In her newest book, Mary Eberstadt reveals why It’s Dangerous to Believe.
The full title of her newest book reveals almost all of Mary Eberstadt’s argument: It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies. It is now dangerous to believe (and here, we are primarily talking about Christians) because we live in a society where the enemies of Christianity (here, anti-Christian secularists) want to destroy the religious freedom that used to be guaranteed by the First Amendment. Digging into the pages, one discovers this additional aspect: the secular enemies are not really secular; they constitute a new species of aggressive religion.
This is not a new argument—for example, see my Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion—but it is a very important one to have ever before the public eye. What’s new in Eberstadt’s book are the parallels she draws between the motives and tactics of the secularists, and the Salem Witch Trials, the expunging of religious heretics, McCarthyism, and the Inquisition.
So, to take her argument step by step, we need first to understand what kind of a religion secularism is. What does it worship, which is to say, what is at the core of its worldview? The uninhibited libido. Secularism worships sexual desire released from any and every restraint, especially those restraints that defined the moral universe according to Christianity.
That is why the advent of the Birth Control Pill is at the historical center of secularism’s religious timeline, according to Eberstadt. The Pill allowed full sexual freedom from the natural consequences of sexual activity, something that had never before happened in all human history. But this chemical release from the natural consequences of human sexual activity—no pregnancy, no inconvenient strings attached that pushed one toward marriage—meant that there remained only moral consequences. These moral barriers had to be removed to bring about the full sexual revolution envisioned by the secular “progressives.”
That is the real source of secularism’s deep and abiding hatred of Christianity, because it is Christianity that gave the world the restrictive moral (and hence legal) prohibitions against all sexual expressions outside of male-female permanent and sexually exclusive monogamy. Thus Christianity declares no sex before marriage, no sex outside of marriage, no sex that isn’t defined by the male-female procreative marital template—i.e., no premarital sex, no extramarital sex, no same-sex sex, no pornography, no pedophilia.
The secular revolution rebels against Christianity’s “no.” It is, therefore, primarily a sexual revolution, but one that is fueled by frantically passionate desire to destroy the sexual restraints defined by Christianity. As Eberstadt says, “If the fury directed at them [i.e., religious believers]…could be pressed into a single word…that single word would be sex. Christianity present, like Christianity past and Christianity to come, contends with many foes and countervailing forces. But its single most powerful enemy now…is the sexual revolution—and the current absolutist defense of that revolution by its adherents and beneficiaries.”
But the secular zeal for sexual freedom not only fundamentally opposes Christianity; it coopts the natural religious passion to serve its own goal of sexual liberation. It thereby becomes a counter-religion, and a very dangerous one at that—especially if you are a Christian—because secularism’s religious zeal makes it an enemy of religious freedom.
“This substitute religion mimics Christianity itself in many ways,” notes Eberstadt. “It offers a hagiography of secular saints, for example, all of them patrons of the [sexual] revolution: proselytizers for abortion and contraception, like Margaret Sanger and Helen Gurley Brown and Gloria Steinem;…” It also has its own “missionaries,” who are “representatives within progressive charities and international bureaucracies—those who carry word of the [sexual] revolution, and the sacraments of contraception and abortion, to women in poorer countries around the world.”
The “righteous” zeal of the sexual revolutionaries is, more and more, expressed in what Eberstadt calls “Secularist Witch Hunts.” Being branded a “homophobe” is the equivalent of being branded a “witch,” a charge against which there is no defense but admission of guilt and acceptance of punishment—for example, the forcing of Mozilla CEO Brandan Eich to step down because he had supported California’s Proposition 8, in defense of heterosexual marriage,
All the secularist’s puffery of “tolerance” and “diversity” masks the truth that there is one orthodoxy allowed, and that is complete affirmation of the sexual revolution. Any deviation is shouted down and outed as heresy—unthinkable and unspeakable. Instead of work toward actual diversity and real debate, Eberstadt argues, the secularists engage in continual “Hounding of the Heretics.” They scream; believers listen in cowed silence. This hounding is just as zealous and thorough as McCarthyism was in rooting out communism.
When secularism finds anyone who dares express any contrary opinion, dares to question the sexual revolutions fundamental articles of faith, he or she will meet with the secular equivalent of the Inquisition, which (in contrast to the original) has no rules governing its inquiry but the establishment of guilt. A sign that the secularist cares for nothing but the enforced acceptance as orthodoxy of the liberal sexual agenda, is that the secular revolutionaries are quite happy to shut down Christian charities that hold to Christian doctrine, and serve the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, the orphaned, and the refugee. Thus, the ACLU sues the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or Obama goes after the Little Sisters of the Poor—all because they won’t bend to the sexual revolution’s demand for contraception and abortion.
And so, as the secular progressives gain more and more power through the courts and Washington’s endless executive bureaucracies, it becomes more and more dangerous to believe. What is to be done? For Eberstadt, believers must fight with renewed zeal to protect the religious liberties that once were—but are no longer—protected by the First Amendment.
And on a deeper level than the endlessly litigious, we need to foster a culture in which people are “willing to let reason trump pressure and vengeance. In the decades to come, the fate of faithful Western Christians…will depend not only on lawyers and courts. It will also hang on whether the people who disagree with them elect to do the right thing by listening to what they have to say, and acknowledging their American right to say it.”
We have some hope that the secular-minded can be moved in this direction, says Eberstadt, if we remind them of their own cherished principles. They have held that tolerance was indeed a preeminent virtue—they just need to extend it to Christians as well. They have stressed the fostering of real diversity—they just need to include real Christians too. If the secular progressives will do these things, they really will be progressive, and it won’t be quite as dangerous for Christians to believe.