This is the second in an ongoing series of Salmagundi symposia, each built around a recent essay provocative enough to stir a conversation and to open up further questions. In this case, the initiating article is an April 10, 2021 op-ed—“Can The Meritocracy Find God?”– by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.
Douthat argues that “the secularization of America probably won’t reverse unless the intelligentsia gets religion,” and his essay is informed by the conviction that secularization is a bad thing. “Fewer than half of Americans claim membership in a church, synagogue or mosque,” he writes, and the statistics supporting this conclusion reflect the “limited influence” of religion in our public life and “its subordinate position to other personal affiliations,” whether to ethnic identity or other varieties of “partisanship.”
For Douthat, secularization “means that people who would once have become priests or ministers or rabbis become psychologists or social workers or professors,” and he can’t help wondering “what it would take” for the “knowledge-workers” in our society to come around to religion? One big problem, as he sees it, is that “the American educated class is deeply committed to a moral vision that regards emancipated, self-directed choice as essential to human freedom and the good life.” A second problem is “the meritocracy’s anti-supernaturalism,” its sense that strong religious belief is “anti-rational,” miracles a reflection of “superstition.” It’s hard, he argues, for such people “to get up early to perform rituals or recite creeds whose claims they can’t actually believe.”
As we said in the Preface to the first of these symposia in our spring-summer issue, “The response pieces we’ve assembled….suggest that this is not a debate apt to be resolved any time soon.”
— The Editors