One could write an extensive disquisition about the fact that Vice President Mike Pence’s personal no-dinner-with-women-not-my-wife policy has been a matter of news and commentary for days. The topic must hit some sensitive spot in our present polity for so many to consider it a matter of pressing conversation in the world.
Along related lines, Conrad Black writes in the National Post that the Enlightenment is becoming something of an Inquisition:
Of course our society would be resistant to the temptations of extreme evil and wickedness. It is hard to imagine in most Western societies that such an appeal would be accepted, as it once was in the culture of Goethe and Beethoven and in the culture of Tolstoi and Tchaikovsky. But we plod on, over-punishing those who fail insignificantly and excessively rewarding those who game the system by pandering to mass tastes and sensibilities. It is the triumph of the shabbiest placemen, the decayed servitors, the obsequious careerists.
Similarly, a Bari Weiss interview with Jonathan Haidt, on the behavior of campus radicals, surely sent many scrupulous Wall Street Journal readers to the dictionary to refresh their memories about the specifics of the term “auto-da-fé.” Perhaps our culture is awakening (not being “woke”) to something some of us have been saying for years: Not only has our culture been moving forward on the fumes of its Christian heritage, but the affronts that secularists have blamed on Religion should really have been blamed on human nature. Indeed, with the urge to blame religion for failing to make people perfect in real time, we’ve forgotten its ability to make us better.
The other day, somebody with a right to such familiarities poked me on the subject of religion. We were discussing how monumentally difficult it is to change politics, culture, and governance even at the hyper-local level — what an uncompensated investment of time it takes even to move small matters of truth against settled (often self-interested) views of how a community works. Because of his or her conclusions, the person pointing out that a system isn’t working properly must be wrong, and the better he or she is able to make a case, the more imperative it must be that he or she is disingenuous, deceiving, and evil. Otherwise, the friends and allies doggedly doing the wrong thing must be the villains.
The person with whom I was speaking smiled wryly and said that religious people often do the same.
After the conversation had ended and I’d thought about it for a time, it occurred to me that this cliché is mostly a coincidence of our time and place. For a long era, Christianity was simply the backdrop of belief for our civilization. Any quality or flaw that will inevitably characterize the cultural majority therefore became associated with Christianity.
We’re well into a sort of cultural adolescence challenging the Church’s authority, but perhaps we’re reaching a point of clarity that human beings will always find an overarching belief system, and some will find in it reasons to proclaim their moral superiority and indulge in the belittling attacks that such superiority excuses.
In short, my acquaintance simply focused the scope of his slight so as to single out religious people, but that lens isn’t particularly helpful. Take it away, and one sees a vast landscape of human beings acting according to their sinful nature, but in a much more exaggerated fashion where they don’t hear Christ’s admonition to seek one’s own servitude and His assurance that He’s working within the other, too.