Review: It’s Dangerous to Believe, by Mary Eberstadt

It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its EnemiesIt’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies by Mary Eberstadt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a diligent concatenation of stories of anti-Christian liberal prejudice in the modern West. Not one was new to me. Every one was alarming, but not (to my mind) told in an alarmist way.

But the overall feel I get from the book is, if not alarmist, simply whiny. I have to say immediately that Eberstadt is very sharp, a writer from whom I’ve benefited before. But as a Catholic, she’s simply not thinking biblically, in my opinion. She’s thinking as an heir not of biblical religion but of Christendom and of Caesaropapism.

If she thought biblically, she’d remember Matthew 5:12.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

She’d remember Matthew 5:38–42.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

She’d remember Romans 12:17–21.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And she’d remember a major theme of one of the two bestsellers by the first pope (this is a list I borrow from John Piper).

This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19)

If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (2:20)

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless. (3:9)

If you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. (3:14)

It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (3:17)

Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (4:13)

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. (4:14)

If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:16)

Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)

Eberstadt makes a lot of telling points, but little to none of the spirit of 1 Peter is evident in the book. And yet it is Peter’s message that Christians facing soft persecution most need: an apostolic message, a dominical one.

There were, however, two major telling points in the book for me, one of which was a theme, the other a comment.

The theme was her comparison of 1) the current mania to hound Christians out of university clubs and Mozilla CEO jobs and adoption agency work with 2) manias of the past such as the Salem witch trials and the embarrassingly recent daycare child abuse scare. The parallels she drew really were illuminating: everybody freaks out and pins their own guilt on a dehumanized other. Then after the mania passes they can’t believe what they did. Yeah, I can see that.

And yet Eberstadt’s parallels imply that the mania could end some day soon and we’d all go back to the status quo ante under the benign tenets of classical liberalism. And I don’t think that’s true. I would be glad to live at peace with all men if I could, but I think classical liberalism gave us our progressivism precisely by enshrining individual freedom as its first principle. No, Eberstadt was closer to the mark when she repeatedly showed secularism to be itself a religion. The conflict between it and Christianity runs too deep for us all to turn back the clock.

Briefly, the comment I appreciated was this, and I think I can use this: to disagree with something morally is not to be a “-phobic.” It isn’t homophobia to call homosexuality immoral. We’re not called “abortiphobics” or “bestialityphobics” or—or not yet, anyway—“polygamyphobics.”

I also liked her Damon Linker quote:

Baby Boomers or Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers (like myself)—will find [Tinder’s] vision of dating as a series of technologically facilitated one-off hook-ups with near-strangers to be pretty appalling. I know I do. There’s just one problem: In order for this reaction to amount to more than an old fogey’s sub-rational expression of disgust at the behavior of the young, it has to make reference to precisely the kind of elaborate account of morality—including binding standards of human flourishing and degradation—that liberals have worked to jettison, in the name of sexual liberation, for the past half-century.

And I liked her comment that the Martin Luther King Jr of opposition to the sexual revolution may be alive today. Eberstadt genuinely has wisdom to offer. And at least that much hope.

But I see more hope in Jesus’ and Peter’s words, even if they’re harder to hear, even if it’s more gratifying to feel aggrieved, to feel robbed. They took our country. But that’s where we need Peter again. He calls Christians “sojourners and exiles” (1 Pet 2:11). America isn’t our country. Not yet. And if our hearts are set on getting it, or getting it back, we’re setting our sights too low. The meek will inherit the earth. People who look for a better city—one “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10)—work and pray for the welfare of the ones they have but never forget the one they’re going to get, on a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

Leave a Reply