Suffice to say, some find the moral landscape of modernity rather impoverished, and the options for pursuing it in a liberal world frustratingly limited. One can chase what one believes to be the good life, but one cannot place moral claims on others. This is the “catch,” as it were, of liberalism: “Liberalism,” political theorist Judith Shklar wrote, “has only one overriding aim: to secure the political conditions that are necessary for the exercise of personal freedom.” Or, as Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain had it: “Obey none but yourself.”
Thus ardent Christians who believe that a life modeled after Christ’s is not best for them but simply best have little room to advance their case in public life. To do so would be to infringe upon the liberties of others, and liberalism cannot abide such a violation. (It’s no accident that the earliest liberals had a special contempt for Catholics, who are especially inclined to protest the reduction of the faith to a private sentiment.) The absence of robust religious instruction in public life, Dreher contends, has led us to a world wherein sin and vice run rampant among abundance and pleasure. “The long journey from a medieval world wracked with suffering but pregnant with meaning has delivered us to a place of once unimaginable comfort but emptied of significance and connection,” he writes, “The West has lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other. Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution.”
Option is Dreher’s attempt to grasp that golden thread. But, from there, things go awry.
Dreher doesn’t put it in these terms, but it seems to me that his real complaint with liberalism is that it produces liberal subjects. It would be one thing if there were masses of orthodox Christians yearning for that simpler fourteenth-century existence yet miserably enduring life under the yoke of a liberal order enforced by those outside their ranks, but as Dreher notes, many of today’s Christians are perfectly at home in a liberal world: Liberalism has changed them, and they, in turn, have changed Christianity.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), a foggy set of feel-good notions about the divine and the good life coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in 2005, has, in Dreher’s estimation, mostly supplanted Christianity in America….