By Jonathon Van Maren
For the last decade or so, those warning of civilizational collapse have been accused of being alarmist. I recently reviewed Rod Dreher’s latest book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, and noted that many still believe that a “silent majority” of Americans are opposed to the radicalism of the Left—that eventually, progressives will “go too far” and that the pendulum will back. I’ve heard that case made by people far more educated and intelligent than myself, and I hope they’re right. But I’d like to share a few reasons that I think it far more likely that Dreher is right, and that Western civilization—not just the United States—is on the brink of a long and dark post-Christian moment.
It is true that most people are still not on board with the radicalism of the transgender movement, for example. But we need to remember that the public education system has been completely colonized by the LGBT movement, and children who spend thirteen years in a state school will emerge transformed. If you are a Christian and send your child to a public school, expect him to lose his views. If public school doesn’t do the trick, college or university might. Essentially, a radical movement has virtually unsupervised access to the majority of the nation’s children for the first, formative years of their lives. And as Abigail Shrier noted in her recent book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, it is changing the views of the population overnight. Progressives play the long game—in ten years, most of these kids will be voting.
Just this month, Politico published an essay explaining how Generation Z (those born after 1996) will change America’s political landscape. This generation is thus far staunchly progressive on a range of issues, but where the future of religious liberty is in doubt is data that indicates “roughly 1 in 4 identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, or ‘genderqueer.’” That number is mindbogglingly high, especially considering the fact that a few years ago, less that 3% of the population identified as LGBT. To put it bluntly, those stats are hard to believe. But as the Daily Mail noted last year, many teens want to identify as anything but straight: As rates of trans kids skyrocket (a “social contagion,” as Dr. Lisa Littman noted), many students are afraid that they are “dumb and boring” if they do not identify as something other than heterosexual.
Additionally, Politico noted that “a third of Gen Zers say they know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to themselves and nearly 6 in 10 say forms or online profiles should allow more options than ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ according to Pew Research Center.” According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, 49% of voting-age Gen Z respondents identified as either agnostic or atheist. The consequences? Politico noted that “Republicans’ idea of religious liberty, particularly as it relates to discrimination against LGBTQ people…’does not at all resonate with younger Americans.’” In other words, young Americans increasingly view religious freedom as overt bigotry, and thus no longer see it as a valid concept. Public educators, university instructors, the media, and the Democrats have all been singing this tune for some time. It’s paying off.
There are other worrisome signs of tectonic shifts, as well. I’ve noted the rise of the “nones”—those who identify with no religious tradition—before. Mary Eberstadt frequently refers to “religious illiteracy,” a population of people who no longer even know what the Bible teaches, or the basic concepts of Christianity. We’re seeing that now with columns on Amy Coney Barrett, with columnists professing shock that Christian schools she was involved with stipulated that staff and students abide by Christian teaching. This should not be news to ostensibly educated people. To most people, these teachings are now simply hateful and intolerant, and there is no reason to accept them. Keep in mind that only 11% of Americans have actually read the entire Bible—which means that 89% have not. Even cultural Christianity is nearly extinct.
Self-professed Christians, too, are buckling on key issues—putting even more pressure on traditionalist Christians (that is, those who hold orthodox positions on matters of life and sexuality) to conform. A recent study found that 40% of Christians in the U.S. claimed that the Bible is “ambiguous” on abortion, for example. Another 34% of self-identified Christians claim that marriage cannot be defined as between one man and one woman, and another 34% stated that abortion is morally acceptable “if it spares the mother from financial or emotional discomfort or hardship.” This lines up with another recent data set reported on by the Christian Post which noted that globally, atheists and religious people have similar views on homosexuality. In Sweden, 93% of the religiously affiliated believe homosexuality is acceptable; in Catholic Italy, 81%; in Canada, 80%; in the Netherlands, 86%; and in the United States, a full 66%. “Approval for homosexuality” has gone up by ten points in the US between 2013 and 2019. In short? Polls indicating high rates of self-identification with religion do not necessarily indicate good news for social conservatives or religious liberty.
I say all of this because I see a lot of unwarranted confidence on the Right at the moment, with predictions of a Trump landslide and a political realignment that could last for a generation. Bluntly, I think that Trump’s inability to forget himself for a single moment will be the reason he loses (if he loses)—he’s a vitriolic firehose flapping about indiscriminately, and nobody knows how to direct him. But even if I’m wrong (and I was last time) and Trump squeaks out another electoral victory, we need to realize that it will be temporary. Unless the upcoming generations magically transform on the fundamental issues social conservatives and Christians care about the most, we will be a minority with very little political power in a very short amount of time. This weird moment in the political sun will not last forever—and probably will not last long.
That is why I believe that Rod Dreher’s thesis in Live Not By Lies should be taken seriously. Those promising a bright American future are simply not looking at the data—and although the judicial firewall Trump has done much work to reinforce will be hugely helpful, progressives are already indicating that they would like to initiate a “reform” of the court system because it “isn’t working.” That, of course, means it isn’t working for them. If they have the power, they will change the system to ensure that it does. And they will have America’s youth at the back, urging them forward, when they do so.