Mary Eberstadt’s powerful new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies, is filled with arresting formulations, like the idea that C for Christian has become the new scarlet letter. Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter was about Puritans and sex, of course, but so is Eberstadt’s. It’s just that her Puritans are “secular.”
NRO’s readers will be familiar with Eberstadt’s uncanny ability to see and reveal with startling originality what modernity has become. (Recall her disquisition on broccoli.) It’s Dangerous to Believe does not disappoint in this regard.
The bizarre turn in our culture wars that is America’s debate over transgenderism is nothing if not spectacular. The danger is that the dramatic and seemingly unprecedented nature of the transgenderism controversy is keeping us from making out the big picture. What actually is the position of Christianity in American society at this moment, and how is the Christian dilemma connected to changing views of sexuality? What can and should be done to preserve the freedom of religion that created this country? Eberstadt poses and answers these questions, and I don’t think the debate over religious freedom can rightly take place now without engaging her arguments.
It’s Dangerous to Believe is a quick and easy read, but packs a wallop. (You can get the flavor of it here.) There’s a fruitful tension in the book, since Eberstadt is trying to do two seemingly opposite things. On the one hand, she wants to give heart to Christians in their current straits and boldly take the cultural argument to the other side. This is what her anatomy of today’s secular Puritan witch hunt (of Christians) is all about. On the other hand, Eberstadt is making a frank, powerful, and heartfelt plea to honest liberal secularists for freedom, tolerance, and fair play. I think this two-track strategy works. In any case, it’s fascinating to follow the rhythm of the argument, the ways in which Eberstadt combines and shifts between her two central themes and objectives. As much as her substantive argument, I think Eberstadt’s tone and manner of putting her case to the religious and secularists alike stands as a model for how a contemporary believer can confidently, yet respectfully and effectively comport herself in today’s prickly public sphere.
I think you will like this book. I recommend it highly.