I received this e-mail from a small-o orthodox Christian reader whose identity I have confirmed. The reader really did graduate from one of the top American universities, one that produces elites who populate government, law, industry, and academia. I publish this with the reader’s permission:
This quote from your “Benedict Option Omnibus” post is even more accurate than you know:
“This is not about the church losing political power; this is about the Christian story having become not only unbelievable to many, but, increasingly, a menace to what a growing number of people believe to be the Good. And it is about the churches losing their own stories, and with them, their own people. It is about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism embraced as an ersatz substitute for Christianity — MTD being exactly the kind of pseudo-faith that late modernity, or post-modernity, requires as psychological support for its vanities and indulgences. “
During my studies at a very prominent American university, this attitude of growing hostility toward small-o orthodox Christianity was very thinly veiled. Some of my classmates have worked in the White House under President Obama, and others have held positions in various parts of his administration. Others still will rise farther if Secretary Clinton wins the presidency. Whatever the case may be, many of them live in DC, and they are not planning to leave. Moreover, most of them have not yet reached their thirtieth birthdays. I say this to illustrate how rapidly this hostility will be institutionalized.
During our time in school, I was able to dialogue fruitfully with some of them, but not all. And, even then, I suspect it was because we had spent time together in and outside of the classroom without immediately arguing about these things–they knew before these debates happened that I was not a bigoted homophobe. How much more difficult, then, will it be to conduct these debates charitably when a) these men and women have actual power to implement their worldviews, and b) they will not have had the opportunity to get to know their intellectual/political opponents beforehand.
I do not wish to be fatalistic about it: many of them are good and smart people, and older age may moderate or change their views, as it does for many of us. Hope, but not optimism . . .
One point I very much want to emphasize is that the most trenchant critics are either those who are themselves nominally religious (many putative Catholics) those raised in devout environments who are bitter, or those who are still religious but whose actual churches have effectively accommodated to MTD. The hardcore atheists are far from what I fear most; it’s those who claim to speak in Christ’s name whom I most fear. I believe these people act with the best of intentions, but it speaks to your point: we have forgotten our story. That 20 centuries of Christian history and ethics can be forgotten in 1-2 generations may be horrifying, but it is a horror we must acknowledge and work to remedy, primarily but not exclusively in our education system.
This is why your idea of an “economic sequel” to the BenOp book is interesting. We need to explore the public policies of which we avail ourselves and of which we may need to become more independent if we wish to maintain our communal integrity. I hope the need for this exploration will speak to the importance not only of individuals assuming the burden of their own liberty (which Republicans already say they love, of course), but PARTICULARLY of communities and the strategies they can pursue to make themselves more robust.
Note well the reader’s expectation that the worst will come not from lifelong atheists, but from embittered ex-Christians and those who consider themselves Christians, but who have been assimilated into MTD churches.