Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: The Enlightenment’s Delight

I listened yesterday to the Yasha Mounk podcast The Good Fight, wherein he interviewed Elizabeth Bruenig. Part of the discussion was about our Western, and particularly American, efforts to keep religion and politics separate. They used the metaphor "radioactive" to describe how religion was viewed politically: "too radioactive to allow into politics," essentially. And Bruenig drew something of a corrolary: the dumbed-down, vacuous "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" about which orthodox religious people complain was the very design of enlightenment thinkers for politics-friendly religion.

The replacement of religion by MTD has spawned the Great Awokening and white ethno-nationalism, sublimated religions. As I used to say (though I didn’t coin it), "If you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait till you see the unreligious right."

As always, I detest instrumental religion. If we can no longer believe orthodox Christianity, we should not profess it in order to defeat ideological extremisms. Hypocrisy is rarely a good long-term strategy.

But maybe those extremisms can remind us that orthodox Christianity (better: Orthodox Christianity) just might be true, might correspond to reality (apart from any political valence).

On a related note, Abigail Shrier savages the sheer, perverse and counterproductive tone-deafness of many conservatives. As she sees it, conservatives fought "[t]o keep an unhappy biological girl with a five o’clock shadow [Gavin Grimm] out of the boys’ room".

Here, specifically, is what the Left achieved in the intervening six years: 22 states enacted conversion therapy bans, making it impossible for therapists to offer trans-identified youth any alternative to transition; nearly every medical accrediting organization adopted “affirmative care,” solemnly promising to suspend all medical judgment and rubber-stamp transitions, even by minors; gender ideology wormed its way into public school, laid eggs, and hatched endless confusion; schools across the country, with the explicit approval of the Obama administration, began conspiring to conceal minors’ declared gender identities from their parents; and hundreds of pediatric gender clinics cropped up to meet a sudden demand, heedless of the dangers, peddling phony mental health benefits and dismissing international warnings.

Conservatives’ chief asset is also our chief liability: We are willing to fight unpopular battles because we’ve never been popular. We are less easily seduced by the good opinion of those who’ve always withheld it. But we often lack strategy for this reason, too. We seem to have no idea what would appeal to other humans. Putting conservatives in charge of political strategy is like putting the debate team in charge of prom; the only guarantee is that no one else will show up.

Abigail Shrier, We Must Win the Gender War. Shrier cares about those victories the Left achieved because they are unwarranted, and will harm many minors. The minors it will harm are mostly those in the absolute surge of recently-gender-confused kids — above the historic baseline of kids (a tiny minority, but no less precious for that) who genuinely have deep-seated gender dysphoria. But some of those dysphoric kids will be harmed, too, because transitioning is not always the best answer, and comes with its own long list of problematic side-effects.

Shrier’s "scorching" critique of conservatives’ worse-than-futile response so far to "gender ideology" is well-warranted in its own right, and worth reading in full. But it also reminds me of my own frustrations 30 years ago on another topic.

I’ll avoid yet another replay of "I was right and the powers that be were wrong," and I won’t even name the specific "presenting issue." Suffice that when there were public debates, I went and presented my best conservative Rawlsian "public reason" case against the proposal at hand. But before me and behind me were people with their Bibles in hand (sometimes literally, sometime bearing only cherry-picked proof-texts) inveighing "thus saith the Lord" (figuratively).

They had no idea what might appeal to secularists or Moralist Therapeutic Deists. They discredited our cause. They reflected discredit on me because, despite my Rawlsian arguments, I was known to be a conservative Christian, so my public reasons were assumed to be a deception. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, John Rawls.

The people who brought their Bibles that night, thinking it was still high trump in a "Christian Nation," have had their champion, another Trump, in the Oval Office for four years.

But "in the intervening [thirty, and four] years," progressives have marched, in the culture if not in government, from victory to victory.

Maybe it was fated to be so. Maybe "damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don’t" is all conservative Christians need to know. But I don’t find that a very satisfying answer. And I find darned few palatable political allies, and little hope of politics restoring a necrotic culture if I could find them.

Being called un-American is like being called “un-Christian” or “un-Islamic,” a charge akin to heresy.

Shadi Hamid, ‌How Politics Replaced Religion in America.

This is a very worthwhile article.

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