Douthat argued that we may now be living in a post-Christian nation and he offered some ways that Christians should begin to think about their role in such a republic.
I have live-tweeted the lecture. You can read my Storified tweets here.
In a post-Christian nation, Douthat argued, Christians might proceed in one of two ways.
First, Christians might find themselves relying more heavily on political strong men to protect them from the forces of secularization. This is the approach that many evangelicals who support Donald Trump seem to be taking. In one of the more stinging lines of the lecture Douthat suggested that some evangelicals seem to need Trump (a man with no real Christian convictions to speak of) to protect them in the same way that Syrians need the brutal dictator Bashar Al-Assad to protect them. (I should note that Douthat was quick to say that Trump was “not as bad” at Assad).
Second, Douthat suggested that Christians might be influential in reshaping the two-party system and promoting a political approach that is decidedly Christian in orientation. This kind of approach might not fit well with the agenda of either the Democratic Party or the GOP.
As might be expected, he preferred the second potential scenario over the first potential scenario.
One of the highlights of the night came during the Q&A session. A very articulate, bright, and spirited Messiah College student who was clearly frustrated with the choices available to her in this, the first election in which she was eligible to vote, asked Douthat for advice about what she should do in November. She feared that she would one day regret voting for either major candidate. Douthat showed empathy toward this student and told her that her contribution to a better society did not have to come through politics. Rather, she should work to change the world in the context of her local circumstances.
It was a great lecture. I am looking forward to hearing Earl Lewis, Ken Burns, and Michelle Alexander, among others, later in the year at Messiah College.