Rod Dreher has been blogging from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, where today Alan Wolfe and James Davison Hunter debated whether there really is a culture war. At one point the discussion veered close to one of my pet theories: that it's conservatives and fundamentalists, not liberals and modernists, who are the real pioneers of ecumenicalism. Writes Dreher:
Wolfe says the most important insight from Hunter's work is that in recent times, conservatives within each religious tradition (Catholics, Protestants, Jews) found they had more in common with each other than [with] liberals of their own traditions.
Alas: Wolfe then throws some sand in the gears by predicting "a return to traditional religious divisions." I'm not persuaded by the evidence he offers, but of course I'm just reading a summary of what he said.
Dreher also links to a good column by the Los Angeles Times's Tim Rutten:
So far, "The Da Vinci Code" has sold 60.5 million copies, 21.7 million of them in the United States. We're frequently reminded that America is the most religious country in the developed world, with churchgoing rates unrecorded in any other Western nation for decades. Moreover, militantly assertive Christianity has become a political force demanding to be heard from the corridors of the Capitol to the local school board.
So, who's buying this book? Are there really that many secular humanists who don't care whether their prose has pronouns with antecedents?
Actually, the attitudes that make Americans so "religious" are the same ones that have made them such a ready market for the "Da Vinci" flimflam. This country is suffused with religious sentiments and impulses, but Americans are abysmally—even willfully—short on religious knowledge. All the periodic hand-wringing over this country's crisis of faith or creeping secularism notwithstanding, the problem with Americans is not that they don't believe anything; it's that so many think they can believe anything—and that believing one thing doesn't preclude belief in another….In such an inner landscape, why not entertain the possibility that Jesus scored? After all, it could have happened….
Brown's claims for his book and, by extension, the film adaptation belong to a strong new current in American life—the culture of assertion, which increasingly pushes logical argument out of our public conversation. According to this schema, things are true because I believe they are true and you have to respect that, because it's what I believe. Thus, the same sensibility most likely to take offense at this film—that of the religious assertionists—is the same one that makes things like creationism an issue in our schools and the demands of biblical literalism a force in our politics. Brown and his foolishness are, in fact, a part of this same culture of assertion and not of some wider secular one.
Elsewhere in Reason: Tim Cavanaugh wrote about The Da Vinci Code here, and I tackled it here. I looked into another sort of religious ecumenicalism here. Cathy Young takes on the culture of assertion here.