Is Christianism Breeding Atheists?

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 21 2012 @ 2:00pm

Why would it not? The way in which the next generation has been exposed to Christianity this past decade has been toxic to the faith. Christianism isn't just corrosive of our political order; it is deeply destructive to Christianity itself. Go to any college campus and ask the uncommitted their views of Christianity. What I hear is intolerance, anger, anti-gay prejudice, sexual obsession, and hatred of Islam. How many people Rick Santorum has scared off Christianity for life is beyond reckoning. And the bile directed at gay people has been deeply damaging in getting across to people what Jesus' message really was: which is, in many cases, almost the opposite of that of his current most prominent representatives in the media. 

Peter Berger reviews an article [gated] by David Campbell and Robert Putnam. Here's the Campbell-Putnam case:

The growth of the “nones”, and especially of their young constituent, is a reaction against the Religious Right. According to their data, between 2006 and 2011 Democrats and progressives were more likely to be religiously unaffiliated than Republicans and conservatives. These data are supported by those of the Pew Forum: “Nones” are 23% of those who say they are Republicans or leaning toward the Republican party, but 55% of Democrats and those leaning toward that party. There is an even higher discrepancy among younger “nones”. They associate Republicanism with intolerance and homophobia. And they don’t like this. We know from many other sources that the young are much more liberal on issues of gender and sexuality. On empirical grounds, one may conclude that, whatever else has happened in America in recent decades, the sexual revolution has achieved victory on most fronts. If one wants to use this hackneyed phrase, those who take a stand against this development find themselves on “the wrong side of history”. 

His critique of the article:

Let me, with all due respect for Campbell and Putnam, suggest a hypothesis of my own:  Most “nones” have not opted out of religion as such, but have opted out of affiliation with organized religion. Among Christians (the great majority of all survey respondents) there are different reasons for this disaffection. The two authors are very probably correct that, broadly speaking, those who are turned off by Evangelicals and conservative Catholics do so because they don’t like the repressive sexual morality of those churches (the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church has not helped).

But the “nones” have also exited from mainline Protestantism, which has been much more accommodating to the liberationist ethic. Here, I think, there has been frustration with what my friend and colleague Thomas Luckmann long ago called “secularization from within”—the stripping away of the transcendent dimensions of the Gospel, and its reduction to conventional good deeds, popular psychotherapy and (mostly left-of-center) political agendas. Put differently: My hypothesis implies that some “nones” are put off by churches that preach a repressive morality, some others by churches whose message is mainly secular.

So Christianity in America, as Ross Douthat's excellent forthcoming book explains, is undermined by both the political temptation and degeneracy on the evangelical right and the failure of mainline Protestantism to advance a Christianity that is both at ease with modernity but also determined to transcend its false gods of money, celebrity, and power, and to require more from its adherents.

We need a via media that lies not in between these models, but transcends both.