Does America Need Religion?

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 30 2012 @ 1:40pm

David Sessions considers Douthat's prescription for returning the US to its former greatness:

Underlying his argument is a kind of American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States’ success has had at least something to do with its religiosity, and that its religiosity has had played a central role in keeping it on track as a society—that it needs some kind of orthodox, metaphysically energized Christianity, which implies judgment, to keep society’s excesses in check.

But this is obviously not true: almost every advanced Western nation besides the U.S. is predominantly secular, and all of them have lower abortion rates, lower teen pregnancy rates, and lower divorce rates than we do. But, as Douthat has said explicitly, the ways they accomplish these things—sex education, contraception, legalized abortion, policies supporting unmarried cohabiting parents—are not things he believes a Christian can accept.  So he’s choosing a view of America—that religion is socially necessary—and excluding policy options that don’t accept that premise. And here’s the kicker: he makes this choice even if those policies he can’t accept are more likely to be more effective in ameliorating the real-world problems he is concerned about, and even if the policies his religion prefers have to exclude people in ways that just aren’t acceptable to modern liberal society.

Alan Jacobs seeks out the source of Christianity's decline:

If you’re a Christian, it’s tempting to say (drawing on the Perfidious-Mainstream-Media account) that we were forced into these subaltern modes by the relentless hostility of the cultural elites. That’s a very comforting narrative: we get to cast ourselves as the persecuted minority, and who can resist that temptation? Ross is offering a less consoling explanation: that Christians lost their cultural influence in large part because they lost their connection to historic orthodoxy, preferring comfortably flaccid theologies — of the Right and the Left — that were pretty much indistinguishable from what most religiously indifferent Americans believed anyway.

So for those readers especially hostile to Ross’s account, I have a queston: Are you sure it’s not because he’s telling you something you don’t want to hear? — That if you have a marginal place in American culture, the situation may be largely your own fault?

Previous discussion of Ross' new book here, here, here and here.