Patrick J. Deneen discusses the current state of Christianity in the United States in his article "Moral Minority" at First Things. The title is a reference to Jerry Falwell's efforts in the 1980s to create the "moral majority": a political movement that sought to harness the political power of socially conservative Christians, which Falwell believed represented a silent majority of the electorate. The author, Deneen, argues that, whether or not there was a "moral majority" at that time, it certainly does not exist today:
Thirty years later, the mood has changed. Three books have appeared almost simultaneously that assume the opposite of what Falwell believed: America is populated by an immoral majority. Not only is its leadership class dominated by progressive elites, but the American public more generally has been corrupted by constant saturation in a media of skepticism and irony, pervasive consumerism, unavoidable pornography, and incessant distraction fostered by entertainment centers in every person’s pocket. America has lost its faith, and so the faithful have begun to question their belief in America.
Deneen then goes on to describe the three books: The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher; Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Charles J. Chaput; and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony M. Esolen. The common theme linking the three books is that Christians need to build sustaining communities and prepare to weather the end of our current culture and civilization and the new one to come.
Deneen describes the current situation:
Yet over that same span [1970s to 2000s], the culture changed, and not in Jerry Falwell’s direction. Measures of community strength, volunteerism, neighborliness, and civil society declined. Family breakdown increased, especially among the economically disadvantaged of all races. Divorce rates skyrocketed, and though they later leveled off for the wealthy, they remain high, especially for the poor. At the same time, rates of marriage have declined, and American birth rates have begun to resemble those of an aging and childless Europe. A holocaust of unborn children continues unabated. Findings by both conservative and liberal social scientists such as Charles Murray and Robert Putnam show an extraordinary erosion of social norms and expectations—familial, educational, legal, and professional—especially among those who make up the working class of America. Social mobility has become a taunt rather than a real possibility for many Americans, replaced by a self-perpetuating new aristocracy that congregates in the wealthiest urban areas of the country. Trust in all the main institutions of American society—both public and private—has declined, as has trust of citizens toward each other.
Findings by the Pew Research Center about religious belief and practice show an ongoing decline in religious belief and membership, including a dramatic rise in nonbelievers, especially among the millennial generation. Even where religious faith persists, Christian Smith suggests that religion for many Americans is individualistic and therapeutic rather than a source of discipline and moral norms. For nearly thirty years, conservatives have triumphed politically amid a catastrophic breakdown of social and cultural norms, especially those that foster an ethic of self-sacrifice, commonweal, and practices that inculcate duty, discipline, respect, civility, and obedience.
And so here we are. The long-standing conservative narrative held that America is fundamentally decent but that those decencies are being eroded by an elite that subscribes to non-American, and even anti-American, values. The simultaneous political success of conservatism and ruination of American culture has made this view untenable. Now, a more radical possibility is opening up. Traditional Christians now wonder if a just and righteous society must be built in opposition to a national creed that has led inexorably to libertinism.
This conclusion has become harder to avoid. If the conservative political movement animated by a belief in a moral majority was born out of Roe v. Wade, it died with Obergefell v. Hodges. It died especially because, unlike Roe—which was decided while public opinion was divided, inchoate, and moveable on the question of abortion—Obergefell was decided with the backdrop of consistently growing popular support for marriage between homosexuals, with particular enthusiasm among a younger generation that will inherit the nation. Obama’s war against traditional Christians paid electoral dividends, supported all the while by the media, schools, universities, and even corporate America. This has caused a growing number of Christians to conclude that the nation is no longer a Christian nation, if it ever was.
Dreher makes similar comments in his book, but places the tipping point slightly before the Obergefell decision. Dreher concludes, instead, that "[t]he steady decline of Christianity and the steady increase in hostility to traditional values came to a head in April 2015, when the state of Indiana passed a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act." He goes on:
The law merely provided a valid religious liberty defense for those sued for discrimination. It did not guarantee that those defendants would prevail. Gay rights activists loudly protested, calling the law bigoted--and the for the first time ever, big business took sides in the culture war, coming down firmly on behalf of gay rights. Indiana backed down under corporate pressure--as did Arkansas a week later.
This was a watershed event. It showed that if big business objected, even Republican politicians in red states would not take a stand, even a mild one, for religious freedom. Professing orthodox biblical Christianity on sexual matters was now thought to be evidence of intolerable bigotry. Conservative Christians had been routed. We were living in a new country.
It was shortly afterward that Obergefell was decided; a decision that bluntly stated that opposition to gay marriage could only be the result of animus. Dreher astutely notes (although without awareness of the full import) that "[p]ost-Obergefell, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists."
It is interesting to me that Dreher, and I suspect all the authors cited above, would reject out of hand any explanation by the Alt-Right, yet surely the Alt-Right has the answer to what happened, that being that the Republican party is not and has not been "conservative," because they do not conserve anything. Their only principle is to cow-tow to big business.
This should not be too surprising, though, because the Republican party was not the party of social conservatism until the 1970s and '80s when social conservatives, disaffected by the Democrats, increasingly fled to the Republican party; a movement that showed most strongly in Reagan (himself a former Democrat) successfully bringing traditional Republicans and social conservatives under the same tent to win the Presidential election against Jimmy Carter. However, Reagan was unable to shift the soul of the party leadership, and habit, more than anything, allowed the two Bushes to claim the conservative Christian vote.
But Deneen and Dreher are both wrong as to when the Culture War was lost. Ironically, it is Dreher that gives us the answer to that question. To repeat from above: "Post-Obergefell, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists." (Underline added). And that--the racist part--marks the loss, because it was with anti-discrimination laws that the government took upon itself to destroy freedom of association, and tell us whom we had to hire, whom we had to work for, and provided the laws to punish any that objected.
Or, as Angelo Codevilla observed, "when the 1964 Civil Rights Act substituted a wholly open-ended mandate to oppose 'discrimination' for any and all fundamental rights, it became the little law that ate the Constitution." And, he adds: "Now, because the Act pretended that the commerce clause trumps the freedom of persons to associate or not with whomever they wish, and is being taken to mean that it trumps the free exercise of religion as well, bakers and photographers are forced to take part in homosexual weddings."
One could go even farther back, to Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333 (1890), wherein the United Supreme Court held that freedom of religion only protected one's religious beliefs, not one's religious practices. But I agree with Codevilla that the watershed was the various civil rights and anti-discrimination cases and laws that completely usurped the freedom of association (which is, in its negative--the freedom to not have to associate--is most valuable). After that, it was unacceptable to hold to any mores that did not have the tacit approval of the government.
This is not to say we should seek to discriminate against others because of their race, sex, or whatnot (although it certainly is appropriate under certain circumstances), but that we ought to have the right to do so, if we so wish. Discrimination takes thought--at least if one is to provide a rational for it--but indiscrimination does not.
A couple weeks ago, I noted a speech by Evan Sayet that discussed this very topic. I'll set out again the relevant portion of his talk:
What happens is, they are indoctrinated into what I call a "cult of indiscriminateness." The way the elite does this is by teaching our children, starting with the very young, that rational and moral thought is an act of bigotry; that no matter how sincerely you may seek to gather the facts, no matter how earnestly you may look at the evidence, no matter how disciplined you may try to be in your reasoning, your conclusion is going to be so tainted by your personal bigotries, by your upbringing, by your religion, by the color of your skin, by the nation of your great-great-great-great-great grandfather's birth; that no matter what your conclusion, it is useless. It is nothing other than the reflection of your bigotries, and the only way to eliminate bigotry is to eliminate rational thought.
There's a brilliant book out there called The Closing of the American Mind by Professor Allan Bloom. Professor Bloom was trying to figure out in the 1980s why his students were suddenly so stupid, and what he came to was the realization, the recognition, that they'd been raised to believe that indiscriminateness is a moral imperative because its opposite is the evil of having discriminated. I paraphrase this in my own works: "In order to eliminate discrimination, the Modern Liberal has opted to become utterly indiscriminate."
I'll give you an example. At the airports, in order not to discriminate, we have to intentionally make ourselves stupid. We have to pretend we don't know things we do know, and we have to pretend that the next person who is likely to blow up an airplane is as much the 87-year-old Swedish great-great-grandmother as those four 27-year-old imams newly arrived from Syria screaming "Allahu Akbar!" just before they board the plane. In order to eliminate discrimination, the Modern Liberal has opted to become utterly indiscriminate.
The problem is, of course, that the ability to discriminate, to thoughtfully choose the better of the available options--as in "she's a discriminating shopper"--is the essence of rational thought; thus, the whole of Western Europe and today's Democratic Party, dominated as it is by this philosophy, rejects rational thought as a hate crime.
However, this stupidity has infected the Christian right. For instance, Deneen mentions that "[m]easures of community strength, volunteerism, neighborliness, and civil society declined." But does he ask why? Would he even admit that racial and ethnic diversity are one of the principal root causes of the decline he laments? How about the rise in single mothers and children born out of wedlock? Statistics tell us that "[a]mong non-Hispanic blacks, the figure [for out-of-wedlock births] is highest, at 72.2 percent; for American Indians/Alaska Natives, it’s 66.9 percent; 53.5 percent for Hispanics; 29.4 percent for non-Hispanic whites; and a mere 17.1 percent for Asians/Pacific Islanders." An inconvenient truth, indeed.
Some of you reading this (assuming you have gotten this far) may think me racist for pointing out these facts; although I would contend that it is not racist if it is true. But that is not my intent. Instead, I use this as an example that we so desire the praise of man (or, at least, fear social approbation or ostracism) that we censor not only our very thoughts, speech and action, but seek to do so to those around us; and because of this desire (or fear), failed to object to the incremental broadening of anti-discrimination laws. Of course, under the 1965 Civil Rights Act and its progeny, it is more than just disparagement that one might face, but the force of law could then be brought down upon someone for expressing truths or opinions that were deemed verboten.
Of course, once the government goes down the road of forcing you to hold an opinion with which you may not agree, and force you to associate with or provide labor or products to those with whom you do not want to, it is only a matter of time until the set of forbidden thoughts and acts begins to encompass more and more of other private conduct and association. It is a domino effect. And coupled with the goals of Cultural Marxism, its ultimate aim will be to destroy all conduct or associations not affirmatively approved of by the State.
Martin Niemöller is remembered best for the following quote concerning German acquiescence to National Socialism:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Something similar can be said about our society:
First they came for the racial bigots, and we did not speak out--Because we were not racists or bigots, and did not like the bigots.
Then they came for those that said that there were material differences between races and cultures that made them incompatible, and we did not speak out--Because we wanted to be welcoming to all peoples and cultures and not thought of as a bigot.
Then they came for the clubs that were men-only, because we knew that the sexes were the same, and it was bigotry to think otherwise.
Then they came for those that were opposed to the sin of homosexuality and abortion, and we did not speak out--Because we believed in live-and-let-live, that a woman's rights were greater than a baby's, and, besides, we didn't want to be thought a bigot.
Then they came for those that defended Western culture and values, and we did not speak out--Because we did not want to be called a bigot, and, besides, everyone and every culture are of the same value and worth.
Then they came for those that wanted to preserve traditional marriage, and we did not speak out--Because we did not want to be thought a bigot, and besides, they just loved each other and lots of people cohabited without getting married, so what did it matter anyway.
Then they came for those that would not actively support gay marriage and transexuals, and we did not speak out--Because we did not want to be called bigots, although we could not think of any other valid reason.
Then they came for whites and we did not speak out--Because, of course, all whites are bigots (even if unconsciously) and we do not like bigots.
Then they came for ...
Where does it end?
The Benedict Option will not withstand a system of law that is empowered to destroy any association that is not approved by the State, and will actively seek to destroy those associations. Yes, I suppose that Christians could develop a system of "house churches," always trying to skirt below the radar, but this will of necessity be a system similar to the cells in a guerrilla organization, not a civilization within a civilization for which the Benedict Option seems to call. The efforts of churches to accommodate the demands of the government and society are ephemeral, because there will always be more demands. But no church is going to run the risk of saying "enough is enough," and face the consequential bankruptcy and other government sanctioned attempts to dissolve said church.
Benedict was successful in large part because of the failing civil government, poor communication, difficulty in traveling, and lack of hostile surveillance that marked the dissolution of the Roman Empire. It is these same factors that allowed Christian communities to survive within the Islamic lands. But just as modern technology has allowed hostile Islamic governments and militant groups to destroy and drive out those surviving Christian communities over the past century, so too will churches in the West seeking survival under the Benedict Option be discovered and destroyed.
Moreover, those taking up the Benedict Option will need to reject the string of defeats I listed above in my paraphrase of Niemöller's poem, which won't happen. Trust will need to be paramount, but how many modern Christians are willing to say, let alone believe, that their culture is superior to all others; to reject admixtures that lesson trust and community cohesion; to turn out those that buck church laws and covenants? In short, what churches will allow discrimination, because there must be some discrimination to have a community separate from the world around it if for no other reason than to keep that world out. But all I see or hear from various churches are calls for inclusion that are incompatible with the separateness needed for survival.
In short, absent a collapse of general social order, the Benedict Option will not succeed. We can seek to ignore the world, but the world will not ignore us.