"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The New Faithful

Since the book this post is about has been in print for three years and in my "been there, read that" pile for two, I've been meaning to discuss it for quite some time. What has prompted me to do so now is that I encountered a picture of its author, Colleen Carroll Campbell, during a Google search for something else. Wow. Too bad she's married!

Campbell's thesis is clear and should already be known to anybody who cares about this sort of thing. But I have found that, in this world, 'should' is a pretty abstract word bearing only a tangential relationship to reality. So I'll keep trying to spread the word.

The essence of The New Faithful is succinctly stated at the review site Powells.com: "Blending investigative journalism with in-depth analysis, the author seeks the reason why Generation X'ers are seeking religious orthodoxy in an American society steeped in moral relativism and secularism." Campbell marshals overwhelming evidence both for the phenomenon of youthful religious orthodoxy and for her explanation of its spread, especially in Catholicism but also in evangelical Protestantism and Judaism. As her boss, George Weigel, pointed out, the "book is replete with wonderful human stories of spiritual struggle followed by conversion." What's going on is genuine, and since the book was written it has only accelerated and deepened—especially at the better universities. What my generation, the baby boomers, rebelled against as the dead faith of the living has returned among our children as the living faith of the dead.

I'm all the more delighted that Catholic progs are contemptuous of the faith-style among these young folks but fearful about the future they represent. See, e.g., the review in America magazine. (Readers who want to discuss the issues raised by the reviewer are more than welcome to do so by way of comment here.) One of the many differences between orthodox and "progressive" Catholicism is that the former is generative and the latter is not. The reviewer hopes that is remediable from his prog standpoint. It isn't. For one thing, progressive Catholicism defines itself largely in terms of what it's against—i.e., orthodox Catholicism, the only brand of religiosity that doesn't earn respect in the prog pantheon of "diversity." Beyond such rather diffuse negativity, what particularly animates progs is the conviction that the Church ought to accept modern, Western values about sex and gender. But to the extent people accept and live by those values, their birth rate goes down. That is why the birth rate in most developed countries, including the United States, is now below replacement level. The people who reproduce and grow are, by and large, adherents of traditional religion. Accordingly, the future holds far more orthodox Catholics than progressive Catholics. That is as inevitable as it is welcome.

People like Colleen Carroll Campbell are the heralds of that future. That thought puts me in a better mood as I now turn to readying myself for work.
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