Ross Douthat's 'Bad Religion': The surrounding conversation by Peter Menkin
by Peter Menkin 5/14/2012 / Book Reviews
by Peter Menkin
The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has written a book published in April, 2012 by Simon & Schuster that is what some call a provocative work about Americacalled, "Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics." This article is not a review of that book, but a round-up piece about various aspects of the books content and some of the discussion the Roman Catholic convert discusses in the work, itself. Note that author Douthat is also a writer for The Atlantic monthly.
A younger writer who is known as the youngest columnist at The New York Times, Catholic News Agency opens its report on the title:
Are Americans actually trading in faith for a more secular outlook? Or is the country's religious center merely shifting toward an array of sects, visionaries, charismatic leaders and unorthodox doctrines?
Maybe it is the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the more current combinations of very great influences of the advertising culture of America with its consumer interests and emphasis on individualism that as grown into a kind of change to where the President of the United States with his bully pulpit and moral leadership says same-sex marriage is good and he supports its institutionalization as part of American society (Barak Obama being current President). In this "Catholic" book, author Douthat speaks more of American heresy in his interview with Catholic News Agency report of May 1, 2012 when he adds:
"I use the term 'heresy' because the reality I'm trying to capture is a country, the United States, that is still more influenced by Christianity than by any other religious tradition, and that is certainly still in many ways as 'religious' as ever," Douthat told CNA in an April 30 interview.
"I look at the United States and I don't think it makes sense to call us a secular country, or even a 'post-Christian' country. The controlling religious narrative of American life is still, in some sense, the Christian narrative."
To this Religion Writer's thinking, this is a reasonable thing to say, "The controlling religious narrative of American life is still, in some sense, Christian narrative." The literary place of the New and Old Testament, in its cultural way as well as its view of the world and life set forth by the Gospel is a part of the American dream. I think that is still the thing, just as Shakespeare even to the secular has a great influence on the thinking of the reading and better educated public, as well as the usual collection of those who have read or met their Bible in their respective Church. The Gospel and Christianity remain alive in United States of America.
Given the opportunity to comment on the subject of American Heresy, one of the strengths of the book as it appears by the discussion around its publication, is what a good thing to provide additional dialogue in the current debate of post Christian American regarding faith vs. growing secularism and growing social liberalism.
This is an audio book summary of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat (Author), Lloyd James (Narrator).
There is no argument made with author Douthat's statement in the YouTube interview with Sullivan and Douthat debate that seems to have been produced during the tour by the author of the book Bad Religion, that, frequently the moral and the religious are often similarly entwined, as with Martin Luther King, Jr., or even Mahatma Gandhi's life's work. Douthat says in the YouTube, "They shall also be a moral voice"
Sullivan says, "We have to be careful" (Sullivan a well-known Catholic commentator on religion in America.)
That they are conflated in some eras like the American 60s and 70s is a fact of history, claims author Douthat. In his book, author Douthat says, Americans have never separated religion from politics, but it makes a difference how the two are intertwined. When religious commitments are more comprehensive and religious institutions more resilient, faith is more likely to call people out of private loyalties to public purposes, more likely to inspire voters to put ideals above self-interest, more likely to inspire politicians to defy partisan categories altogether. But as orthodoxies weaken, churches split and their former adherents mix and match elements of various traditions to fit their preferences, religion is more likely to become indistinguishable from personal and ideological self-interest.
Religion News Service has done well to publish in this area of Christian public dialogue regarding the secularization of American society when it in its article, Bad Douthat of April 9,provides this quote from the book: Our president embodies this uncentered spiritual landscape in three ways. First, like a growing share of Americans (44 percent), President Obama changed his religion as an adult, joining Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ in his 20s after a conversion experience brought him out of agnosticism into faith. Second, he was converted by a pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose highly politicized theology was self-consciously at odds with much of historic Christian practice and belief. Finally, since breaking with that pastor, Obama has become a believer without a denomination or a church, which makes him part of one of the country's fastest-growing religious groups what the Barna Group calls the "unchurched Christian" bloc, consisting of Americans who accept some tenets of Christian faith without participating in any specific religious community.
The Religion News Service précis declares in criticism of this quotation from the work by author Douthat and other quotations from the work: This is offensive nonsense. Obama finding his way into a mainline Protestant church after growing up in a deracinated mainline Protestant family is about as much of a change of religion as George W. Bush going from nominal Episcopalian to born-again Methodist. Jeremiah Wright may indulge in liberationist and Afrocentric rhetoric, but Trinity U.C.C. is about as self-consciously in tune with historic (Protestant) Christian practice and belief as it's possible to be. Hasn't Douthat read Obama's own account of his adult acknowledgement of Jesus as his Lord and Savior? And it's just plain silly to conclude from the fact that Obama hasn't joined a church since taking up residence in the White House that he is therefore, like Lincoln, among the "unchurched."
In The New York Times piece on the book (review written by Randall Balmer on April 27, 2012), this interesting note: Absent a national church, he argues, Christianity "has frequently provided an invisible mortar for our culture and a common vocabulary for our great debates." This Religion Writer thought that statement by writer Balmer a significant few words during this compilation of quotes and statements since it points out that the debate in America remains a kind of Christian debate of morality and position, and though seemingly self-evident as part of the current scene, in the current climate and direction towards growing secularism it becomes an argument for Christianity in society and public life. The book is not just a Roman Catholic argument for discussion and public policy today addressed by Author Douthat. This subject of the book, "Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics", is part of the current public discourse in politics for the coming American Presidential election and even the 21st Century.
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.