In his sharp response to Sohrab Ahmari’s attack on his approach to politics, National Review writer David French noted that Ahmari’s attack hinged on two bizarre fictions:

First, the fiction that French himself is a timid milquetoast classical liberal who lacks the will to fight liberalism in a sufficiently comprehensive way.

Second, the even more ludicrous fiction that Donald Trump represents a sufficiently radical critique of liberalism to fully address the crisis of the moment.

The fact that Ahmari’s piece is concerned with image and rhetorical positioning is suggestive of an excessive concern amongst some dissident conservatives with striking the right rhetorical pose, positioning oneself as a strongman who is sufficiently radical to answer the challenge before us.

Do note that the argument which follows concerning Ahmari’s alarming rhetorical style should be kept separate from the question of the reconcilability of classical liberalism with Christian faith.

So far as it goes, I still think French mistaken when he writes:

“Frenchism” (is that a thing now?) contains two main components: zealous defense of the classical-liberal order (with a special emphasis on civil liberties) and zealous advocacy of fundamentally Christian and Burkean conservative principles. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. It’s the formulation that renders the government primarily responsible for safeguarding liberty, and the people primarily responsible for exercising that liberty for virtuous purposes. As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

It’s all well and good to quote Adams. But unless you have an explanation for how the classical liberal order can reliably produce moral and religious people then you haven’t actually established anything. It also doesn’t work to simply say that liberalism has always needed something else to round it out and save it from itself. The whole question is whether or not liberalism can reliably produce whatever that “something else” is. If it cannot, then all you have is a parasitic social order that will collapse as soon as these necessary citizens, which come from some other set of norms and values, run out.

That being said, the bizarre and increasingly aggressive line that some on the right are taking against French seems to have far less to do with his substantive politics and more to do with a certain rhetorical posture they are increasingly adopting.

The mistake Ahmari makes is to begin his argument by framing it in essentially pragmatic terms. Rather than focusing on whether or not liberalism is a true account of social order, Ahmari focuses on the inadequacy of social conservative responses to a particular event that came across his news feed. This pragmatic framing puts him on an unstable rhetorical platform built around instigating panic amongst his fellow conservatives and incentivizing them toward a revolutionary posture which, as always happens with revolutions, recognizes that the enemy is not simply the ideological opponent, but those who do not adequately take up the cause of revolution. This is why French in particular becomes the focal point of such angst and ire—he is, in many ways, the embodiment of the anti-revolutionary instinct in conservative media today.

There is something particularly perverse and, I suspect, not coincidental, about singling out French as the object of attack. If the focal point is “social conservative Christians who still like liberalism,” there is no shortage of public figures one could attack. Indeed, there is no shortage of magazines one could attack. So why French?

French himself (along with his family) has already faced horrific attacks from the alt-right because they have adopted a black daughter. Similarly, American Greatness editor Julie Kelly has publicly blamed French’s wife, Nancy, a victim of clerical sexual abuse, for her own abuse:

This is, then, simply another act in the ongoing attempt amongst the so-called radicals of the right to win the fight over liberalism not through principled argumentation and persuasion, but through dishonest rhetorical tricks and shameful personal attacks.

This is what makes the attack on French from a reputable outlet like First Things so disappointing but also, in a sense, so fitting: a strand of the contemporary right is beset with a revolutionary posture that eagerly purges those members of the movement who are insufficiently radical. It is an odd mirroring of the second-level separatism that my fundamentalist forebears have spent the past century practicing. If you swapped Ahmari for a fundamentalist preacher and French for Billy Graham this is an attack you could have heard in a fundamentalist pulpit 50 years ago.

If First Things is moving in a more explicitly Trumpist direction it is not at all surprising to see them echoing, in more respectable language, the ugly personal attacks that the Frenches have already been subject to from other reactionary Trumpist people and groups. Ahmari is simply following an established revolutionary script of purging the insufficiently radical from the movement.

What makes this move particularly egregious is the way it positions Ahmari’s brand of radtrad relative to other trends in the conservative movement. As Tara Isabella Burton recently noted for the Post, we are beginning to see a script emerge in which the next step of red pill radicalization amongst some alt-right members is to embrace trad forms of Christianity:

Roosh V characterized his transformation from pickup artist — one with a loose definition of consent that led some to call him “pro-rape” — to Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian not as an about-face but as a linear progression. In fact, it’s representative of a broader trend within far-right Internet-based groups: Some of their members come to embrace a highly conservative, traditionalist version of Christianity as a bulwark against what they see as the decadent, liberal modern world. In the minds of many would-be Internet transgressives, conservative Christianity has become the biggest troll of all.

If one move we are seeing is the far right moving toward trad forms of Christianity as a sort of ultimate troll, then another troubling move is the trad Christian moving to Trumpism and the alt-right as being the only movement with the political will and, let us be honest, indifference to basic moral principles required to resist liberalism.

One of the most important tasks for Christians right now is to recognize that both progressivism and reactionary conservatism are dead ends. The test for our work must be not only does something advance a Christian ideal, but does it advance it in a Christian way? To resort to cliche, it is to ask if one can resist Sauron by taking up the ring.

Our answer to such questions must be an unapologetic “no.” And just as in 2016, when fearful and reactionary conservatives told us to give our support to a man whose life represented the wholesale rejection of divine love, we must be willing to accept a loss of power before we would countenance cynical, consequentialist lines of thought meant to justify some greater good. When our methods of resistance become intelligible to our opponents we have left the path of fidelity. If First Things is going to resist liberalism through laughable misrepresentations of Trump and an increasingly cozy posture to some genuinely scary trends on the American right, then leaving the path of fidelity is precisely what they will end up doing.

“What, then, of political power?” you might ask. Does not the above represent little more than yet another twist on Anabaptist style quietism, a refusal to get one’s hands dirty in the necessary and inevitably messy work of politics?

It does not. Rather, it recognizes that a genuinely Christian political witness is not merely about a certain political content in our ideas, but a particular mode of existing as political beings. To become intelligible to those whose only political standard is the acquisition of power is to give up any political good other than power. It is, then, to give up our quiet confidence that God is at work in the world and that his work will not be advanced by those of us who would eat the king’s food and bow to his idols.

It is only candor that our foes do not understand, Berry reminds us, an inner clarity that comes from knowing that there are goods in this world grander than political power and fates in this world more dark than martyrdom. Whatever his faults may be, I have no doubt that French knows these things to be true. I am feeling less confident these days that I can say the same for a certain brand of dissident conservative.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy as well as the Vice President of the Davenant Institute. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell and Austin. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play. His first book, "In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured Age," will be published summer of 2019 by InterVarsity Press.

  • I never quite know how to navigate the conservative intramural skirmishes. As a regular reader of First Things, Dreher, and many others, I find myself a little unmoored. And then, though Jake writes less frequently than these others, I come here. And Jake always seems to hit the nail on the head. Strong work here, Jake.

  • Steven Searcy

    “It is only candor that our foes do not understand, Berry reminds us, an inner clarity that comes from knowing that there are goods in this world grander than political power and fates in this world more dark than martyrdom.”

    Awesome conclusion.

  • One of the most important tasks for Christians right now is to recognize that both progressivism and reactionary conservatism are dead ends. The test for our work must be not only does something advance a Christian ideal, but does it advance it in a Christian way? To resort to cliche, it is to ask if one can resist Sauron by taking up the ring.

    Our answer to such questions must be an unapologetic “no.” And just as in 2016, when fearful and reactionary conservatives told us to give our support to a man whose life represented the wholesale rejection of divine love, we must be willing to accept a loss of power before we would countenance cynical, consequentialist lines of thought meant to justify some greater good.

    Can we also acknowledge that not everyone who votes for Trump is trying to “resist Sauron by taking up the ring” or engaged in “cynical, consequentialist lines of thought meant to justify some greater good”?

    I tried to make the case for how that’s possible (even though it’s not the path I chose) here: https://arcdigital.media/voting-for-trump-justifying-trumps-actions-9af83e5a9dd8

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  • chris

    Atheist writing here..
    I don’t know whether Amhari is a Christian and this debate is going on entirely within the faith. I’m not sure it matters.
    I see a steady stream of people taking up Christianity, either leaping Lessing’s ditch or the Church doors. They see it as a necessity to operate and to think from within. I can even see Trump trying to do this, or his speech writers. The revolution is to make the next generation natives in the faith, put them in a properly watertight vessel, rather than attempting to bale out endlessly deepening floodwater. It might look like a clumsy and insincere act, or a revolutionary act, but I’m having trouble telling good faith for one’s self apart from good faith, and sacrifices of one’s own cultural integrity, on behalf of the children.

  • MJS

    “t’s all well and good to quote Adams. But unless you have an explanation for how the classical liberal order can reliably produce moral and religious people then you haven’t actually established anything. It also doesn’t work to simply say that liberalism has always needed something else to round it out and save it from itself. The whole question is whether or not liberalism can reliably produce whatever that “something else” is. If it cannot, then all you have is a parasitic social order that will collapse as soon as these necessary citizens, which come from some other set of norms and values, run out.”

    The classical liberal order can’t reliably produce moral and righteous people – of course it can’t, no political order can. But it is the best political order of all the alternatives. It allows the freedom for people of faith to be transformed within a church that, even as a church, is fairly unreliable in the production of moral and religious people. Whatever issues there are in the production of such people, classic liberalism isn’t to blame and the issues only seem to increase with any possible alternative political order.

    The turn against liberalism by some on the right is partly based on the belief that the proper political order (whatever that is), once it gains power (through whatever means or people necessary), is able to produce such people. Liberalism is an imperfect political approach. But before we abandon it, I would like a full description or demonstration of what should replace it. As a First Things subscriber (perhaps soon to be former subscriber), what I have seen and heard so far is deeply disappointing.

    • So I’m not entirely convinced of the Ahmari side (I’ll go with “illiberal” for now) of the debate, but it does seem like one legitimate and even more ideal form of government.

      But just as both Plato and Aristotle recognized that the ideal form of government may not be obtainable and, therefore, we may have to settle for second or third best form of government, it seems likely to me that even if the “illiberal” government is ideal, the procedural liberalism/classical liberalism form of government is the best form of government within reach.

      Having said that, let me try to push back on some of your comments, just for purposes of exploration. This “illiberal” proposal is new to me–at least in taking it seriously–so I’m going to be arguing off the cuff so to speak:

      The classical liberal order can’t reliably produce moral and righteous people – of course it can’t, no political order can.

      On the one hand, this is a hard claim to prove or disprove since you’ve qualified it with “reliably“. But how consistently effective does a government has to be in producing good citizens before it can be said to be reliable in that task?

      Any way, almost everyone agrees that laws and government do have an effect on the moral vision of the people. People tend to assume, for the most part, that their nation’s laws are good laws and if a thing is legal it is good and if a thing is illegal it is bad (e.g. people in different nations with different ages of sexual consent tend to assume that their nation’s specific law represents the moral fact of the matter). Of course the relationship is complex and it doesn’t only go in one direction, but the effect of laws on public perception of morality is a pretty uncontroversial claim.

      That being the case, it follows that a government which promotes good laws will be able to have some positive effect on the public. Will it be sufficient, by itself, to make people “righteous”? Of course not and no one is suggesting that. Even Plato seems to have given up on that vision later in his life.

      But if it is the case that people can be directed to the good by good laws and good government, then a government which promotes the good will, all other things being equal, do better than a government which attempts to remain neutral in regards to the good, allowing each person to choose for themselves what is good.

      So that is the first point: governments can effect the moral climate and one which promotes the good can effect the moral climate for the good better than one which tries to have no effect on the moral climate.

      The second point is this: the idea of a government which does nothing to promote a vision of the good is an illusion. It doesn’t exist and could never exist, unless you think anarchy is achievable… but either way, America is not now and has never been anarchic. America already has laws which entail a certain vision of the good. Murder laws, gun regulations, discrimination laws (I’m referring to established racial discrimination laws, not new SOGI laws), drug laws, etc. etc.

      The idea of a strict libertarian state is just as much an ideal out of reach as the idea of Ahmari’s illeberal state. This is why, in large part, America finds itself in a perpetual culture war. The war didn’t start because suddenly some group (liberal or conservative) decided to start “legislating morality”. America has always “legislated morality” (Blue laws, DOMA, etc). The culture war started because the cultural vision of morality split a long time ago (perhaps it was never glued together to begin with) and has naturally been drifting further and further apart.

      This drift is the inevitable outworking of different worldviews and once that inevitable outworking has been achieved there is no turning back on it–save for spiritual revival or cultural revolution. Just as Charles Taylor (and James K.A. Smith) notes in regard to secularism: you can’t ask people to forget that A entails B and B entails C.

      It allows the freedom for people of faith to be transformed within a church that, even as a church, is fairly unreliable in the production of moral and religious people.

      A state that promotes the good wouldn’t necessarily disallow this freedom. This has been one of the criticisms of Ahmari: no one knows what the details of this would look like. To some extent, that’s fine: no one knew ahead of time what the details of our Constitutional Republic would look like. But such things should be worked out eventually. Maybe it has been worked out somewhere and I just don’t know where. But if not we will need a modern Plato or Aristotle to do the dirty work.

      My own suggestion would just be to work through federalism and civil society and allow the details to be worked out over time through trial and error.

      Whatever issues there are in the production of such people, classic liberalism isn’t to blame and the issues only seem to increase with any possible alternative political order.

      While I’m not sure that I would say cultural liberalism (CL) or procedural liberalism (PL), or whatever you want to call it, is blameworthy, that’s actually not the important point. The important point is whether or not CL is an inherently unstable system or, whats more, whether or not its an illusion we sell ourselves. One could make the argument, starting from premises provided by CL-ers, that CL is an unnatural and inherently unstable system that will inevitably fail.

      For instance, Jonah Goldberg, in Suicide of the West, claims that our natural state is one of tribalism. The modern State is like a “miracle”. And these aren’t themselves original or controversial ideas among CL-ers. Karl Popper was arguing in the 1940s that our natural state was tribalism. Aristotle also saw some political systems as more unstable than other political systems. That being the case, we should aim at the most stable system. “Illiberalism” seems like a more stable society in theory (though I don’t think it is given our current condition).

      The turn against liberalism by some on the right is partly based on the belief that the proper political order (whatever that is), once it gains power (through whatever means or people necessary), is able to produce such people.

      That’s not entirely the argument. And that part of the argument doesn’t need to be stated in such strong terms, as though the gov’t itself is sufficient. Another part of the argument is that we don’t currently exist in a CL society. Our laws already promote some vision of the good life (and maybe its not entirely consistent in what good its aiming for) and people are naturally already pushing for further goods to be aimed at (e.g., SOGI laws). Given the great distance that has arisen in competing visions of the Good, its useless to call people to a “neutral” arena. They’ve already realized the inherent tension that such an arena presupposes in regards to autonomy.

      But before we abandon it, I would like a full description or demonstration of what should replace it.

      This is probably the easiest part to answer, in terms of where we start (not necessarily where we end). This is where the “illiberals” and the CL-ers should have the most common ground. Alasdair MacIntyre, in After Virtue, spells out some of the illiberal concerns and also suggests civil society as a solution (civil society = church, school boards, rotary clubs, (what used to be) the Young Men’s Christian Association, (what used to be) the Boy Scouts, local politics, etc.). But this is the same place that CL-ers are looking to! Jonah Goldberg also points to civil society in Suicide of the West, Tim Carney also points to civil society in Alienated America! Great, let’s start with civil society, see if we can’t inch towards federalism and work out the details as we go.

      • hoosier_bob

        What? People believe that something is good merely because it isn’t criminalized? That’s one of the stupidest assertions I’ve ever heard. Just examine the decisions you make as you go through the day. If your thesis is correct, you’ll treat others as badly as possible except when constrained by the criminal code. And you’ll expect others to treat you as badly as possible under the same terms.

        • People believe that something is good merely because it isn’t criminalized?

          I didn’t claim that people believe that something is good merely because it isn’t criminalized.

          • hoosier_bob

            You asserted that “if a thing is legal it is good.” I’m unsure how else to interpret that assertion.

            That said, I often wonder whether social conservatives like you, Dreher, and others ever leave the house. Our culture doesn’t seem to be coming apart at the seams, even if a few people in some interstitial spaces are engaging in activities that offend your sensibilities. You’re just another variant of an SJW snowflake.

          • Here is the full sentence, which you aren’t sure how to interpret:

            People tend to assume, for the most part, that their nation’s laws are good laws and if a thing is legal it is good and if a thing is illegal it is bad (e.g. people in different nations with different ages of sexual consent tend to assume that their nation’s specific law represents the moral fact of the matter).

            The way to interpret it in a non-universalizing sense would be to pay attention to the italicized words, which I’ve added for emphasis.

            We can add different quantifiers to terms or propositions to change their extension. For instance, if I said “All dogs are mammals” that would be a universal claim covering every single instance of dog. If you were to go outside and find a particular dog that was not a mammal, or lots of dogs that were not mammals, that would disprove the claim.

            Likewise, if you interpret my claim as being something like “All people always assume that if a thing is legal it is good” then you could just examine the decisions you make as you go about your day and see whether the claim is true or not. If you make a decision which you think is bad but also think is legal then the claim is false.

            However, not all claims are universal in this way. Some claims capture only some segment of a whole. For instance, “Some dogs have spots.” In this case, in order to disprove it, it’s not enough to find one dog or even very many dogs that have spots. Logically, only one dog has to have spots for the sentence to be true.

            Some of these non-universalizing claims have a more precise extension than just “some.” For instance, if I said “Dogs tend to have spots” that would imply that if you find a dog it will like have some spots.

            Likewise, notice that my claim was that “People tend to assume, for the most part,…” The claim was meant to be qualified in two ways: not everyone is making this assumption and not everyone is making this assumption about every action. In this instance, it won’t do for you to just go about your day and find an instance of you acting in a way that you believe is bad but also believe is legal.

            So I hope that helps you see how to interpret my sentence. I would suggest paying careful attention to these sorts of things in the future with other people, as it can save you a lot of time, a lot of misunderstanding, and a lot of straw-men.

            Apart from that I would add that people’s political beliefs tend to be uncritically adopted and inconsistent (notice the word “tend” there). For instance, you can look up on YouTube some videos by a group called Campus Reform where they ask students whether they think it should be illegal for a Christian to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Almost all of them (all of them? I don’t recall exactly) believe that this is be illegal. They struggle to articulate an explanation about how its bad and, thus, shouldn’t be allowed. But when the interviewer asks them whether a Muslim should be able to refuse a similar situation the students want to give the opposite answer and then they struggle even more to explain why.

            What’s going on here is not a well thought out political philosophy, nor is it a simple sorting heuristic of “good = legal” and “bad = illegal”. It is, rather, a sort of uncritical absorption of a narrative (Christian = bad, bigot, hurt gay people; Muslim = minority, oppressed by bigots, etc.) that when asked to articulate they struggle to find some way to move from “bad” to “harm” in order to arrive at “illegal” and then from “oppressed” to “should be treated good, not punished by law” … even though they aren’t quite sure how to do it.

          • hoosier_bob

            You’re making a distinction without a difference. My point is that people don’t tend to make that assumption. Like most advocates of illiberalism, you’re simply trying to concoct a problem that demands your illiberal solution. My point is that there isn’t a problem. Or, if there is a problem, its magnitude does not justify the drastic solution of establishing an illiberal state to punish everyone who does something that offends the fragile social sensibilities of conservative Christians.

            It strikes me that the biggest concern for conservative Christians is that church affiliation is no longer a significant source of social capital for people under 50. But there are plenty of other sources of social capital. Our culture isn’t falling apart at the seams; people are generally getting along fine, but are doing so without going to church on Sunday. The reality is that younger generations construct social meaning differently from their parents, and accumulate social capital from different sources than their parents. I’m not suggesting that this shift has occurred perfectly; there are challenges that remain. But I don’t see where those challenges can’t be tackled within the confines of the liberal order. I hardly see that the challenges require us to scrap liberalism and establish an socially illiberal regime that props up Christian churches as the primary source of social capital in our culture. So, proponents of illiberalism are forced to manufacture crises to justify their aims.

          • You’re making a distinction without a difference.

            So, to clarify, your claim is that “All dogs have spots” and “Dogs tend to have spots” is a “distinction without a difference”?

            My point is that people don’t tend to make that assumption.

            Even if it is your claim that people don’t tend to make that assumption, that would not logically entail that “All dogs have spots” and “Dogs tend to have spots” is a distinction without a difference.

            You are free to disagree with the idea that “People tend to…” but you should still realize that your simple experiment of going about your day and examining your actions and those you meet isn’t sufficient to rationally justify your rejection of the claim.

            Like most advocates of illiberalism, you’re simply trying to concoct a problem that demands your illiberal solution.

            This is trying to explain my psychology as a substitute for showing that the idea is wrong. If you don’t want to make a rationally based argument then I guess we’re done here.

    • P.S. It occurs to me that, in regards to the details of the illiberal state (the Virtue State?), we might get more by digging into MacIntyer and some similar works. For example, MacIntyre focuses a lot on the way characters in the modern liberal society embody emotivism: managers, the rich, psychologists/psychiatrists. One task of the Virtue State would be reform these characters or produce new characters.

    • hoosier_bob

      Well said. I’d also suggest that the bases set forth for justifying this embrace of illiberalism are fairly unpersuasive. If something offends my sensibilities, I look the other way. I don’t see where it requires the establishment of an authoritarian state to punish everyone who does something that I think is unwise.

      That said, I believe that Christianity imposes a duty on its practitioners to seek the establishment of such a state and the repression of non-Christians. That’s why Ive come to reject Christianity.

      • If something offends my sensibilities, I look the other way. I don’t see where it requires the establishment of an authoritarian state to punish everyone who does something that I think is unwise.

        Illiberalism isn’t suggesting that whatever offends one’s sensibilities should be punished by the state.

        • BWF

          Well, it isn’t necessarily suggesting that. It just so happens that so many advocates of illiberalism are so prickly that they choose (as their targets) minor things that do only just that – offend their sensibilities. Let’s remember that the straw that broke the camel’s back for Ahmani was – the public existence of drag queens. Not some grand sweeping government policy oppressing religious folk.

          Ahmari is just one guy, true. But then again, when we have a President who gets triggered by the mere sight of a name (even when it’s on a naval ship), these acts of pettiness start to make sense to the rest of us.

          • Well, it isn’t necessarily suggesting that.

            Right. And do you think it’s wise to attack a position in its weakest possible characterization or do you think we should look at stronger forms of the argument?

            You’ve acknowledged that the illiberal position needn’t be the weak characterization given to it, but then you go on to only interact with it on the basis that it *could* be held to in this very weak sense imputing it to Ahmari.

            But do you honestly think that Ahmari’s position is that *whatever* offends his sensibilities should be punished by the state? If you do think this then I’m afraid, like hoosier_bob, there is probably no point in us trying to communicate since everything I say will be spun into the most ridiculous possible light and what we end up with is the same sort of attitude that is Trumpism. You end up being two sides of the same coin and you just don’t realize it.

            Let’s remember that the straw that broke the camel’s back for Ahmani was – the public existence of drag queens.

            What “broke the camel’s back” for Ahmari (not Ahmani) was not the mere public existence of drag queens.

            Look, so that I’m not wasting my time here, I’ll do this: can you accurately characterize what Ahmari’s concern was? If not then I’ll just politely bow out of this conversation now. I would just note that the method of discourse you engage in is really not that different than Trump’s. If you can, then maybe we can get somewhere.

  • BWF

    I like reading the articles on Mere Orthodoxy, but some of the them share a common mistake of being based on an alternative reality in which the left wing is dead set on making it harder for Christians to practice their faith (often with the assumption that only a certain subset of Christians are “Real True Christians”, in order to challenge the truth that many left-leaning people are Christians themselves). And so it is with the argument between Ahmari and French, who both go even further and claim that this is at a crisis level.

    I don’t yet have the words to best describe my frustration, but this article from Nicholas Grossman does a good job of refuting the notion that conservative Christians living in the United States are facing perilous threats.

    • hoosier_bob

      Excellent!

      I made a point in one of my responses below that probably bears on this issue. For people born before 1960, church membership is a significant source of social capital. For people born after 1970, it is not. We grew up in a much more socially and racially diverse America than our parents. But because that diversity is typically not reflected in religious communities, membership in religious communities is no longer viewed as significant in the production and distribution of social capital. Of course, membership in religious communities only ever served that role for white Christians. But, for my generation, membership in a religious community has taken on something of the status of a hobby in terms of its production and distribution of social capital. I’m fine with that.

      The problem is that most churches in my faith tradition aren’t fine with that. They’re obsessed with trying to reclaim their erstwhile status as significant producers and distributors of social capital. It’s that obsession that’s generated push-back in the culture, and has led many in my generation to walk away. If Christian churches settled for a social role similar to that enjoyed by the local Buddhist temple, there’d likely be no problem. But, in a pluralistic society with a fair degree of social, racial, and religious diversity, there’s going to be push-back when sectarian, non-pluralistic institutions want to claim an outsized role in the conferral of social capital.

      • hoosier_bob

        I would also note that the Grossman article makes a key distinction. I understand that some Christians believe that having a certain view concerning homosexuality is central to orthodoxy. Even so, it’s unclear to me why certain Christians feel the need to express those views in the public square and, in many cases, to experience angst when those expressions do not have the effect of driving non-heterosexual people out of the public square. It’s hard for me to see that Jesus—who promised that His Kingdom is not of this world—would have us make ownership and domination of the public square a central feature of orthodoxy.

        People do all sorts of things that I believe to be unwise. Unless their unwise conduct is having some material negative impact on me (aside from a subjective desire not to have my sensibilities offended), I just move along and make a point not to spend much time around those people. In fact, I suspect that we all do the same every day with countless people. Why must homosexuality be an exception for some Christians? Some religious conservatives are as snowflake-ish as the SJWs.

  • hoosier_bob

    I’d also note that this lurch towards illiberalism among conservative Christians is probably only exacerbating the very trends that frighten them. I stopped attending church several years ago, largely because churches in my tradition (Reformed evangelical) could not conceive of themselves as serving any other role in society than the role that they’d served in the latter half of the past century. I still believe in Jesus, and affirm the gospel of grace, as set forth in the ecumenical creeds and the Three Forms. But I experienced very few churches whose central goal was the proclamation of that message. Instead, churches in my former tradition were primarily seeking to reclaim the role that they once enjoyed as producers and distributors of social capital. Millennials aren’t walking away from church because they reject the gospel of God’s grace to us in Christ. No. They’re walking away because most church communities are mired in a useless project of trying to preserve the social and political order of the latter half of the last century. It was bad enough when churches supposed that they could accomplish that within the confines of the liberal order. That was the grand project of the Christian Right. It’s worse now that white evangelicals have largely decided to jettison liberalism, declare the country’s founding principles to be corrupt, and promote illiberalism (led by, of all people, Donald Trump) as the solution.

    I generally view white evangelicals as misguided by a kind of harmless nostalgia. But I believe that our laws ought to permit people to engage in harmless idiocy. But the push towards illiberalism within white evangelicalism—coupled with a rejection of pluralism—leads me to reconsider whether white evangelicalism is as harmless as I previously supposed. After all, the types of illiberalism that is routinely promoted now by white evangelicals sounds a lot like the minds of stuff you’d expect to hear at KKK rallies. If you guys want to find yourselves on history’s dustbin in a hurry, keep it up with this lurch towards illiberalism.

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