Peter Leithart is reading about the French Enlightenment and Revolution and comments on Tocqueville‘s observations:
The root of the hatred was not dogma but the church’s role as a “political institution.” Because of the church’s role in the old society, it too had to be “dashed to pieces” to make way for the new society.
Rome had been overreaching for some time and no matter how Brad Gregory romanticized the medieval world, a plausible reading of the West is that if the Vatican had not been so caught up in its own prerogatives — spiritual and temporal, the Reformation and Enlightenment may have had different outcomes.
What catches Tocqueville’s eye, though, is that it didn’t work: “As the ancient political institutions that the Revolution attacked were utterly destroyed; as the powers, influences, and classes that were particularly odious to it were progressively crushed; and– ultimate sign of their defeat– as even the hatreds they had once inspired withered and the clergy separated itself from everything that had fallen along with it, one began to see a gradual restoration of the power of the Church and a reaffirmation of its influence over the minds of men.”
He finds the same pattern everywhere: “There is scarcely a Christian church anywhere in Europe that has not undergone a revival since the French Revolution,” and this, prescient as ever, he thinks is due to the compatibility of democracy with Christianity and Catholicism.
Well, popes from Pius IX to Pius XII didn’t get the memo about democracy and Roman Catholicism. But that aside notwithstanding, the French Republic overreached against the overreach of the church and crown (the French monarchs made the English kings and queens look like pikers). People don’t like to be coerced, whether by the church or the state. And the reason for the American people’s support for gay marriage, I believe, has less to do with rational public policy or fairness and more with pushing back the “family values” that religious conservatives incautiously pushed for three decades. At the same time, if this push back pushes too hard (which it may be doing between the Affordable Care Act and Duck Dynasty), Americans will find their underdog inner selves and rally to beleaguered religious conservatives.