There’s No War on Religion—Yet

May 20, 2021 | Ross Douthat
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Last week, the social-media outrage of the moment focused on Elizabeth Bruenig, a left-wing and devoutly Catholic New York Times columnist who wrote an article discussing her satisfaction with her own decision to have a child at the relatively young age of twenty-five. Examining the angry reaction at Bruenig’s benign personal essay, Ross Douthat reflects on what it says about the growing suspicion—and sometimes outright hostility—toward religion among certain segments of the highly educated elite:

Under current circumstances there are social and professional costs for the public expression or endorsement of a few particularly unpopular, understood-as-bigoted teachings that are common to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. But those same costs don’t apply to practicing and participating in those traditions, even in their more conservative expressions. Whereas under the emergent, new-progressive circumstances, . . . the costs would increasingly apply more broadly: thus simply to attend Mass, even under the auspices of a liberal Catholic chaplaincy, would become an act of association with bigotry.

But I think it isn’t a coincidence that so many readers (or at least Twitterers) took an essay written by a Catholic woman that conspicuously did not champion specifically Catholic ideas about family and marriage, but merely described a way of being in the world that’s clearly influenced by the author’s faith, and read into it some sort of . . . chauvinism against other women’s choices. I think that kind of reading-into is an expression of the [a] tendency . . . in which you are judged by the progressive reading of your faith tradition’s doctrines, their unacceptable conservatism or misogyny or patriarchy, rather than anything you yourself have explicitly said or done.

Thus a lot of anti-Bruenigism boils down, basically, to this: You say you’re just describing your own experience, but you’re a practicing Catholic so we know what you really think—about this and everything else—and we’re going to punish you for that.

Except that at this point Bruenig’s punishment is—being offered a job at the Atlantic. . . . So whatever is happening around her on the Internet is not the dominant force in elite liberalism as yet. But can trends on Twitter or in the academic hothouse suddenly stage a larger takeover? Yes, we know they can. So does the tendency bear watching? Yes, I think it does.

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