You’re a heretic! And you! And you!

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is grumpy.

He’s grumpy because of all those heretical (his word choice) Americans who dare to adopt independent religious beliefs and practices, instead of kowtowing to traditional institutional directives (you guessed it – Douthat’s Catholic).

Of course, this grumpiness is accompanied by the usual Chicken Little demagoguery: the moral sky is falling down, thinks Douthat, because people aren’t going to church on Sundays to recite the Nicene Creed.

Perhaps Douthat has data in his new book in support of the claim that morality is declining in America, but I somehow doubt it. Almost all classes of crime, including homicide, rape, and robbery, have been steadily declining for at least the last two decades. Perhaps Douthat is thinking of lesbian and gay relationships, extra-marital sex, and other bugbears of social conservative America, yet it’s not even clear that these are moral issues to begin with, let alone that they represent a decline in morality – in fact the opposite is the case as far as I’m concerned.

Douthat should cheer up. He lives in a country that enshrines the freedom of religious expression in its constitution. People have easy access to information that allows them to assess the value of various religious traditions, and pick the one they think hews closest to the truth. If Catholicism cannot compete in this arena of ideas, then Douthat should acknowledge the real cause of the problem: an often immoral, out-of-touch leadership espousing medieval ideas.

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