In his article trying to explain the decline of religion in the US that I commented on a couple of days ago, Rod Dreher pinned the blame on Christian institutions being too liberal and abandoning traditional verities in favor of what he sees as a post-modern sensibility that demands nothing from its followers and has abandoned its core principles. He calls for a return to a “traditional religion, with its truth claims and strictures”.
If Dreher wanted to he could have pointed to a religion that in many parts of the world tries to do exactly what he recommends that Christians in the US do, and demands adherence to a fixed set of traditional beliefs. I am of course referring to Islam as is currently practiced in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and many other Muslim-majority countries where people who deviate from orthodoxy are punished severely, brutally, and barbarically.
Does he really want Christianity in the US to become the mirror image of this Islam? I suspect that when it comes to Islam, what people like Dreher would prefer is that they abandon ‘traditional’ religious orthodoxy and adopt the very same mushy post-modern sensibility they decry in Christianity.
People who make the call for a return to some past orthodoxy almost never carry their arguments to their logical conclusion by addressing the questions: What constitutes ‘traditional religion’ and what is its basis?
The only unchanging basis is their holy book, the Bible. But it is impossible for Christians (or Jews for that matter) in the Western world to assert that we should behave exactly as the Bible tells us to, since the plain text of that book requires a level of barbarism that is unthinkable. Hence they are immediately placed in the position of having to arbitrarily pick and choose. You will notice that sophisticates who call for a return to ‘traditional’ religion almost never spell out what exactly makes it up.
But I can help them out. Ultimately, what people like Dreher really want is for everyone to adhere to the same set of beliefs that he happens to value. Such people disapprove of homosexuality, abortion, and sex outside of marriage; they want to see public acknowledgements of god and official religious practices in the public sphere (such as prayer and religious education in public schools); and they want their core religious beliefs to be granted deference. They seem to have this feeling that if these things were granted, we would be back to ‘traditional’ religion and things would be fine. It is not a return to traditional religion that they seek, it is really a return to the 19th century way of thinking.
Not only is there no reason why any of those things should be granted to them by the rest of us, there is every reason to vigorously oppose them.
Dreher and those who think like him are on a hopeless quest. There is no going back to traditional religion except by force because the march of modernity cannot be stopped.