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Rod Dreher, late of this site, put in an appearance yesterday in his old newspaper by way of a review essay on Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s hot new book, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us. (Curiously, Dreher is identified only as a former Dallas Morning News columnist, with no mention of his current[?] position as director of publications at the Templeton Foundation.)
The essay focuses on the book’s central argument that Americans are way more tolerant of each others’ religions than they used to be. This is the occasion for Dreher at once to applaud the boon that such mutual acceptance constitutes for civil society and to lament the softening of orthodox religious belief that accompanies it. Most Americans think that there are many ways to heaven, and he doesn’t like it. By contrast, orthodox Christians and Muslims (for example)
may agree that both religions are worthy of
respect and tolerance, but they will insist that is not the same thing
as being equally true. To assert that both faiths could be equally true
is to radically diminish the truth claims of both, and therefore the
power of each faith to hold on to its believers. Few people will live or
die for a principle that they consider merely one opinion among many
equally truthful ones.
Why is this a bad thing? Dreher doesn’t quite come out and say so, but makes sufficiently clear that it’s because a decline in orthodoxy means a decline in religion generally–as evidenced by the rise of the Nones (the no-religion set). His case for orthodoxy is thus not about increasing the quantum of truth in the world, but about keeping the overall level of religiosity up–which seems like just another argument for good old American “religion in general.”
If you were interested solely in religious truth, wouldn’t you want your team to be as orthodox as hell and everyone else to be disinclined to live and die for theirs?
Update: For those of you interested in the whereabouts of Rod Dreher, he has informed me that he still works at Templeton but will not resume his blogging on its website. “It has been determined by senior management that blogging is incommensurate with my duties as JTF director of publications,” he writes. It’s a mystery to me why you’d hire a prominent writer and tell him to put down his pen, but then, I’ve never been very good at fathoming the minds of bosses.