The scene: Adam Gopnik writes an article for The New Yorker condescendingly describing the decline of religion in the West. (I’m not including a quote, because it’s nothing you haven’t heard a thousand times before. The only difference is that it’s in The New Yorker and therefore longer than most such articles and in close proximity to pretentiously unfunny cartoons.)
Then, in First Things, David Bentley Hart responds to Gopnik using every single word from his William F. Buckley Word-a-Day calendar, plus a few that I’m pretty sure he made up. In the process, he sums up the current nature of interactions between believers and non-believers:
It does not matter. Nothing is happening here. The conversation has never begun. The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players). Everything else is idle chatter—and we live in an age of idle chatter. Lay the blame where you will: the internet, 940 television channels, social media, the ubiquity of high-fructose corn syrup, whatever you like. Almost all public discourse is now instantaneous, fluently aimless, deeply uninformed, and immune to logical rigor. What I find so dismal about Gopnik’s article is the thought that it represents not the worst of popular secularist thinking, but the best. Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice.
This is a scene that’s repeated more and more, and in the future it will only get more common. Christians and non-Christians are just talking past each other with no Promontory Point in site.
As I mentioned before, there are two reasons that people argue about things: either to win people over to their way of thinking, or to make themselves seem superior to people with different opinions. Except that now it seems like the first reason has pretty much gone by the boards. Nobody is trying to convince anybody of anything. Everyone’s just trying to rally the base.
Or, as Hart notes in his take-down, they’re trying to seem like the smartest guy in the room while striving to remain completely ignorant of their opposition. It’s very difficult to “reason together” when you’re dealing with people like that.
Secular America seems to understand, and tolerate, Christian America less by the day. As long as “fluently aimless” thinking dominates the secularist side, I don’t have high hopes of narrowing the gulf between us and them.