Too much of the book is simply a culture-war text gussied up in a chasuble. Douthat is extremely bothered by people who claim to seek enlightenment from a “God Within,” and outside the framework of preferred ecclesiastical constructs. (In this, he risibly cites Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert — and Oprah Winfrey! — as somehow being American religious figures.) Can you find spiritual enlightenment outside of a formalized religious structure and, having found it, can you still be a Catholic, or a Jew, or a Presbyterian? An interesting question that Douthat simply ignores. But he also gives a good leaving-alone to the born-again evangelical experience of a “personal Lord and Savior.” (Apparently, a God Within is fine, as long as He’s wearing a Douthat-endorsed logo.) As Winters points out, he’s drunk deeply of Michael Novak’s neoconservative Catholic capitalist malarkey, which is how Sister Gilbert, and Father Chopra, and Pope Oprah I get blamed for the irreligious consumerism of American society. (He also quotes David Brooks to back himself up, which is a dead giveaway.)
Read the whole etc.
I’m a little more reluctant to link to the Michael Sean Winters takedown Charles references, given that Winters is also responsible for this atrocity. Still, whatever you might want to say about someone who thinks that “Humanae Vitae in its entirety reads better, and more presciently, every year” — so well, apparently, that institutions taking taxpayer money to perform secular functions should be able to impose it on not only on the vast majority of Roman Catholics who don’t live according to its dictates but on employees who aren’t even members of the faith — he’s certainly well-qualified to assess Douthat’s book. And:
My problem with Douthat’s book is not that his opinions differ from my own. My problem is that he does not seem to have any idea what he is talking about. In the West, there has been no universally accepted authoritative voice on orthodoxy since the Reformation. “What am I to do when many persons allege different interpretations, each one of whom swears to have the Spirit?” asked Erasmus in 1524. But Douthat does not see the larger picture that he aims to explain, and his treatment of his subject is so pitifully mistaken in things large and small that what we are left with is a meandering, self-serving screed. The book has the same reliance on private judgment that anyone who was really concerned with heresy would recognize as part of the problem, not part of the solution.
And this is what has always puzzled me about Douthat, Rising Young Intellectual. Abortion politics is also supposed to be one of specialties, but his writing about it tends to come complete with egregious howlers. (“Planned Parenthood v. Casey and its substantial rollback of Roe is a monument to absolutism!” “Abortion is much less accessible in France!”) As with Winters, this isn’t about normative disagreement; I’ve never seen any reason to doubt, say, Ramesh Ponnuru’s command of the basic facts. It’s never been clear what Douthat knows about anything.