New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently wrote a column “Can the Meritocracy Find God: The secularization of America probably won’t reverse unless the intelligentsia gets religion.” Douthat is a practicing Catholic whose religion is at the core of his beliefs, and he is bemoaning the fact that the latest Gallup poll shows fewer than half of Americans claim membership in an organized religion–down from 70 percent in 1999 to 47 percent in 2020. He states:
“A key piece of this (decline) is religion’s extreme marginalization with the American intelligentsia — meaning not just would-be intellectuals but the wider elite-university-educated population, the meritocrats or ‘knowledge workers,’ the ‘professional-managerial class.’ ”
Douthat acknowledges that “the manifest failure of many churches to live up to their own commandments…makes their claim to offer a higher, harder wisdom seem self-discrediting.” But, in my opinion, Douthat than wanders off into into the believers’ traditional wilderness of positing that, whatever religion’s failure, the non-participants live in a moral vacuum, when they are no longer tethered to some religious anchor.
Mr. Douthat is telling a delayed April Fool’s joke, right? Surely he is not serious about reducing religion to attending church on Sundays and being able to recite Bible verses galore. Admitting my bias: I am a native Southerner who remembers my youth under segregation as an era in which you could lynch a Black man, rape a Black female, shoot a Black man to death for daring to vote, murder people for trying to help register Blacks to vote, or set off a bomb in a Black church in Birmingham, killing four innocent young Black girls—and go to church on Sunday and be assured by your pastor that your immortal soul was headed for eternal salvation.
Early in Trump’s Administration, I quickly moved from stating it seemed to me that the Trumpists were taking us back to the days of racial discrimination to stating unequivocally that the Trumpists were taking us back to the darkest days of segregation—all the while proclaiming that whatever they did, they were doing so in name of Jesus. And now, Georgia has passed what amounts to Jim Crow laws, and Ross Douthat tells us that America is suffering because we are failing to follow the Trumpists’ example of shouting what good Christians we are—all the while flagrantly defying God’s Commandments against lying and committing adultery, and Jesus’ call to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Let me put it this way: I know several atheists, and I have never heard any of them to tell over 30,000 lies in four years, or call women fat, ugly, Miss Piggy, bimbo, or dog; tell Congresswomen of color to go back where they came from; or spout racist and xenophobic demagoguery.
Americans are not disavowing Jesus, Mr. Douthat. They are disavowing the hypocrites who falsely declare they are acting in his name.