I don’t know what vision the term “decadence” conjures up for you. Some advertising campaign years ago implanted an association for me with chocolate cake. But Ross Douthat sees a rich and powerful society no longer going anywhere in particular. We’re stuck with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline.

He writes: “For the first time since 1491, we have found the distances too vast and the technology too limited to take us to somewhere genuinely undiscovered, somewhere truly new.”

That line comes from his new book, The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success, published by Avid Reader Press. Douthat is a columnist for The New York Times and author of the book Bad Religion, for which I previously interviewed him. The last time we talked was spring of 2016. A few things have changed since then. But not Douthat’s abilities as a must-read writer. I could do an entire podcast just reading my favorite lines from this book. As a former Methodist, I especially liked how he described “thin cosmopolitanism that’s really just the extremely Western ideology of liberal Protestantism plus ethnic food.”

This is a serious book, though, and it deserves serious attention. What’s next when there are no more unexplored frontiers or fresh discoveries? What’s the point of life if there are no more worlds to conquer? Douthat says we see a world in turmoil, but it’s more like we’ve lulled ourselves to sleep.

Douthat writes:

If you want to feel like Western society is convulsing, there’s an app for that, a convincing simulation waiting. But in the real world, it’s possible that Western society is really learning back in an easy chair, hooked up to a drip of something soothing, playing and replaying an ideological greatest-hits tape from its wild and crazy youth, all riled up in its own imagination and yet, in reality, comfortably numb.

Yet Douthat does envision a possible renaissance for the West, an escape from our cultural malaise. That’s part of what we discuss in this episode of Gospelbound.


This episode of Gospelbound is brought to you by Southeastern Seminary. In a disenchanted world looking to themselves for answers, Southeastern’s three-year Doctor of Ministry in Faith and Culture plants graduates at the intersection of theology, culture, and church to bring the world a better story—the gospel. Learn more at sebts.edu.
Editors’ note: 

This is the first episode of Gospelbound, a new podcast hosted by Collin Hansen for those searching for firm faith in an anxious age. Each week, Collin talks with insightful guests about books, ideas, and how to navigate life by the gospel of Jesus Christ in a post-Christian culture. Subscribe today wherever you listen to podcasts!