Daniel Mahoney, author of The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order, reviewed Olivier Roy’s Holy Ignorance in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

In “Holy Ignorance,” the French social theorist Olivier Roy sets out to modify [Weber’s] secularization theory and to overturn its triumphalist message. He begins by noting that religion, though still obviously an important part of modern society, has been relegated to the private sphere, becoming mostly an “interior” search for spiritual well-being. In such a world, “faith communities” of every stripe increasingly withdraw from the broader culture, defending their doctrinal purity against the onslaught of coarse secular trends, what Mr. Roy calls “neo-paganism.” This withdrawal, though understandable, is a danger in itself. “Faith without culture,” Mr. Roy says, “is an expression of fanaticism.”

Mahoney’s major criticisms come here:

Mr. Roy’s category of “holy ignorance,” though illuminating, can be too broad and indiscriminate. He never explains why one form of holy ignorance, such as Pentecostalism, avoids political extremism while other forms do not: Many adherents of Salafist Islam, for instance, endorse violence in the name of fidelity to the Prophet. Mr. Roy’s holy-ignorance category includes even Pope Benedict’s call for the enhanced use of Latin in the Catholic liturgy, part of the church’s effort to restore a sense of the sacred to the Mass. Yet for Mr. Roy even a partial return to a Latin liturgy is the “use of a new mantra” aimed at “magical” effects; it is, for him, an instrument for isolating religion instead of bringing it into contact with contemporary culture. But surely Latin is not so esoteric that it cannot speak to at least some believers today. And a pope who repeatedly argues for the “acculturation” of faith in the civilization of the West—who argues for joining faith to reason, without which religion becomes mere superstition—makes a poor proponent of holy ignorance.

Mr. Roy is acutely aware of the forces—or “new paradigms”—in secular society that encourage the holy ignorance he deplores. They include absolute sexual freedom, unlimited individual autonomy and the imperatives of the “inner self,” however wayward these may be. Without saying so outright, though, he seems to feel that religion is obliged to make peace with such forces because it must reconnect itself with “culture”—even when culture is at odds with orthodoxy and what he rather clumsily calls “orthopraxy” (traditional morality). He doesn’t seem to recognize that churches cannot uncritically accommodate neo-paganism and new paradigms without transforming themselves beyond recognition.

Read the the full article here.