Religion without renunciation has obvious appeal. But its cultural consequences are not all self-evidently positive. Absent ideals of chastity, people are less likely to form families. Absent ideals of solidarity, more people live and age and die alone. The social landscape that we take for granted is one that many earlier generations would have regarded as dystopian: sex and reproduction have both been ruthlessly commodified, adult freedoms are enjoyed at the expense of children’s interests, fewer children grow up with both a mother and a father, and fewer and fewer children are even born at all.

So there are shadows on our liberated society, doubts that creep in around the edges, moments when scolds and moralists and even popes almost seem to have a point. Which helps explain, perhaps, the strange, self-contradictory defensiveness that greets the Catholic Church’s persistent refusal to simply bless every new development and call it progress. (Nobody cares what the pope thinks — and I demand that he think exactly as I do!)