mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Gay Boy Scouts: Individualism Beats Christianism, Again

Last night’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America to admit openly gay youth has at least one of the telling signs of a true compromise: everyone is unhappy with it. Despite the fact that both the Roman Catholics and Mormons threw their weight behind the measure, some religious families are upset and are threatening to leave the organization. As for gay rights activists, many of them are dissatisfied with an arrangement that still forbids gay leaders.

Not being Boy Scouts ourselves, we aren’t going to tell the organization how to manage its affairs. But the BSA’s remarkable transformation is worth noting, if only for what it says about how American society is continuing to evolve.

The trajectory of this evolution has not been obvious to many commentators. Not so very long ago, you couldn’t turn to Andrew Sullivan’s blog without encountering overheated rhetoric about the threat that the religious right (or “Christianists” as some on the left call them in order to compare peaceful Christian conservatives with slavering mobs in other countries) posed to America. Books denouncing the rise of “theoconservatism” flew off the presses, from Damon Linker’s Thecons: Secular America Under Siege to Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America. 

Today things look a lot different. The Boy Scouts have opened their doors to gay youth, gay marriage is winning one legislative victory after another, and public opinion has massively shifted in favor of acceptance of homosexuality.

These developments suggest, as we’ve long argued, that the biggest cultural and political trend in America isn’t the rise of Christianism or theoconservatism; it’s the defeat of all ideologies on both the left and the right that prioritize the community or the group over the individual:

If anything, what we are seeing is the continued triumph of individualism in American life—a force before which both the Christian Right and the Secular Left must bend. The Right sees the advance of individualism and fears that all is lost, that the socialists are about to take over; the Left sees the rise of libertarian individualism in economic life and policy and fears that this is part of an impending total triumph of the Right. […]

This great human movement toward less external constraint on individual freedom seems to be the essence of American life.  It is the mighty Mississippi River flowing down our national history, fed by tributaries from its right and left banks, gathering force and volume in its irresistible progress from colonial times right up through the end this very week of DADT.  That river will roll on, swamping teacher unions trying to prop up the old school bureaucracies, drowning religious groups fighting issues like gay rights.  The trend toward greater individual choice is too deep, too strong, too wide to be dammed (or damned, for that matter).

We think these thoughts still hold true today. Individualism, not Christianism, is the dominant cultural force in 21st century America. Love or it hate it, those who don’t move out of its way tend to get flattened.

And people with their knickers up in a twist about the “Christianist menace” to American freedom need to relax. The 17 year cicadas pose a bigger threat to American freedom than any Christian or even para-Christian movement in this country today.

[Note: An unedited version of this post appeared briefly this morning.] 

Features Icon
show comments
  • rheddles

    A deep game indeed.

    The gay issue appears diffused.

    But what people do not appreciate is that the Boy Scouts of America is a franchise operation. The sponsoring organization (usually a church) is really in charge of and can control the troop. When the troop has problems, the BSA is no where to be found and the sponsoring organization is left to deal with the problem. This means that large centralized sponsors will be able to exert far more control over what Scouting actually is at the troop level.

    As the Protestant establishment has lost its primary position in the country, become more liberal and childless, Scouting has become a more peripheral activity detached from the church’s mission. Scouting will be captured by the sponsors who through organizational exclusivity can deal with these issues at the sponsoring organization level instead of the national level.

    The way to look at it is to think about what McDonald’s would be like if 60% of the restaurants were owned by two franchisees and none of the other franchisees owned more than 2% of the restaurants. You won’t find Chicken McNuggets at 60% of the restaurants. And if you insist on them, you’ll have to wait for them to be defrosted while everybody else in line stares at you.

  • Soren Kay

    Individualism? No, this isn’t a triumph of individualism, it’s a triumph of the new government backed conformism. They were bullied into this decision.

    • jeburke

      The bullying won’t end there either. The BSA will be badgered, sued, condemned and pressured until it permits gay scoutmasters and not only that, married same sex partners parading around at Scout camps arm in arm and “counseling” for for “confused” teen Scouts.

      What Mead and many others have failed to grasp is that gay advocacy is no longer about acceptance, understanding, tolerance or invidious discrimination in civil or business life. By and large, all that has been achieved — not uniformly in every nook and cranny of the nation, to be sure, but generally, firmly and irreversibly.

      The goal now is approval, not mere acceptance. It is no longer necessary to reject or disparage gays to be dubbed a “hater.” It is enough to decline to approve homosexuality as equally valid with heterosexuality. If Seinfeld were still on, it would no longer be enough for the characters to say, “Not that there is anything wrong with that.” They would have to say, “Gay? Gee that’s so cool.”

      This cannot end well.

  • Pete

    “But the BSA’s remarkable transformation is worth noting, if only for what it says about how American society is continuing to evolve.”

    Correction. The word ‘evolving’ implies more than a change. Its connotation is an advancement to a higher, better form.

    The acceptance of homosexuality does not elevate society; it degrades and lowers it.

  • Matthew Schultz

    Group think is alive and well, as another author recently put it:

    If the old Puritanism was the fear that somebody somewhere might be enjoying themselves, the new Puritanism is the fear that somebody somewhere might be holding a dissenting opinion.

    True individualism is tolerance and would see political groups leaving certain organizations alone despite disagreeing with their beliefs. On the issue of homosexuality, conformism trumps individualism.

    Tolerance is dead. Unless you walk lock-step with the progressive agenda, you will be oppressed.

  • des111168

    Individualism? Really? Not even close.

  • Jim Luebke

    If anyone is looking for social cohesion — particularly, enough social cohesion to maintain Great Society programs (to say nothing of expanding them), the “great tide of individualism” can’t help but do more damage than Sandy’s storm surge.

    You can’t have a society where no one is responsible *to* anyone else, yet everyone is responsible *for* everyone else.

    The people with the means to be responsible for others will just cease their support, and government will be unable (thank goodness) to step in to force that support.

    This is where the center stops holding, and things fall apart.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service