A reader writes:
I find I have little sympathy for the protestations of Douthat, Dreher, etc., and here’s why: what they’re protesting is their fading ability to dictate to others how to live their lives. They have not actually lost any rights, but rather lost a position of privilege and authority from which they have called the tunes to which others have been forced to dance. What they’re upset about isn’t the loss of power over their own lives; it’s about the loss of power over others’ lives. To which I say, “Boo-freaking-hoo.”
Another is on the same page:
You quoted Rod Dreher:
American Christians are about to learn what it means to live in a country where being a faithful Christian is going to exact significant costs. It may not be persecution, but it’s still going to hurt, and in ways most Christians scarcely understand.
No. American Christians are about to learn what it means to live in a country whose culture and values and attitudes don’t fully replicate their own. That is all.
I’m sure it’s painful to discover that your world view is actually just one among many, rather than Reality Itself, and I can sympathize with the pain since I was once a child and had to endure many such painful realizations as I grew up and learned that I was not actually the central character in the universal drama. Indeed, I’m still confronting such humbling realizations, well into my forties, on a routine basis.
As a Dish completist, I’ve been following this and related discussions carefully, and I’ve tried to exercise as much compassion as possible for those who perceive themselves to be on the losing side of a “culture war”. That very perception is worthy of compassion – namely, that what most of us experience as progress towards a fairer, more tolerant, more enlightened society should be perceived by some as a defeat in a war.
But I’m finding my resources of compassion seriously over-taxed by Douthat’s et al. reaction to the coming of the age of marriage- equality because it is rooted in the moral and intellectual complacency of privilege. Douthat, especially, is expending all his intellectual energy on rationalizing his prejudices rather than attempting to examine them. Even so, nobody is forcing him, or anybody, to change his attitudes or behavior – conservative Christians remain free to profess and practice their beliefs. Indeed, this really isn’t about them at all. And there’s the rub.
Suddenly they and their views are not the American Unum, but merely part of the Pluribus. Their outrage (or, in Dreher’s case, apprehension and sadness) is really a reaction to a loss of prestige, a loss of a sense of centrality, a loss of the sense that this is their country and they are the normal ones, and it’s only natural and correct that the culture and the law should reflect their values and their attitudes.
Suddenly, the culture and the law are not on their side – that must be very painful. Except that this is not about “sides”. It’s about justice. There aren’t actually any losers here in practical terms. Unless by losers you mean people who have lost the privilege of denying rights to some of their fellow citizens because those citizens fail to conform to their particular standards and values.
Another quotes me:
Rod wonders if being the counter-culture “will be good for us.” In my view, it really could be. Since Constantine, Christianity’s great temptation has been to doubt the power of its truths and to seek to impose them by force. And its greatest promise has been when it truly has been the counter-culture – in the time of Jesus and the decades after, or, say, in the subversive appeal of Saint Francis’ radical vision. Why see this era as one of Benedictine retreat rather than of Franciscan evangelism? Why so dour when you can still be the counter-cultural salt of the earth?
This is a good point, yet I don’t think it gets at why conservative Christians face such a distressing conjuncture now.
For decades, they have assured us that homosexuality must be stigmatized, both in popular culture and law, because the Bible and our own natural reasoning (viz. “natural law”) are clear that it is inextricably evil and a civilization that openly tolerates it is destined for destruction. Well, they’re here, they’re queer and … life goes on, and most people have come, sometimes grudgingly, to accept that Craig and Bruce next door are not the horsemen of the Apocalypse. In fact, they’re distressingly upstanding members of the community and make a killer raspberry crumble for the library bake sale. What they were claiming to be one of the great truths of human history handed down by Yaweh himself appears to have been, shall we say, overstated.
It’s like the doomsday cultists who predict the end of the world with absolute certainty and then find themselves utterly flummoxed when the predicted day comes and goes and nothing happens. The handwaving and excuse-making are pretty lame: Oh, you don’t see the effect now, but in 20 years, we’ll find out how much gay parents damage their kids, or in 20 years, we’ll see how polygamy and incestuous marriages are the norm, etc. The apocalypse is always just over the horizon. We’re not wrong; our timeline was just off.
The larger issue at stake is the truth claims of Christianity, at least in the view of its most stringent interpreters. If the Bible can’t be trusted to be right about whether or not gay people are horrible monsters on par with murderers, swindlers, and slave dealers, what can we trust it for? Now, conservative Christianity endured (mostly) coming to terms with desegregation and interracial marriage and now evanglicals run around acting like they practically championed those things back in the day, so perhaps Dreher and Douthat and others are overstating things. But I’ve often wondered whether, as gays and gay marriage become more mainstream and, well, banal, many Christians won’t find themselves wondering why the apocalypse hasn’t come after all and what that says about Scriptural authority in a lot of other areas. That’s what’s not sitting well with a lot of Christian culture warriors right now.
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