DOUTHAT FRETS FOR JESUS AGAIN
I generally quote from the articles I blog about, but Ross Douthat's prose is so dense today that I won't even bother. I'll summarize his arguments instead: First he says that while religion is really really great for people, the most religious part of the country, the South, has all sorts of social pathology -- high rates of poverty, lousy health, and so on. Aha, but Douthat says that this only seems to be a paradox: the South is full of people who say they're really religious, but only the ones who go to church a lot get all the terrestrial benefits, while the rest just wallow in squalor and despair.
Douthat is a tiny bit to the left of most contemporary righties, so he doesn't say this is completely the non-attenders' own damn fault: the churches, he says, should be helping these folks, and doing enough good works to turn everyone else into better people.
I'll stop him and say that I think he's got this ass-backwards. He thinks regular church attendance makes people happy, healthy, and prosperous, but it never occurs to him that maybe, at least in religious communities, it's the happy, healthy, and prosperous who feel motivated to spruce themselves up on Sundays to go to church, and maybe engage with religion at other times as well. Their lives are good, therefore God seems good.
Douthat concludes his column by noting that we're in a war between believers and evil secular liberals who want a godless social safety net. Religion needs to bring its "A" game to the task of helping the downtrodden, otherwise the godless liberals will expand the relentlessly secular welfare state and squash religion like a bug. (Douthat's concern about religion's failure to reach the downtrodden seems more to do with his fear that religion might lose the war with secularism than with the fact that the downtrodden continue to be downtrodden.)
Maybe it's just impossible to separate the religious message of churches in Red America from Red America's earth-bound belief system, the primary tenet of which is that anything that genuinely helps the poor is just a form of coddling -- a hammock, if you will -- because what the poor really need is less help from society and more tax cuts for the already prosperous. Maybe the poor in religious communities don't go to church all that much because the pious in those communities act as if it's God's will that the have-nots remain have-nots. Maybe have-nots don't love God because it sure looks as if God doesn't love them back.
In reality, it's the godly who don't love the less godly -- and it's not that they really, really would like to be charitable but fall short, it's that they have a political ideology that tells them no help should be forthcoming.
So if we secularists want to do the work that religious people won't, well, I guess we feel the way Abraham Lincoln felt about General McClellan: If you people don't want to use your Christian charity, may we borrow it?