Ross Douthat’s (@DouthatNYT) response to Bass’ response to his article on “Liberal Decline” sounds much like an “IS NOT”. The final paragraph could be construed by the outside observer as a good example of the “self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith ” judgment he applies to the “Progressive”, “Christianity after the institutional church” he ascribes to Bass:
But I feel like we already know what that Christianity looks like: It’s the self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith that Christian Smith and others have encountered when they survey today’s teenagers and young adults, which conceives of God as part divine butler, part cosmic therapist, and which jettisons the more challenging aspects of Christianity that the traditional churches and denominations, for all their many sins and follies, at least tried to hand down to us intact.
I am appalled at the “we already know what that Chrisitainity looks like”. That sounds like the underlying problem that people have with Chritianity in general. The judgment that “we already know what THAT looks like” sounds like the self-assured smugness of an Al Mohler or (insert smug spokesperson for “Christian Right” issue). And this: “the more challenging aspects of Christianity that the traditional churches and denominations, for all their many sins and follies, at least tried to hand down to us intact.” sounds so much like the kind of propositional dogmatism and/or fundamentalism that have driven so many people away from “that kind of Christianity” into the folds of these “Progressive covens” of honest, soul searching questioning of the shallow , pietistic, and thus largely unattractive rigidity of “conservative Christianity”. You should have left it at “decline is happening in both camps”, Ross. Your final paragraph really reveals what choir you’re preaching to. And “all-too American”? The conservative church’s outright adoption of the Republican party dogmas, and the strident nationalism displayed, makes that an inane observation. There are many who would say that cultural accomodation has simultaneously led to “Success” (in terms of numbers) and to decline (in terms of faithfulness). This whole assesment seems to be equating ultimate fidelity to increasing numbers, which is theologically questionable at best. How well did those preaching racial equality do in terms of “numbers” in southern churches in the 40’s?
And “at least tried to hand down to us intact” seems to be trying to claim that whatever it is that the Progressive churches have “jettisoned” have been “preserved” by the conservative churches and “for all their many sins and follies” are PRIMARILY doing the kind of faith transmission that churches are called to do (irregardless of how deeply the faith so communicated is diluted/contaminated by culture, politics, and economics) , as long as “the core” gets “handed down” without all that “Progressive” baggage/distortion.
You do a good job of making the case for the backlash against dogmatic, legalistic, proposition-laden theology.