Rev. Taylor preaches at a Chicago temple of the Unitarian Universalist church. The Unitarians are one of the most liberal churches you're likely to find. They describe themselves as "a living example of, and a powerful voice for, liberal religion in America."
In a sermon in 2004, Rev. Taylor spoke about a book he had read by a fellow liberal, David Brooks, called Bobos in Paradise. Brooks' basic idea is that in the 1990s a new elite emerged who combined wealth with free-spirited creativity. He calls this new elite "bourgeois bohemians" or, more simply, "Bobos".
Brooks self-identifies as one of these "Bobos", as does the Rev. Taylor who admitted:
Rarely do I read a book like Bobos in Paradise and say, they're talking about me, about so many religious liberals, and about most of the folks with whom I graduated from college in 1990.
Which brings us to the self-doubt.
The Bobos are political moderns. The basic idea of such modernism is that we are made human when we are free to create ourselves through our own individual choices. This means that the aim of politics is to achieve an individual "freedom" in which there are no impediments to "individual choice."
I have pointed out many times that this way of looking at things, as good as it sounds, doesn't work out as it's supposed to.
One reason for this is the following problem. If the aim is to allow me to create who I am by my own choices, then anything which influences me in an important way, but which I don't choose, must be rejected.
But this means that it is exactly the deeper things which must be rejected, as it is these which are most likely to be part of an inherited tradition or a biological nature, placing them outside the realm of individual choice.
For instance, my masculine nature as a man is something that I didn't choose, but was born into. Therefore, political moderns think it ought to be made not to matter. Political moderns admire men who act outside of, or contrary to, such an inherited nature.
As a result of considering things this way, modernism leaves us with an abundance of choices, but only of a shallow nature (such as consumer choices). The deeper, really important things are rejected as being a "biological destiny" or a "traditional role" and so on.
What do political moderns think about the shallow range of lifestyle choices they have limited themselves to? Usually, the topic isn't raised. But Rev. Taylor, and David Brooks, aren't entirely comfortable living so lightly. Hence the self-doubt.
The Rev. says:
Here in Oak Park it is challenging. We live in a community that caters to the upper middle-class. The value of maximizing freedom reigns supreme, but there are forces that undermine sustained connections...
I have lived a quintessentially Bobo life ... If these trends continue ... my life will be a series of light, ultimately inconsequential and therefore meaningless connections. But I will have a lot of them! And that's just it, when we Bobos maximize our freedom, depth and meaning elude us.
And so what we get in Bobo life, Brooks says, is "a world of many options, but not a life of solid commitments, and maybe not a life that ever offers access to the profoundest truths, deepest emotions, or highest aspirations. Maybe in the end the problem with this attempt to reconcile freedom with commitment, virtue with affluence, autonomy with community is not that it leads to some catastrophic crack-up or some picturesque slide into immorality and decadence, but rather that it leads to too many compromises and spiritual fudges. Maybe people who try to have endless choices end up with semi-commitments and semi-freedoms. Maybe we will end up leading a life that is moderate but flat, our souls being colored with shades of gray, as we find nothing heroic, nothing inspiring, nothing that brings our lives to a point. Some days I look around and I think we have been able to achieve these reconciliations only by making ourselves more superficial, by simply ignoring the deeper thoughts and highest ideals that would torture us if we actually stopped to measure ourselves according to them.
The Rev. Taylor believes that the following quote from Brooks also captures this "shadow side" of political modernism,
Bobos pay lip-service to the virtues of tradition, roots, community. However, when push comes to shove, they tend to choose personal choice over other commitments ... And this is self-defeating, because at the end of all this movement and freedom and self-exploration, they find that they have nothing deep and lasting to hold on to.
Surprisingly for a Unitarian, the Rev. Taylor even looks back to the following lost religious tradition to underline his point:
The monk in the monastery does not lead an experimental life, but perhaps he is able to lead a profound one.
And isn't this a worthier aim? To live profoundly, within a world and a nature we did not create, rather than skittling life down to those things we can choose freely as autonomous individuals, but which don't count for much.
Some political moderns might object that they would lose their "individuality" in a world where individual autonomy was not the overriding principle. But their fear is unfounded in my opinion.
A man who is connected to the more profound aspects of his own nature will almost inevitably express a stronger and more confident individuality, than someone whose existence revolves around mere lifestyle choices.
In any event, we should be grateful that the Rev. Taylor and David Brooks are willing to admit the self-doubt they feel about the superficiality and rootlessness in the lives of political moderns.
It helps our case as conservatives when even insiders are willing to acknowledge this fault within liberal societies.