The Common Good

Q Conference - Ross Douthat: A Conservative in the Belly of the 'Beast'

Just a few years ago, Ross Douthat earned the distinction of becoming the youngest regular columnist the New York Times has ever employed. He also has the unique position of being a conservative Christian in the belly of what some Christians might consider the proverbial “beast.”

Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.
Ross Douthat and Michael Cromartie in conversation at the Q ConferenceTuesday evening. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

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So, how's that going for him?

“It’s been wonderful,” he told Michael Cromartie, Vice President at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, during an onstage interview at the Q Conference in Washington, D.C. Tuesday evening.

The conversation focused on the themes of Douthat’s new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

Douthat noticed towards the end of the presidency of George W. Bush that much of the media attention around religion focused on the battle between “The New Atheists” and traditional conservative Christians.

But that’s not where Douthat thinks the “real action” is when it comes to religious life in America.

He digs into the history of religion and religious institutions from the last 60 years: mainline Protestant churches as skeletons of what they used to be, Roman Catholic institutions in steady decline, and evangelicals who have stepped in to fill some of the empty space but have reached a cap in their national reach and have failed to build institutions that had the same kind of influence that their Mainline and Catholic predecessors enjoyed.

But, Douthat says, that doesn’t mean necessarily that the United States is becoming a secular nation, as some suggest. In fact, he thinks there is an argument to be made that by some measurements, religiosity might be on the rise. The problem is, in lieu of strong institutions, much of what is filling the space left by the decline of traditional religious institutions is heretical ones. Douthat doesn’t have a problem naming some of the popular heresies today as the prosperity gospel and what he calls “the God within” or a kind of self-help religion (i.e. Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and the like).

Douthat's session ended with a warning for Christians engaging in politics. He told the crowd that the likelihood of your preferred political party or candidate being perfectly in line with the will of God, is pretty low. And, if you don’t find yourself in disagreement with them in some area, you probably aren’t thinking enough about your political positions or the faith that informs them.

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