Now: Could you argue that what’s happening in Belgium is on a continuum with what’s happening in America, that the apotheosis of Caitlyn Jenner and the death of Nathan Verhelst are both manifestations of expressive individualism in action? Yes. Could you trace, with Linker and Tocqueville and others, the roots of both forms of individualism in certain Christian ideas, certain (selectively-chosen) gospel admonitions? Yes again. Could you argue that there’s a clear cultural slope that could take Americans, too, from celebrating the man who transitions to womanhood to permitting his medically-administered quietus in the event that the transition doesn’t work out? One certainly could.
But the two stories still represent very different points on the continuum, two very different places on the path away from Christendom. I look at the celebrations of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and see, with Bloom and Wilkinson, a gnostic-influenced Christian heresy; I look at the death of Nathan Verhelst and see Belgian Christianity’s eclipse, disappearance, defeat. I look at the United States, sexually permissive but still deeply conflicted on abortion and moving only slowly toward limited forms of physician-assisted suicide, and see a nation that’s Americanized its Christian inheritance but hasn’t yet jettisoned it. I look at the Belgium, or at least the Belgian medical and media culture, portrayed in the New Yorker and see a social reality to which the term “Christian” no longer meaningfully applies.
Again, where precisely the break happens I can’t claim to know. But in Belgium it seems to have happened; here, not yet. Not yet.