Ross Douthat speculates in the New York Times about Christianity’s likely future in the United States.
A key piece of this weakness is religion’s extreme marginalization with the American intelligentsia — meaning not just would-be intellectuals but the wider elite-university-educated population, the meritocrats or “knowledge workers,” the “professional-managerial class.”
Almost certainly, Christianity’s future in the United States is identical to what already has happened in other well-educated Western countries — attrition and eventual death.
By any sane reckoning, this is a good thing; after all, the Christian narrative is undoubtedly false, and nobody actually needs the Weekly Berating. What is more, religion’s displaced energies will almost certainly be turned toward things that actually conduce toward a good life — family and career.
So Douthat’s mopey meditations don’t move me. What is worthwhile about the column is the frank acknowledgement — by a deeply devout man — of the degradation at the heart of Christian thought.
One problem is that whatever its internal divisions, the American educated class is deeply committed to a moral vision that regards emancipated, self-directed choice as essential to human freedom and the good life. The tension between this worldview and the thou-shalt-not, death-of-self commandments of biblical religion can be bridged only with difficulty — especially because the American emphasis on authenticity makes it hard for people to simply live with certain hypocrisies and self-contradictions, or embrace a church that judges their self-affirming choices on any level, however distant or abstract.
I was startled to encounter the death-of-self passage I’ve highlighted; few Christians are willing to frankly acknowledge it — and fewer still to acknowledge the degradation which drives it … You’re self is no damn good!
So … good riddance. The churches can’t fail fast enough, so far as I’m concerned.
Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the collapse of Christianity would be accompanied by a turn toward nihilism, that when people could no longer rely on diktat from the sky they would abandon notions of right and wrong. As the evangelical adoration of Donald Trump shows, he wasn’t far off. Nietzsche’s philosophical project, then, was a bit like Joe Biden’s — to “build back better,” to develop an ethical system that didn’t rely on supernatural assertions about right and wrong. He died before that work could be completed, but his notebooks offer clear pointers to the direction he was going — some flavor of what is known today as humanism.
America is going to be just fine without preachers wagging their fingers under our noses.