Monday, April 16, 2012

Ross Douthat on our religious landscape

Ross Douthat on the consequences of the fragmentation and eclipse of civic religion in America:

... Here it’s worth contrasting the civil rights era to our own. Precisely because America’s religious center was stronger and its leading churches more influential, the preachers and ministers who led the civil rights movement were able to assemble the broadest possible religious coalition — from the ministers who marched with protesters to the Catholic bishops who desegregated parochial schools and excommunicated white supremacists. Precisely because they shared so much theological common ground with white Christians, the leaders of the black churches were able to use moral and theological arguments to effectively shame many Southerners into accepting desegregation. (The latter story is told, masterfully, in David L. Chappell’s “A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.”) 
The result was an issue where pastors led and politicians of both parties followed, where the institutional churches proved their worth as both sources of moral authority and hubs of activism, and where religious witness helped forge a genuine national consensus on an issue where even presidents feared to tread. 
Today’s America does not lack for causes where a similar spirit could be brought to bear for religious activists with the desire to imitate the achievements of the past. But with the disappearance of a Christian center and the decline of institutional religion more generally, we lack the capacity to translate those desires into something other than what we’ve seen in this, the most theologically diverse of recent presidential elections — division, demonization and polarization without end.

Richard John Neuhaus called it "The Naked Public Square"-- civil society stripped of religion. That of course has been the goal of the left for a century. It is an impoverished public space, lacking the sort of shared values and common language that are so important for a flourishing democratic society.

But the Naked Public Square does not stay naked. Civic life abhors a vacuum. All manner of degradation and indulgence moves in. Take a look at popular culture-- movies, music, television.

Functionally atheist culture never stays free. Ultimately the State moves in, and freedom is gradually, and inexorably, lost.

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