Mary Eberstadt is a master of analogy.
In her masterful work Adam and Eve After the Pill, she compared the Sexual Revolution to communism, an ideology that hasn’t so much as failed, don’t you know, as one that simply needs one more good try. Neither empirical evidence, nor high body count, will convince true believers that the experiment has failed.
She is also brave. Though she takes no joy in touching various third rails, she grabs them nonetheless. Adam and Eve gutted contraception, something Americans love more than the Super Bowl.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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More than a decade ago, two explosive articles in the Weekly Standard exposed what she called “Pedophilia Chic”—she can also turn a phrase—on how mainstream advertising and gay literature celebrate sex with minors.
In Home Alone America she took on working motherhood. Mary’s husband, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, met her when she was writing speeches for then Secretary of State George Shultz. She put that burgeoning career on hold to raise several remarkable children and only then did she begin to crank out her remarkable oeuvre. Home Alone explains how right that decision would be for other women, too.
She is also counterintuitive.
In How the West Really Lost God, she proposed that religion declines as a result of family decline and not the other way around. She argued convincingly that faith is found in healthy families and lost in deracinated ones. Parents’ thoughts turn to God the more those little souls begin to bear in on them. Indeed, it is from largish families that priestly vocations are born.
Eberstadt is all these things and more in her new book It’s Dangerous to Believe out June 21 from Harper Collins. Subtitled “Religious Freedom and Its Enemies,” the book shows how Christians believe we are this close to priest holes and persecution and how gleefully our persecutors are flicking the whip hand.
She opens with a question believers increasingly ask each other: “Where shall we go?” You’ve heard this; perhaps you’ve asked it.
You may have cut the cable, stopped the daily paper, taken down any religious symbols from your office, accepted the rainbow decal on your office door, stopped talking politics with anyone—certainly at the office—yet they keep on coming. And they are coming for our kids. “Where shall we go?”
They have chased us out of the public square and now they are coming into our homes and businesses and putting some of us in jail for disagreeing with their project. One wonders if our persecutors know if we talk like this. No doubt they will mock the question as whining. Without a doubt, they believe we deserve it after all the long decades we supposedly persecuted them.
Eberstadt is certainly right; not long ago conservative believers had a place at the table in Washington, DC. There was a time in the 1980s and ’90s when “Protestant evangelical media expanded via Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and other shows on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN); Catholics founded their own Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN); Republican administrations made room for and encouraged the rise of influential groups like the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family and others. For a while there in the 1950s, and again in the 1980s and beyond, traditionalist Christians had momentum on their side.”
She says that world is no more and it became so lickety-split. She says, “…the idea that Christian traditionalism menaces and encircles secular minorities is preposterous—as antiquated as decrying fluoride in the water supply, or motorized travel. Exactly a decade after the new atheists declared the Bible Belt to be the epicenter of American power, cultural political reality is 180 degrees reversed.”
The fight that started long ago with at least some Enlightenment thinkers and has continued almost unabated since then has been to supplant orthodox religion, especially Catholicism, in the service of sexual freedom. The family is the prison where sexual pleasure goes to die and religion is one of the jailers.
She argues we are not up against secularism but rather an alternative orthodoxy, a new religion competing directly with Christianity, one with its own body of beliefs, revealed and developed truths, a hagiography of secular saints like Margaret Sanger, Helen Gurley Brown, and Gloria Steinem, crypto-scholastics like Alfred Kinsey and Margaret Mead, quasi-monastic ascetics like the “grim public priestesses” of NARAL, Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List, and even martyrs like Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepherd. They even have foreign missionaries, the international bureaucrats peddling what Pope Francis calls “ideological colonialism.”
She says this new faith seeks to silence or destroy anyone who may oppose the new orthodoxy and that is what we are seeing today: Brendan Eich chased out of Mozilla, the baker, the photographer, the wedding planner all harassed and prosecuted for refusing gay weddings. Kim Davis in jail.
She points out the special place that homosexual sex has in this new pantheon. Those who oppose contraception are not called “contracepto-phobes.” Those who oppose abortion are not called “aborto-phobes.” We are not “divorce-phobes” or “bestiality-phobes” or anything else except “homophobes” and “transphobes.”
In the most interesting part of the book, Eberstadt compares what is happening today to other periods of public panic: the panic over sexual child abuse in day care centers a few decades ago, and the Salem witch trials. Otherwise normal folks and elites quite lost their minds over perceived evil happening in their midst. In the Salem witch trials, people were executed. In the day care cases, people went to jail for crimes that were no more than fanciful imaginings of children, coaxed out of them by parents and “mental health professionals.”
In what I first thought was the weakest part of the book, Eberstadt argues for a way out of this current crisis. I thought it the weakest part because it is an argument that relies on the tormentors to simply stop, to come to their senses.
It was a few brave souls who spoke up and eventually ended the madness of the witch burnings. It was a brave journalist, Dorothy Rabinowitz along with one mental health professional, Paul McHugh, who stood up and managed to stop the persecution of day care workers. She is counting on the same thing happening in the current crisis.
Eberstadt says, “Momentum for change has to come from the other side.” She says they should stop using conversation stoppers like “homophobe” and “hater.” She says, “People outside the ranks of believers might also lean toward civility by trying to understand where their religious neighbors are coming from.” She says, “The intimidation of traditionalists…needs to stop…”
Eberstadt hopes that the growing social science disputing the sunny uplands of the Sexual Revolution should begin to convince the Torquemada’s of the other side. Further, she thinks, the victims—the ever mounting victims and those living counter-culturally—can convince them, too.
I first thought this final call was the weakest part of the book because it is a call for such passivity on our part. We are supposed to sit and wait for them to come to their senses. While we pack our bags for God-knows-where, all we can hope is for them to change their minds?
Eberstadt does not tell us what to do except to wait. However, after a second reading, I came to realize that Mary is not talking to us. She is talking to them, and she makes a case that true liberals should know that what is happening now is profoundly illiberal. She hopes that a few of them will wake up and stop the madness.
Here is the problem. Eberstadt describes the new religious orthodoxy we are up against. I have argued the same and gone further for I say there is a New God, one who is both jealous and angry, but he is also a New State God, backed by the power and might of our federal government and all the power centers of our day. On the other hand, the Salem witch trials were not about a new competing religious system. It was an argument among those who basically believed the same things.
It is an exponentially different and more dangerous thing to compete against an entirely new state religion. The body count has to grow ever higher before it is even remotely possible for liberals to begin to question the New State God and become liberal again.
It is important that her book is being published by Harper Collins. It means at least some liberals will read it. I hope they will listen.
While I am not yet packing my bags, neither am I holding my breath.