June 16, 2015

The Hour is Late - A Reply to Dan McLaughlin

In a mostly-excellent 5-part series of posts, Dan McLaughlin at "The Federalist" blog asks, "Can Gays and Christians Coexist in America?" I say "mostly excellent," because, while I agree with many of his conclusions regarding the question, I am not sure he is quite pessimistic enough regarding what he calls in his last post a "Westphalian Peace." 

First, I would like to note what I think Mr. McLaughlin gets right. His own summary of his previous posts will serve admirably for that. First, he believes that we:
[D]o not live in a live-and-let-live society; we live, increasingly, in one in which organized pressure campaigns and administrative and legal proceedings are brought to bear on people who take a traditional religious approach to same-sex relationships. 
Agreed. He adds additional paragraphs, with many of which I agree (really, the whole thing repays reading), such as the following:
The third problem is the direct, practical one, also a challenge of creative drafting but a hill worth dying on for those who oppose having the courts dictate everything: coming up with legislative ways to distinguish (or more carefully guide courts in distinguishing) between situations of improper discrimination (e.g., denying a gay person a job as an accountant) and situations in which religious interests should legitimately take precedence (e.g., a Christian school exercising the right to decide it would cross the line into scandal to employ a teacher who is openly in a same-sex marriage, or indeed who openly dissents from church teachings).
I agree with much of this, but I also think that Mr. McLaughlin makes some error. For instance, in regard to hate crime laws (I do not believe they can be drafted well enough to avoid drifting into thought crime, and I do not think that ) and working with secularists against organizations like ISIS (a laudable goal, but we are already viewed as the American equivalent of ISIS, and nothing seems to counteract that, whatever Christians may say or do),

However, I think Mr. McLaughlin mistakes the hour and the place of Christian's stance in this country. In various places, he states that we must find some way to compromise with the "progressive culture warriors," and that:
If proponents of liberty band together in these fights like the slaves at the end of Spartacus, they will do just fine...If there is a way forward, if it is possible for Christians to be tolerated in twenty-first-century America rather than treated like bitter-ender opponents of desegregation, it will only be found if supporters of same-sex marriage decide at some point that things have gone far enough, should not go much further, and that the time for conciliation and compromise has come.
The first problem here is that there is nobody with whom to compromise! We do not face an organized movement, but a mob. Surely, there are those who currently direct the mob, but I think it would be a mistake to call them "leaders" - they are mouthpieces and helmsmen, but in no way people that are capable of brokering a peace. Witness what happens even to those secular liberals who disagree or affront the mob - they are attacked, consumed, or disregarded by the mob. A compromise with such a person or group would be fantastic, but the compromise made, the person or group would find themselves outside the mob, and compromise useless.

The second problem is that the mob is morphing. Witness the rapid shift, in a sort of hysteria, from same-sex marriage to support for sex-change operations. This will not stop here - the support for group-marriage, repeal of incest prohibitions, and other affronts to what Christians perceive as the natural order of things, are in the pipeline. Each cause will be taken up, claimed as a norm, developed in cultural shaming tactics, and mainstreamed, precisely according to the Seven Stages referenced by Mr. McLaughlin. The question is not whether Christians and Gays can co-exist; that question is long since settled in favor of activists; the only questions are, "What next?" and "How can we weather the storm?"

The third problem is that I am not convinced there are many Christians left to care in this country. The Millennial Christians, whose religion is described so aptly by Christian Smith as "moralistic therapeutic deism," are rapidly either falling away from any orthodox Christianity, or falling away from Christianity altogether. As Smith concludes in the linked PDF:
This God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist—he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process. 
This was in 2005, and these teens are now young adults, far past voting age. While they still have morals, they are likely to be based in the conclusions that "the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself" and that the goal of religion is "about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people." These are not people who are interested or willing to die on a hill for religious freedom, freedom of worship, or indeed, any principles other than the morality of consent. To the extent one is seeking the right to exist and live as a traditional Christian, while these individuals may voice support for that right, they will hardly be vocal or turn out to vote, simply because such rights will not be viewed as important to helping one "feel good" or "get along." The final nail in the coffin of the idea of a Westphalian peace is likely that, even as Mr. McLaughlin may be right that "we can best do so by standing openly and forthrightly for our faith," there are fewer and fewer people that care at all about an orthodox Christianity, and would rather compromise or end faith than stand for those ideals.

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