed to think that perhaps the sexual revolution was a bit of a perversion which in turn should give us reason to support the idea that what Catholicism holds to most closely may in fact be correct. From there they would like to suggest that it was the pill that plunged us forward to revolution, a mere object of social change. But all the while what they’re ignoring is the feminist movement of the 1960’s and in so cleverly doing so, it pits the church against sex rather than the church against woman. At the same time they’re ignoring the backdrop of the strong and religious middle class that existed in the 1950’s. They’re ignoring the historical backdrop of their lower class beginnings (in addition to the religious involvement there), the impact WWII had on that consciousness, and how that then lead to strong middle class being born out of the fore mentioned.

 The children who led the charge of civil rights and feminism were not born into poverty, but prosperity. It was that prosperity, or so I would suggest, that lead to a generation of people rethinking their moral attitudes about everything from sex, to inclusion of black people into the culture we call “We”. I shall say more on this at another time, but a culture of prosperity is one in which reliance upon ones neighbor for inclusion and identity is no longer the case; i.e. coming up in a world where provisions for your own destiny can be grasped firmly by ones’ own hand releases the grip ones’ religious community has on the degree to which a more idiosyncratic self can reign. To put that in yet another more simpler way, once reliance upon the church for support (in the many ways it gives it) dissolves due to a strong middle class giving one a more certain future with respect to finances and security, there is no more reason for many to follow in it’s ways.

 On those very brief preambles, I’ll leave to engage these ideas further for another time, and let one enjoy the conversation if they’d like.