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.]