For most mainstream religions, for most urban and suburban intellectuals circa 2012, it is hard to live a religiously observant life during the ages of say 17-25. American religion is left with late convert intellectuals and proponents of various enthusiasms, all filtered through the lens of America’s rural-tinged mass culture. Where is the indigenous and recent highbrow Christian culture of the United States?Cowen wrote his thoughts in response to Ross Douthat's new book, How We Became a Nation of Heretics in which he argues that "Christianity’s place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption." (Side note: How meta is it that I'm writing a blog post about a comment that Tyler Cowen has on a Ross Douthat book? The cycle will be complete when this post is quoted in Ben Casnocha's blog, and Tyler comments on it.)
For me, the biggest issue that religions face in modern society is Hannibal's First Law of Leadership: "Never give an order that won't be obeyed."
As Cowen points out, it's hard to live a religiously observant life in modern society. Serious thinkers argue that the link between sex and love has been broken. Young voters strongly favor gay marriage. The result? People have to decide whether to follow religious codes or social mores.
I like to use ABC Family as an example of the evolution of America. The channel was launched in 1977 by Pat Robertson. Today, it's most popular show is "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," which focuses on a teen mom and features ample helpings of premarital sex. Mind you, this is a show that appears on a Disney-owned channel, and was created by Brenda Hampton, who had previously created the squeaky-clean and religious-themed Seventh Heaven.
Once people begin to pick and choose among the dictates of a religion, Hannibal's law is violated. Just look at the damage that the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to birth control has done to its standing in America.
Where is the indigenous highbrow Christian culture of the United States? It won't come back until someone establishes a religion whose values are aligned with contemporary culture.