A review of Mary Eberstadt’s “It’s Dangerous to Believe.”

by Fr. James Gross


What happens when Christians make the case that basic tenets of religious freedom in America are at risk? Many reactions are disheartening. Some will argue that our complaint is artificial, since houses of worship are open and may welcome congregants whenever they wish. Others will protest that, since Christianity has been a sizable majority in our country for so long, we really have no idea how the “minority” has been victimized. In other words, the defense of religious liberty has become a hard sell.

With her latest book, “It’s Dangerous to Believe,” Mary Eberstadt dives into the current cultural and political climate in order to present both the obstacles that exist and a hopeful vision for the future. If this were only another catalogue of case studies, her research would not stand apart, even though it would illustrate the problem expertly. What Eberstadt provides in the final chapter breaks some new ground in the discussion.

Perhaps the following quote best summarizes the reason for Eberstadt’s choice of title for her book: “[W]hat many Western men and women of faith feel to the marrow these days is fear…fear that they will lose the good opinions of their neighbors, family, and friends—because Christianity, especially, is said over and over to stand on the wrong side of history; because religious faith of that particular kind is denigrated across popular culture, and disdained as retrograde, or worse, in many citadels of higher learning.”

Arguing that “secular progressivism today is less a political movement than a church,” Eberstadt uses the motif of “witch hunts” to describe the zeal with which proponents of same-sex marriage and numerous other causes attack those with whom they disagree. Yes, the voluminous examples are discouraging, but the way in which the author organizes and explains them gives the reader a clearer idea of the evidence. Specific examples—arrows in our quiver, if you will—can elevate our arguments above emotional reactions.

Among the conclusions Eberstadt draws is that “about matters concerning the sexual revolution…people must agree to disagree. That is the sine qua non of a more civil tomorrow.” One’s impulse to criminalize and anathematize cancels out the dialogue that can lead to mutual appreciation of the other as a person and can affect conversion of heart.

The concluding pages of “It’s Dangerous to Believe” observe that those who subscribe to Christianity’s tough commandments consider them a lifesaver and are not going away. Even in 2017, there are those who “do not want to jettison the Judeo-Christian moral code, but want to do something more radical; namely, live by it…all of these people deserve the courtesy of recognizing that what they do is authentic.”

Eberstadt goes on to say that, “secularist progressivism faces insurmountable obstacles to its desire to impose its orthodoxy on everyone else. There is too much heterodoxy afoot—too many people all over the place who question and dissent.” With this in mind, exercising one’s faith in the public square, and not only at our parish on Sunday morning, is as crucial now as ever. Resources such as Mary Eberstadt’s book give us a helpful perspective.

Fr. James Gross is the Parochial Vicar of St. Anthony’s Church in Fargo.