Many Americans still … accept the New Testament as factual, believe God came in the flesh, and endorse the creeds that explain how and why that happened. And then alongside traditional Christians, there are observant Jews and Muslims who believe the same God revealed himself directly in some other historical and binding form.
But this biblical world picture is increasingly losing market share to what you might call the spiritual world picture, which keeps the theological outlines suggested by the manger scene — the divine is active in human affairs, every person is precious in God’s sight — but doesn’t sweat the details.
This is the world picture that red-staters get from Joel Osteen, blue-staters from Oprah, and everybody gets from our “God bless America” civic religion. It’s Christian-ish but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian. It doesn’t care whether the angel really appeared to Mary: the important thing is that a spiritual version of that visitation could happen to anyone — including you.
Then, finally, there’s the secular world picture, relatively rare among the general public but dominant within the intelligentsia. This worldview keeps the horizontal message of the Christmas story but eliminates the vertical entirely. The stars and angels disappear: There is no God, no miracles, no incarnation. But the egalitarian message — the common person as the center of creation’s drama — remains intact, and with it the doctrines of liberty, fraternity and human rights.
So where does this leave Roman Catholics who are not squarely situated in the biblical w-w? I mean, if Mark Shea is right and that Protestants don’t have the Bible without tradition or the church, then Roman Catholicism doesn’t fit in Douthat’s scheme of w-w’s. Or is Ross a compromiser who has spent too much time with Protestants and can only think of the Bible as an authority and so needs the true paradigm that only Bryan and the Jasons provide? Or could it be that post-Vatican 2, Roman Catholics in the U.S. are really more at home in the spiritual w-w — “the divine is active in human affairs” (the pope speaks about everything) and “every person is precious in God’s sight” (human dignity).
That leaves evangelical converts to Rome to sweat the details.