As the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for the New York Times and the author of the critically acclaimed books Privilege and Grand New Party, Ross Douthat has emerged as one of the most provocative and influential voices of his generation. Now he offers a masterful and hard-hitting account of how American Christianity has gone off the rails - and why it threatens to take American society with it.
In a story that moves from the 1950s to the age of Obama, Douthat brilliantly charts traditional Christianity's decline from a vigorous, mainstream, and bipartisan faith - which acted as a "vital center" and the moral force behind the Civil Rights movement - through the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s and down to the polarizing debates of the present day. He argues that Christianity's place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption.
Ranging from Glenn Beck to Eat Pray Love, Joel Osteen to The Da Vinci Code, Oprah Winfrey to Sarah Palin, Douthat explores how the prosperity gospel's mantra of "pray and grow rich", a cult of self-esteem that reduces God to a life coach, and the warring political religions of left and right have crippled the country's ability to confront our most pressing challenges and accelerated American decline. His urgent call for a revival of traditional Christianity is sure to generate controversy, and it will be vital listening for all those concerned about the imperiled American future.
©2012 Ross Douthat (P)2012 Tantor
In Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Gregory Douthat provocatively addresses the drift of Christian faith experienced in the US during the recent past. He links this drift to the current economic, policy, and political malaise effecting the populace. The slow-motion decline of traditional faith and the rise of pseudo-Christian thinking is described and analyzed. One could argue details of Douthat’s arguments, but overall he makes a rather disturbing case for what has transpired. The thought provoking book is generally depressing. The tenor turns upbeat (or perhaps I should say hopeful) in the final sections where he proposes how Christian faith may be turned back to its roots. For my tastes, Douthat reveals his political biases in a number of places. However, Christians of all stripes would do well to at least give Douthat a hearing. The reading of Lloyd James is excellent.
Ended on a good note. Author has a great understanding of chronological 20th century. Can be a bit dry and exclusive at times but stick with it.
There are many excellent aspects of this book. It is quite technical at times. This is no easy read so I would not recommend it for your drive to work. You have to listen carefully. I speak 4 languages and still found the vocabulary and references a bit high brow. Also, it is the kind of book that I would like to be able to check the references and footnotes. He makes some allegations, that I am sure he researched, but in a print copy you could check them out and especially the context.
Simplify the language and make it more accessible to the average reader. It comes across as an intellectual tome written for a philosophical elite. The subject is important enough to make more accessible to more people.
I would remind the reader/author of the words of God to a discouraged prophet Elijah, "I have 7000 people in this land who haven't sold out to Baal". I agree there are very serious issues facing the church in the USA. Still, I believe there are many people who despite the sin and imperfections of contemporary Christianity, have not bought the lies and heresy which the book documents.
Challenging, inspiring, and so informative. Ross Douthat seemed really balanced and tried to give you the information and the results so you could make decisions.
Lloyd James is a compelling narrator as he seems to understand the material and reads the more academic sections in understandable prose. He is by far my favourite non-fiction narrator.
I think that Mr Douthat gives huge food for thought, especially to a non-American trying to understand the political landscape. Although, I do not necessarily agree with all his conclusions he certainly made me think about how I view the institutional Catholic Church, the Pentecostal movement as it is working itself through Africa and the new religion of "self". I would have liked more systematic theological depth as I thought that this could have strengthened some of his arguments. I also would have liked him to make more connections between the history of Church development in the US with the political situation now. However this is my particular bias as Church history in general and the historical development of systematic theology is a bit of a passion.
All in all a compelling "read" and I will definitely be following his views throughout the election period. Not necessarily in agreement but as an interesting point of clarification for my own thoughts.
Ross Douthat's thesis of Bad Religion is brilliant: The problem with America is not the evil doers, but religious leaders' unwillingness to stay true to God's calling (my paraphrase). However, the story fell flat for me when he called Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a "serial adulterer" while not using the active voice to criticize one single Southern Minister for not speaking on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement during a time when Jim Crow had a death-grip on African Americans. He extols The Reverend Billy Graham as the greatest evangelist that the United States has seen; however, if the book is supposed to be as "hard hitting" as the sales information says, he should have been evenhanded with Graham as he was with King, by demonstrating that Graham had to defend himself at times for remarks that were considered ant-Semitic. Plus there is no record that Graham ever stood up for the rights of blacks in the 1940s through the 1960s, and instead of making this assertion, Douthat uses the passive voice by saying "Southern ministers" did not do a very good job in condemning the national climate of hatred against blacks.
A critic could probably argue that Dr. King's alleged affairs are significant to his work as a man of God; however, those same critics, if they will be fair, will give an evenhanded account of the challenges that were faced by Billy Graham, including charges of anti-
Semitism and his refusal to speak out against racial injustice at a time when he was perhaps the most celebrated evangelist in the Country.
If you're indifferent to an author offending the legacy of a national hero, who has received the highest honor that any country can bestow upon a citizen - naming a national holiday in recognition of his birth, then there is probably a lot to be learned in Bad Religion. I felt betrayed as a reader with an insatiable appetite for the printed/spoken word, who happens to be a great admirer of Dr. King's courageous work as a civil rights leader that the author would affix a near blasphemous accusation upon him and disregard the allegations of anti-Semitism against Billy Graham. In fact, I would urge those who believe in Liberty and Justice for all to write the publisher, Free Press, and demand that the next printing of Bad Religion either remove the reference about King being a "serial adulterer," or add that Graham had to defend himself against claims of anti-Semitic statements during the Nixon Administration, plus add in the active voice that Graham never condemned the United States for its treatment of blacks during the Civil Rights Era.
Fascinating narrative of the shift from (relatively) robust mid-century/post-war American religious institutions (morally authoritative and politically above the fray) to our current, institutionally-weakened religious climate (pervaded by heresies such as Osteen-ish prosperity preaching, Oprah-esque god within thought, or Beck-like nationalism) and enlightening connection of the latter with its different forms' various historical roots. The analysis is grim but insightful, and it concludes with thoughtful and thought-provoking reflections on possibilities of renewal.
Perhaps somewhat as an aside, one of the things I particularly enjoyed was the very incisive interaction with (and, I must say - as it seemed to me - pretty epic takedown of) the "real Jesus" search (those who partake in the essentially autobiographical project nearly always make him into a figure too impotent to have made much of an impact on history).
Overall the book makes Douthat look like a potential heir of Chesterton.
Ross does two things that most 21st Century Christians fail to do in our present era.
1. He goes beyond the common denominator of mere Christianity to objectively call out what is and is not Christianity.
2. He conveys his argument in a gentle and fatherly way that is respectful of the reader and their particular creed, yet assertive in delivering the radical challenge of Christ, which the orthodox Christian Faith's have preserved over the millennia.
This is an academic and scholarly read, so if you are like me, it may get dull at times. Nonetheless, I applaud Ross for the way he so delicately, yet strongly, challenges American culture to see the great value of authentic Christian culture, and the universal danger of watering it down to an unorthodox relative dogma to be used for one's own personal justification.
I'd recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about the changes in emphasis in theology and american religion in the 20th and 21st centuries. Ross offers a dissection of the many facets of watered down theology in recent years. I particularly like his coining of the term accommodationist to explain the growing number of Christians who in spite of the scriptures, doctrine, natural law, reason, etc, make accommodations for sinful behavior.
I wish Ross would have talked some about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and how they've been mostly forgotten or downplayed. I also wish Ross would have wrote a chapter on the church fathers and how similar the heresies they faced were to the heresies we face today. It goes to show that none of the theological problems we face today are new.
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