David Brooks manages to completely miss the point in the process of recommending that conservatives simply wave a white flag in the cultural war and dedicate themselves to performing good works deemed socially acceptable:
Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.
Consider a different culture war, one just as central to your faith and far more powerful in its persuasive witness.
We live in a society plagued by formlessness and radical flux, in which bonds, social structures and commitments are strained and frayed. Millions of kids live in stressed and fluid living arrangements. Many communities have suffered a loss of social capital. Many young people grow up in a sexual and social environment rendered barbaric because there are no common norms. Many adults hunger for meaning and goodness, but lack a spiritual vocabulary to think things through.
Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.
The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.
This culture war is more Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day than Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham; more Salvation Army than Moral Majority. It’s doing purposefully in public what social conservatives already do in private.
I don’t expect social conservatives to change their positions on sex, and of course fights about the definition of marriage are meant as efforts to reweave society. But the sexual revolution will not be undone anytime soon. The more practical struggle is to repair a society rendered atomized, unforgiving and inhospitable. Social conservatives are well equipped to repair this fabric, and to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.
As Jartstar commented, Brooks wants Christians to clean up the social wreckage being caused by people who reject Christianity, but neither prevent them from causing more damage nor even teach them how to stop harming themselves and others.
Now, granted, there is a certain ironic propriety to telling people who already well accustomed to losing battles to engage in another equally hopeless one. But the fact is that conservatives didn’t have to lose those battles, they simply chose not to fight them. We could end the gay marriage battle by the end of the week if we wanted; ISIS has demonstrated that it requires little more than rooftops and gravity. That’s simply not how we prefer to operate.
Regardless, we have options that range from winning the cultural war through extreme barbarism on the one side to abject surrender on the other. And that is why everyone, even our short-sighted opponents, should hope that the civilized cultural warriors win, because if they don’t, history strongly suggests that the uncivilized cultural warriors will. The pendulum always swings back, and the further it swings one way, the harder it swings back on its return.
David Brooks fails to understand that the problems he laments can only be fixed by rejecting the ruling left-liberalism he supports and embracing a conservative philosophical outlook. But in any case, the answer is simple: no.
Rod Dreher’s response is more genteel, as you might expect, but similar:
I don’t believe my friend David understands the inseparable connection between Christian sexual morality and the familial and social instability David rightly decries. Family and social breakdown is inextricably linked to the abandonment of Christian sexual ideals — specifically, the idea that sexual passion should be limited to expression within the bounds of marriage. Chastity — which is not “no sex,” but rather the right ordering of the God-given sexual instinct — is a Christian virtue. It is not the most important Christian virtue, but it is not one that can be discarded, either.