Regnerus, “Cheap Sex”

9780190673611We’re a little late getting to this, but a few months ago Oxford published a new book by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, which has received a lot of attention. Regnerus addresses millennials’ apparent lack of interest in marriage and family and says much of the problem (if it is a problem) results from the fact that sex has become more accessible and less costly, and not only in monetary terms. As religious scruples fade, the spiritual costs of easy sex decrease as well — and when the cost of something goes down, more people decide they can afford it. In fact, Regnerus argues, for some people sex may take the place of traditional religion, offering a substitute, though ultimately dissatisfying, path to the transcendent. There are interesting gender dynamics, too. Regnerus, a conservative, points out that a regime of cheap sex favors men more than women–another irony of the sexual revolution, which was supposed to lead to greater equality between the sexes. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

Sex is cheap. Coupled sexual activity has become more widely available than ever. Cheap sex has been made possible by two technologies that have little to do with each other – the Pill and high-quality pornography – and its distribution made more efficient by a third technological innovation, online dating. Together, they drive down the cost of real sex, and in turn slow the development of love, make fidelity more challenging, sexual malleability more common, and have even taken a toll on men’s marriageability.

Cheap Sex takes readers on an extended tour inside the American mating market, and highlights key patterns that characterize young adults’ experience today, including the timing of first sex in relationships, overlapping partners, frustrating returns on their relational investments, and a failure to link future goals like marriage with how they navigate their current relationships. Drawing upon several large nationally-representative surveys, in-person interviews with 100 men and women, and the assertions of scholars ranging from evolutionary psychologists to gender theorists, what emerges is a story about social change, technological breakthroughs, and unintended consequences. Men and women have not fundamentally changed, but their unions have. No longer playing a supporting role in relationships, sex has emerged as a central priority in relationship development and continuation. But unravel the layers, and it is obvious that the emergence of “industrial sex” is far more a reflection of men’s interests than women’s.

Hudnut-Beumler, “Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table”

9781469640372While on a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina — home of the Billy Graham Library — I attended Sunday Liturgy at St. Sarkis Armenian Church, founded about a dozen years ago. St. Sarkis is not the only Orthodox Church in Charlotte. There is a Coptic church, at least two Greek Orthodox churches, a couple of Russian Orthodox churches, a couple of Ethiopian Orthodox churches, and at least one Syriac church. The point is that if one thinks of Southern  Christianity as strictly Evangelical, one is making a mistake — though I should point out, in the interests of full disclosure, that the line of cars outside the Evangelical church a couple blocks away was a lot longer than the one at St. Sarkis!

A new study from the University of North Carolina Press, Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table: Contemporary Christianities in the American South, by Vanderbilt University historian James Hudnut-Beumler, describes the Christianities of the New South. Looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this fresh and fascinating chronicle of Christianity in the contemporary South, historian and minister James Hudnut-Beumler draws on extensive interviews and his own personal journeys throughout the region over the past decade to present a comprehensive portrait of the South’s long-dominant religion. Hudnut-Beumler traveled to both rural and urban communities, listening to the faithful talk about their lives and beliefs. What he heard pushes hard against prevailing notions of southern Christianity as an evangelical Protestant monolith so predominant as to be unremarkable.

True, outside of a few spots, no non-Christian group forms more than six-tenths of one percent of a state’s population in what Hudnut-Beumler calls the Now South. Drilling deeper, however, he discovers an unexpected, blossoming diversity in theology, practice, and outlook among southern Christians. He finds, alongside traditional Baptists, black and white, growing numbers of Christians exemplifying changes that no one could have predicted even just forty years ago, from congregations of LGBT-supportive evangelicals and Spanish-language church services to a Christian homeschooling movement so robust in some places that it may rival public education in terms of acceptance. He also finds sharp struggles and political divisions among those trying to reconcile such Christian values as morality and forgiveness—the aftermath of the mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church in 2015 forming just one example. This book makes clear that understanding the twenty-first-century South means recognizing many kinds of southern Christianities.

White, “Other Worlds”

9780674984295-lgSpiritualism, the belief that the living can communicate with the dead, goes back a long way in America. The nineteenth-century Transcendentalists dabbled in it, some of them, and Mrs. Lincoln conducted seances in the White House. A new book from Harvard University Press, Other Worlds: Spirituality and the Search for Invisible Dimensions, by Vassar College religion professor Christopher White, suggests spiritualism may be coming back, re-enforced by new scientific theories about the multiverse. These theories, he argues, make spiritualism more plausible. Which makes me wonder, actually: how many of the growing number of American Nones are spiritualists? Anyway, here is the description from the Harvard website:

What do modern multiverse theories and spiritualist séances have in common? Not much, it would seem. One is an elaborate scientific theory developed by the world’s most talented physicists. The other is a spiritual practice widely thought of as backward, the product of a mystical world view fading under the modern scientific gaze.

But Christopher G. White sees striking similarities. He does not claim that séances or other spiritual practices are science. Yet he points to ways that both spiritual practices and scientific speculation about multiverses and invisible dimensions are efforts to peer into the hidden elements and even the existential meaning of the universe. Other Worlds examines how the idea that the universe has multiple, invisible dimensions has inspired science fiction, fantasy novels, films, modern art, and all manner of spiritual thought reaching well beyond the realm of formal religion. Drawing on a range of international archives, White analyzes how writers, artists, filmmakers, televangelists, and others have used the scientific idea of invisible dimensions to make supernatural phenomena such as ghosts and miracles seem more reasonable and make spiritual beliefs possible again for themselves and others.

Many regard scientific ideas as disenchanting and secularizing, but Other Worlds shows that these ideas—creatively appropriated in such popular forms as C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the art of Salvador Dalí, or the books of the counterculture physicist “Dr. Quantum”—restore a sense that the world is greater than anything our eyes can see, helping to forge an unexpected kind of spirituality.

Ecklund & Scheitle, “Religion vs. Science”

9780190650629Here is an interesting-looking contribution from Oxford University Press to the sociology of religion in the United States: Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund (Rice University) and Christopher P. Scheitle (West Virginia University). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the authors conclude, after a five-year study, that media portrayals of an anti-science bias on the part of religious Americans are simplistic. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

At the end of a five-year journey to find out what religious Americans think about science, Ecklund and Scheitle emerge with the real story of the relationship between science and religion in American culture. Based on the most comprehensive survey ever done-representing a range of religious traditions and faith positions-Religion vs. Science is a story that is more nuanced and complex than the media and pundits would lead us to believe.

The way religious Americans approach science is shaped by two fundamental questions: What does science mean for the existence and activity of God? What does science mean for the sacredness of humanity? How these questions play out as individual believers think about science both challenges stereotypes and highlights the real tensions between religion and science. Ecklund and Scheitle interrogate the widespread myths that religious people dislike science and scientists and deny scientific theories.

Religion vs. Science is a definitive statement on a timely, popular subject. Rather than a highly conceptual approach to historical debates, philosophies, or personal opinions, Ecklund and Scheitle give readers a facts-on-the-ground, empirical look at what religious Americans really understand and think about science.

Denysenko, “Theology and Form”

P03253As readers of this blog know, our center is in the midst of the Tradition Project, a multi-year research initiative on the continuing role of tradition in politics, law, and culture. One of the project’s themes is how traditional religious communities adapt to American liberalism. The religions change, of course–a strong pressure exists to reform along Protestant lines–yet they also remain, in some respects, the same. A new book from the University of Notre Dame Press, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, by Loyola Marymount University professor Nicholas Denysenko, examines how Orthodox parishes adapt traditional architectural forms in the new world, and how the adaptations influence liturgy and parish identity. Looks fascinating. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

How do space and architecture shape liturgical celebrations within a parish? In Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, Nicholas Denysenko profiles seven contemporary Eastern Orthodox communities in the United States and analyzes how their ecclesiastical identities are affected by their physical space and architecture. He begins with an overview of the Orthodox architectural heritage and its relation to liturgy and ecclesiology, including topics such as stational liturgy, mobility of the assembly, the symbiosis between celebrants and assembly, placement of musicians, and festal processions representative of the Orthodox liturgy. Chapters 2–7 present comparative case studies of seven Orthodox parishes. Some of these have purchased their property and built new edifices; Denysenko analyzes how contemporary architecture makes use of sacred space and engages visitors. Others are mission parishes that purchased existing properties and buildings, posing challenges for and limitations of their liturgical practices. The book concludes with a reflection on how these parish examples might contribute to the future trajectory of Orthodox architecture in America and its dialogical relationship with liturgy and ecclesial identity.

Nicolaou, “A None’s Story”

The rise of the Nones has been the most remarked upon development in American religion since the turn of this century. A recent book from Columbia University Press, A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam, by author Corinna Nicolaou, is an insider’s depiction of what it’s like to follow the Nones’ path–or, perhaps, it’s better to write, a None’s path. The publisher’s description follows:

9780231173957The rising population known as “nones” for its members’ lack of religious affiliation is changing American society, politics, and culture. Many nones believe in God and even visit places of worship, but they do not identify with a specific faith or belong to a spiritual community. Corinna Nicolaou is a none, and in this layered narrative, she describes what it is like for her and thousands of others to live without religion or to be spiritual without committing to a specific faith.

Nicolaou tours America’s major traditional religions to see what, if anything, one might lack without God. She moves through Christianity’s denominations, learning their tenets and worshiping alongside their followers. She travels to Los Angeles to immerse herself in Judaism, Berkeley to educate herself about Buddhism, and Dallas and Washington, D.C., to familiarize herself with Islam. She explores what light they can shed on the fears and failings of her past, and these encounters prove the significant role religion still plays in modern life. They also exemplify the vibrant relationship between religion and American culture and the enduring value it provides to immigrants and outsiders. Though she remains a devout none, Nicolaou’s experiences reveal points of contact between the religious and the unaffiliated, suggesting that nones may be radically revising the practice of faith in contemporary times.

 

 

Wilkinson, “All Falling Faiths”

The Sixties won the Culture Wars. Or, perhaps it’s better to say, the Sixties are winning; Culture Wars never really end. That Sixties culture dominates America today is obvious, and many celebrate that fact. Some aspects of Sixties culture in fact are worthy of celebration. But not all, and not everybody is celebrating. Earlier year, Encounter Books published an assessment of the Sixties by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, All Falling Faiths: Reflections on the Promise and Failure of the 1960s. Here’s the publisher’s description:

all-falling-faithsIn this warm and intimate memoir Judge Wilkinson delivers a chilling message. The 1960s inflicted enormous damage on our country; even at this very hour we see the decade’s imprint in so much of what we say and do. The chapters reveal the harm done to the true meaning of education, to our capacity for lasting personal commitments, to our respect for the rule of law, to our sense of rootedness and home, to our desire for service, to our capacity for national unity, to our need for the sustenance of faith. Judge Wilkinson does not seek to lecture but to share in the most personal sense what life was like in the 1960s, and to describe the influence of those frighteningly eventful years upon the present day.

Judge Wilkinson acknowledges the good things accomplished by the Sixties and nourishes the belief that we can learn from that decade ways to build a better future. But he asks his own generation to recognize its youthful mistakes and pleads with future generations not to repeat them. The author’s voice is one of love and hope for America. But our national prospects depend on facing honestly the full magnitude of all we lost during one momentous decade and of all we must now recover.

Conversations: Rod Dreher

rod-dreher

Rod Dreher is a prolific journalist and author, and a senior editor at The American Conservative. He comments regularly on American culture, politics, and religion, and has written three widely-discussed books: Crunchy Cons (2006), The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (2013), and The Benedict Option (2017). His blog at The American Conservative gets about a million page views a month and draws followers from the left and the right. As a recent New Yorker profile explains, Rod has such a wide readership because he covers a wealth of interesting topics, in depth, and with valuable insight: “Because Dreher is at once spiritually and intellectually restless, [his] blog has become a destination for the ideologically bi-curious.”

Recently, Rod, who is a participant in our Tradition Project, agreed to answer some questions about his new, best-selling book, The Benedict OptionThe book argues that traditional Christians need to return to older, more intentional ways of living in order to thrive in a post-Christian culture. In our wide-ranging interview, Rod talks about why he thinks the Benedict Option is so necessary and why it isn’t just for monks and hermits. He discusses examples like classical Christian schooling and Christian centers at secular universities. He addresses the paradox of traditionalism in contemporary life, responds to progressive criticism, and explains the danger that “Technological Man” poses for traditional Christianity.

Movsesian: Rod, let’s begin by summarizing the main theme of your book. As I understand it, you argue that traditionalist, small-o orthodox Christians need to repurpose older, intentional ways of Christian living for our contemporary age. To take the “Benedict Option” means to establish tighter networks, communities, and institutions that will allow American Christians to survive in our post-Christian culture. Is that about right? Why do you think this option is necessary for American Christians today?

Dreher: Yes, that’s it. This is necessary because of the nature of postmodern culture, more on which in a second. In the book, I talk about a couple of social facts that so far, few if any critics have addressed head on. First is the fact that enormous numbers of Americans are leaving institutional Christianity. This has been shown repeatedly in recent years by reputable social scientists. In fact, back in 2010, Robert Putnam of Harvard and Notre Dame’s David E. Campbell said that if it weren’t for the heavy influx of Latino immigrants, the US Catholic Church would be hemorrhaging adherents at the same rate as Mainline Protestant churches. The numbers are not getting better for any of us. Last year, Mark Chaves and David Voas, two of the top sociologists of religion, published a paper analyzing social science data from the last decade or so, and concluding that the US is no longer a counterexample to the “secularization thesis” – that is, the idea that as modernity progresses, religion withers. It’s not true elsewhere in the world, but it was true in the West, with the notable exception of America. But we are now finally on the same steady downward slide that Europe pioneered.

And overwhelming numbers of young adults who still identify as Christians hold a nominal faith that has only scant connection to historic Christian orthodoxy. Their true faith is something the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith calls “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” – basically a shallow, self-centered, feel-good, emotion-driven faith that’s all about being nice and feeling happy with oneself. Smith and his colleagues do their survey work on Millennials, but he has said he is confident that quite a few older American Christians hold the same vapid faith. I concur.

The point is that American Christianity is so shallowly rooted that it will not be able to withstand the strong currents of post-Christian culture. Anecdotally, in my travels around the country, especially to Christian colleges, I am hearing the same thing. One Evangelical professor at a conservative Christian college told me that these kids are all nice and big-hearted, but they come to college knowing next to nothing about Christianity, with no formation at all. The main problem is not these kids, but their parents, their churches, and their Christian schools. Few people want to face the reality of this spiritual and cultural crisis, and to make the kinds of radical changes that are going to be necessary if the faith is going to survive into the coming generations.

American Christians simply cannot imagine that the faith might not be here for their descendants. The history of Europe in the 20th century, especially after the Second World War, ought to disabuse them of that fallacy. I was quite taken by a 2015 book by the historian Edward J. Watts, titled “The Final Pagan Generation.” It’s a short history of Roman elites born just before Constantine’s conversion in the fourth century. They lived through the collapse of paganism, which had been the religion of the Empire for many centuries. It all happened in a single century. Watts shows that these men – intelligent, cultured men – had no idea what was happening around them. They could not imagine that the world that formed them could dissolve so quickly. But it happened. I think it’s happening to us Christians today.

Movsesian: Of course, to call it the “Benedict Option” is to conjure up an image of a monastic retreat from the world—something suggested, as well, by the book’s cover photo of Mount St. Michel. And some Christian critics have taken to you task for that. But that isn’t quite what you mean, is it? You’re not calling on all Christians to live as monastics. Could you explain? Is the Benedict Option only for spiritual virtuosos? What about regular people who live in the world but would like a deeper Christian life?

Dreher: No, I’m not at all encouraging Christians to run for the hills and live like monks. Rather, I’m saying that all of us believers have to live lives of much greater spiritual discipline, with much thicker ties to our local churches and Christian communities. If we don’t, we are not going to make it as Christians through this Dark Age upon us. That’s not just an anxious American journalist saying this; Father Cassian Folsom, the former prior of the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, the saint’s hometown, told me exactly that when I first met him several years ago. This is not a game.

I call this project the Benedict Option after the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s famous final paragraph in “After Virtue,” in which he recalled the example of St. Benedict, leaving the ruins of imperial Rome to found a monastic order. MacIntyre said that today, we await “a new – and doubtless very different – St. Benedict” to help those who wish to live out the traditional virtues create resilient communities capable of doing this amid the chaos and barbarism of our own time. In my book, I ask what would a new and very different St. Benedict look like today? What would he tell us?

We lay Christians – Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox – have a lot to learn from the Benedictine tradition. In the book, I talk about certain ways of thinking and living that the Benedictines have from the early sixth century Rule of St. Benedict that we can Continue reading

Dreher, “The Benedict Option”

Rod Dreher is one of the most interesting and prolific writers on religion and culture in America today. He’s also a participant in the Tradition Project, our center’s multi-year program on the continuing value of received wisdom for law, politics, and culture. He’s out with a new best seller, The Benedict Option, on the need for contemporary Christians to adapt, to present circumstances, an older model of intentional Christian living. He argues that adapting this older model will be necessary for Christian communities to survive in a post-Christian age.

We’re hoping to interview Rod about his book in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a description from the Penguin Random House website:

Broyde, “Sharia Tribunals, Rabbinical Courts, and Christian Panels”

In June, the Oxford University Press will release “Sharia Tribunals, Rabbinical Courts, and Christian Panels: Religious Arbitration in America and the West,” by Michael Broyde (Emory University).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book explores the rise of private arbitration in religious and other values-oriented communities, and it argues that secular societies should use secular legal 9780190640286.jpgframeworks to facilitate, enforce, and also regulate religious arbitration. It covers the history of religious arbitration; the kinds of faith-based dispute resolution models currently in use; how the law should perceive them; and what the role of religious arbitration in the United States should be. Part One examines why religious individuals and communities are increasingly turning to private faith-based dispute resolution to arbitrate their litigious disputes. It focuses on why religious communities feel disenfranchised from secular law, and particularly secular family law. Part Two looks at why American law is so comfortable with faith-based arbitration, given its penchant for enabling parties to order their relationships and resolve their disputes using norms and values that are often different from and sometimes opposed to secular standards. Part Three weighs the proper procedural, jurisdictional, and contractual limits of arbitration generally, and of religious arbitration particularly. It identifies and explains the reasonable limitations on religious arbitration. Part Four examines whether secular societies should facilitate effective, legally enforceable religious dispute resolution, and it argues that religious arbitration is not only good for the religious community itself, but that having many different avenues for faith-based arbitration which are properly limited is good for any vibrant pluralistic democracy inhabited by diverse faith groups.

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