As an outsider looking in, this article about Christmas by Carolyn Briggs in the New York Times Sunday Style section made me very sad, and very curious, because, “if I were Christian, I would probably…” I guess it’s true that I love the social form and aesthetics of ritual, and these kind of affections still don’t really to compute in Protestant, post-Protestant America, which, it seems, has bit off its own doctrinal tail, perhaps as long ago as the 1960s. Something untoward has happened to the Christian “meme,” memes, if such things can even be said to exist, being something that are supposed to replicate.
On the one hand, the essay details the sad collapse of a family Christmas tradition, and the adult children who have completely disconnected themselves from both the holiday, family custom, not to mention the biblical injunction to “procreate” or, as the critics call it, “breed.” They come off sounding snarky beyond belief. So is it true now that Christendom has been forced by godless secularism into its own American exile? Because what are Christians to do when the religion stops making sense to the next generation? It seems to me that this is not getting figured out. Either the liberal churches are at fault for not making sense of things or there’s something too fundamentally amiss about Christianity and Christendom to ever get right again, that in some basic ways, Christianity and liberalism are today no longer compatible. This may or may not be true, this claim about liberalism, or if you prefer, progressivism, and Christianity. It could be that it is simply how things have always been, the relation between the churched and the un-churched, and that now we can look at the state of things with much greater clarity than perhaps ever before. So maybe that’s a good thing to understand about the state of modern Christianity.
On the other hand, what I find curious about the piece is the grit with which Briggs remains determined not to get mired in resentment, her determination to make things right with her children, on their terms, not hers.
I read this article together with “One Nation Under God?” in the NYT Sunday Review by Molly Worthen, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill. It’s about the erosion of Christian hegemony in the United States. There’s been a lot of ink spilled at the NYT about the political collapse of Evangelical Christians and the difficulties they are having keeping their young. About these kinds of claims I’m not sure what to make. Even if it’s true that the number of non-aligners, those who declare that they have no religion, are now 20% of the U.S. population, that still makes for a pretty overwhelming religious hegemon. I have no statistics upon which to base this bet, but I’m thinking that that, as white racial hegemony begins to erode, American culture will (continue to) reorganize itself on religio-cultural, maybe meaning Christian grounds, maybe something else. I have no idea how. All the Freudians and deconstructionists out there should know that disaffiliation, like any disavowal, is always a tricky thing.