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
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
of the postmodern "church," more self-help group or vague, self-satisfied social mission than body of Christ embracing the doctrine of the Bible. PCism, selfishness and spiritual laziness are what have given us the easy, breezy Joel Olsteen and Oprah takes on Christianity (washed clean of anything unpleasant and nearly of scripture itself), and Douthat makes a great argument against such a mistaken approach in this book, encouraging us to get back to the faith that has truly been the backbone of Christianity from the beginning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No, but I never listen to anything twice
I have never read a book on the topic of relegion like this book.
Very good narrator. His voice and style fit the book.
A history of the 20th century church in America and where it is going in the 21rst
I love non-fiction books about faith, and our Bible study group has had some recent discussions about heresy -- so I thought I'd really love this book. The knowledge and information is outstanding, however the book reads like a very stuffy thesis paper (using words like "thus" and "henceforth" in the narrative). I consider myself to be an above average reader/listener with regard to reading level, but I just couldn't stick with it. I only got a few chapters in. I would've loved it had it been written for a casual Christian reader, but from what I heard, it's more for high-level seminary classes.
Audible is a life saver -- and a life changer!
Torture the words of the Bible sufficiently and any endeavor can be justified. Douthat utilizes this scripture-twisting tradition to select history, authors, and statistics to build his thesis, which is: the only hope for Christianity, (or the ultimate fate of Christianity; depending on the chapter), is a return to the more extreme, self-sacrificing, exclusive brands of old time religion. The swath of destruction that most churches have plowed from earliest history to the present doesn't come up.
The "bad" of 'Bad Religion' is the corruption of the main doctrines (he mostly picks on Evangelicals) from the past 60 years or so. He claims that inclusion of gays, women, divorce, abortion, and even contemporary music, have only ever undermined the foundations of the chapel. I share Douthat's disdain for retrofitting doctrine to bless the vanity and materialism of the times, all the while claiming "religious virtues". However, I take issue with the hypocrisy of that practice. Douthat, on the other hand, is piqued because adherents are just not suffering enough for Jesus.
He further discredits his work by trivializing or ignoring the scholarship of those who challenge the validity or even the necessity of religion. (He thinks the textual criticism of Bart D. Ehrman is lacking, Sam Harris is a lightweight, Christopher Hitchens is barely on the radar, Richard Dawkins got a mention but Mother "No Morphine-No Condoms" Theresa is the Real Thing).
His unspoken conclusions are dangerous. The perfect Douthat World would dial the clock back about 60 years or more for women and civil rights. It would clear the barriers between continued progress and the otherworldly goals of those of the new Right, (those very people that messed up his Catholic Ideal). He also appeared to rationalize racism as a price paid for keeping religions separated from each other; distinct and pure.
Two stars: one for his excellent writing and another for exposing me to an interesting variety of fallacious arguments.
Five stars for Lloyd James' narration. It was so professional and engaging it nearly obscured the medieval ideas he was relaying.
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