R.R. Reno says — correctly, in my judgment — that the trends in US society are only going to marginalize orthodox Christians more and more. He calls it a “dhimmitude of sorts,” by which he means Christians will have to accept second-class status in the way Christians living in many Muslim countries do, under Islamic law and culture. On the gay civil rights question, Reno said it is possible that our lot may find some solid ground within a broader libertarian sensibility (this has become my view), in the sense that only within a cultural framework that tolerates difference can we find breathing room. But if so, it must be understood that this is very, very far from a good situation. Reno gets this:
This libertarian sensibility may support tolerance, but it won’t encourage support for religion. On the contrary, the moralism one finds in all forms of traditional religion will be seen as a threat to our culture of expansive personal freedom.
Still, it may well be the best that Christians and other religious believers who object to the Sexual Revolution and its dogmas can hope for. Reno again:
It’s going to be difficult. I think we’re heading into dhimmitude of sorts. Our culture is becoming more and more dominated by post-religious attitudes that dictate the terms of the social contract. We’ve seen that very clearly in the university where religious voices have learned to obey rules set by the secular academy. The rules are sometimes cruel (Stephen Pinker), or sometimes sympathetic as long as certain liberal dogmas are respected (Martha Nussbaum), or even permissive (faith as part of the great pluralist postmodern conversation). The culture of the secular university is now becoming the norm for society as a whole, at least in part, which is why we’re feeling the pressure.
What’s to be done? The First Amendment provides a great deal of protection. We need good lawyering to make it work for us. But dhimmitude is a state of mind as much as a legal subordination, and this we must resist. We need a bit of Karl Barth in our diet. One hundred years ago he saw the Church’s voice being subordinated to the needs of the German state and its bourgeois culture. His response: speak and think in a confident, even aggressive Christian voice.
My gut tells me this is true, though I want to read more Barth to find out what he means. A lot depends on what one means by “confident” and “aggressive,” of course, but I do strongly believe that Christians need to realize that they’re playing a long game here, and need to shed habits of thinking that political success and social position are signs that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Anyway, it’s better to go down fighting than to meekly nod and conform, though it should also be said that only a fool would take every opportunity to be a martyr. These are going to be interesting times, ones that call for more wisdom than passion. It will be a time of testing, and of winnowing. This is not the first time this has happened in the history of the Church, nor will it be the last. How did the faithful and their leadership deal with this sort of thing before? What lessons can we learn from them?
Those are the questions that Reno’s post suggests most broadly. I really hope that pastors, and those training to be pastors and theologians, will work to understand the particular nature of these times. I get the feeling that many Christians understand that faith is receding, but they think that we’re just one more program or gimmick away from turning the tide. They’re very wrong, because they don’t understand the cultural conditions in which they are evangelizing and teaching Christianity. I know I sound like a broken record on this, but I can’t think of a better resource for understanding the times and the most fundamental challenges the times poses to small-o orthodox Christianity than Mars Hill Audio Journal. Just yesterday I was listening once again to a particular interview from the Journal from years ago, a really challenging and brilliant piece, and got to thinking how different Christian discourse would be if many more pastors, writers, and Christian leaders subscribed to this thing.
You know what book we need? One titled: American Dhimmitude: A Handbook For Resistance. It would be a sober, plainspoken analysis of the cultural conditions of our time, with respect to orthodox Christianity and its decline in postmodernity. It would also offer intelligent, historically well informed commentary about how great Christians of ages past responded to challenges in their own time, when they were the minority culture, and discern lessons for ourselves from their experience.