The obituaries for the Christian Right continue to roll off the presses. This past weekend I devoted a post to Jon Meacham’s “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” Today, I want to call your attention to Damon Linker’s New Republic post, “All Good Things.” I think he may be on the mark here.
The ordinary resources of empirical observation and ordinary human knowledge give us no warrant for supposing that all good things are reconcilable with each other.–Isaiah Berlin
This quote — a long-time favorite of mine — came to mind when I heard that James Dobson had conceded the religious right’s defeat in the culture war. Let’s assume for a moment that the right has indeed been routed (which I doubt). Dobson and his admirers and allies no doubt view the event as a terrible thing — as definitive proof that the United States is in irreversible moral and cultural decline. Yet there are powerful reasons why all American citizens, religious and secular, left and right, should greet it with cheer.
Berlin tells us why, by way of an assertion: Because good things — and I’m taking it for granted that politics and religion are genuine human goods — don’t fit together. The world doesn’t add up. Its parts clash. What is good for one sphere of life is not necessarily good for another. Goods can rarely be synthesized without losing something of value in each. Thinking and acting responsibly thus involves making trade-offs and choices among irreconcilable goods while giving up the hope of combining them in some unified, holistic vision that will inevitably do damage to its constituent parts. This was Berlin’s profoundly anti-utopian, deeply pluralistic vision of human life.