Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics   -     By: Ross Douthat
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Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

Free Press / 2012 / Hardcover

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As the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Ross Douthat has emerged as one of the most provocative and influential voices of his generation. In Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics 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.

Writing for an era dominated by recession, gridlock, and fears of American decline, Douthat exposes the spiritual roots of the nation's political and economic crises. He argues that America's problem isn't too much religion, as a growing chorus of atheists have argued; nor is it an intolerant secularism, as many on the Christian right believe. Rather, it's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional faith and the rise of a variety of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses.

These faiths speak from many pulpits-conservative and liberal, political and pop cultural, traditionally religious and fashionably "spiritual"-and many of their preachers claim a Christian warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of traditional Christianity-not the real thing. Christianity's place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, Douthat argues, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption.

In a story that moves from the 1950s to the age of Obama, he brilliantly charts institutional 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 to the polarizing debates of the present day. Ranging from Glenn Beck to Barack Obama, Eat Pray Love to Joel Osteen, and Oprah Winfrey to The Da Vinci Code, 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 reading for all those concerned about the imperiled American future.

Product Information

Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 320
Vendor: Free Press
Publication Date: 2012
Dimensions: 6.00 X 9.00 X 9.00 (inches)
ISBN: 1439178305
ISBN-13: 9781439178300
Availability: In Stock

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Publisher's Description

As the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for the New York Times, Ross Douthat has emerged as one of the most provocative and influential voices of his generation. In Bad Religion 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.

Writing for an era dominated by recession, gridlock, and fears of American decline, Douthat exposes the spiritual roots of the nation’s political and economic crises. He argues that America’s problem isn’t too much religion, as a growing chorus of atheists have argued; nor is it an intolerant secularism, as many on the Christian right believe. Rather, it’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional faith and the rise of a variety of pseudo-Christianities that stroke our egos, indulge our follies, and encourage our worst impulses.

These faiths speak from many pulpits—conservative and liberal, political and pop cultural, traditionally religious and fashionably “spiritual”—and many of their preachers claim a Christian warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of traditional Christianity—not the real thing. Christianity’s place in American life has increasingly been taken over, not by atheism, Douthat argues, but by heresy: debased versions of Christian faith that breed hubris, greed, and self-absorption.

In a story that moves from the 1950s to the age of Obama, he brilliantly charts institutional 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 to the polarizing debates of the present day. Ranging from Glenn Beck to Barack Obama, Eat Pray Love to Joel Osteen, and Oprah Winfrey to The Da Vinci Code, 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 reading for all those concerned about the imperiled American future.

Author Bio

Ross Douthat is a columnist for The New York Times op-ed page. He is the author of Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class and Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream. Before joining the Times he was a senior editor for The Atlantic. He is the film critic for National Review, and he has appeared regularly on television, including Charlie Rose, PBS Newshour, Real Time, and The Colbert Report.

Editorial Reviews

"Not only is Ross Douthat’s account of orthodox Christianity’s decline provocative, but his critique of today’s ascendant heresies is compelling. This volume is a sustained proof of Chesterton’s thesis that when people turn from God, 'they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.' Everyone who is interested in why the church is faring as it is in U.S. culture today needs to get this book."
—Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City
"Bad Religion is superb: sharply critical of the amazing variety of American religious pathologies, but fair; blunt in diagnosis, but just; telling a dark tale, but telling it hopefully. For those trying to understand the last half-century or more of American religion, and to strive for a better future, it is an indispensable book."
—Alan Jacobs, author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis
"Ross Douthat's thoughtful, articulate, wide-ranging, sometimes contrarian and always provocative new book asks a tough question: Why has Christianity been so misunderstood, and so misused, in the past few decades? From those who (foolishly) watered down the most basic Christian beliefs, to those who (falsely) promised worldly success to the followers of Jesus, the values of orthodoxy (literally, "right belief") have often been blithely set aside. With an impressive command of both history and contemporary social trends, Douthat shows not only how we ended up with a Christianity of our own making, but also how we can reclaim an adherence to the teachings of the real Jesus—not just the convenient one."
—James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
"Bad Religion is nothing short of prophetic. In a time of religious, political, and cultural upheaval, Ross Douthat tells the American faithful—liberals, conservatives, and everybody in between—not what we want to hear, but what we desperately need to hear. With this provocative and challenging work that no thoughtful Christian can afford to ignore, Douthat assures his place in the first rank of his generation's public intellectuals."
—Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons and senior editor of The American Conservative
"A brilliantly reasoned argument for orthodox Christianity and the need for vibrant faith in society. In this perceptive and timely work, Ross Douthat extolls the ‘vital center’ of belief while calling out the fashionable heretics among us. This is one ‘Bad Religion’ we can all believe in."
—Raymond Arroyo, New York Times bestselling author, host of EWTN's The World Over Live
"Mr. Douthat offers a lively, convincing argument for what kind of religion we need."
"Bad Religion" is an important book. It brings a probing, perceptive analysis to bear on the tragic hollowing out of American Christianity. In Douthat, readers have a guide who explains how we ended up drinking at a narcissistic trough draped in spirituality that doesn't quench anybody's deepest thirst...."

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  1. Philip Watkins
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Must read.
    February 13, 2013
    Philip Watkins
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    For me, this is a must read for those concerned with culture-wide issues that are impacting our spiritual condition in the US. The best culture analysis book I've read in the past 15 years.
  2. bookwomanjoan
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    insight into current American Christianity
    November 7, 2012
    bookwomanjoan
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: female
    Quality: 5
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    America has problems. The Christian right says it is because we have fallen away from the faith of our fathers. (They say America was founded as a "Christian nation.") Others insist the problem is that America is excessively religious. (They make Christian beliefs the problem.)

    Douthat says America's problem is not too much or too little religion. It is bad religion, a collapse of traditional Christianity and rise of a variety of pesudo-Christianities in its place.

    America remains the most religious country in the developed world. But it is also a place where traditional Christian teachings have been warped.

    Heresies are not new. There have always been heresies. "What's changed today, though, is the weakness of the orthodox response." (8)

    He notes that Christianity needs heresy, at least the threat of it. That is what keeps Christianity from being merely a set of doctrines. In the past orthodoxy would come alive. But now, orthodoxy is slowing withering while heresy endures.

    How this came to be is what this book is about.

    Douthat looks at Christianity after World War II and how it gave way to a Christian "civil war." He then reviews Christianity today, focusing on heresy's increasing dominance. His is an analysis of how and why American Christianity has changed over the last fifty years and what those changes mean.

    I found this book very insightful.

    I also found it frightful. He brings us to the end result of the heresy of nationalism we see today on the Christian right. For example, "now that waterboarding has become a right-wing litmus test, polls show that frequent churchgoers are more likely to voice explicit support for torture than other Americans, and that both conservative Catholics and (especially) Evangelicals are the most pro-torture groups of all." (273)

    This book should be read by anyone who cares about the future of the country, Christian or not.
  3. LifeVerse
    Gender: male
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    A Great "Tough Love" Book
    August 30, 2012
    LifeVerse
    Gender: male
    Quality: 5
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    In going after the bad elements in Christianity in America, Ross Douthat had an easy task—so much low-hanging fruit! He has some harsh (but truthful) things to say about both the Christian Left and Christian Right, but he does it in the spirit of an insider (i.e., a believer), not the snippish outsider who has contempt for any form of belief.

    The Religious Left, he reveals in detail, is a cesspool—to be precise, it has let itself be molded by the increasingly secular culture, so at present a liberal pastor sounds more like a liberal New York Times editorial writer than a minister of God. Whichever way the cultural wind blows, the Left goes with it. Abortion? Gay "marriage"? Carbon footprints? Pick any issue and the Religious Left is in lockstep with the radical faculties of Harvard and Yale. That their positions are not remotely in keeping with real Christianity does not bother them one iota.

    However, Douthat finds some bad religion on the Right too—particularly some of the popular "feel-good" preachers like Joel Osteen. He has some criticism for megachurch pastors like Rick Warren also. The Religious Left's Gospel is: God wants you to be a liberal activist! The Right (or part of it, anyway) announces: God wants you healthy, wealthy, and financially secure. Neither quite fits Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God.

    I would give this book five stars, except for one thing: I don't think he gives enough attention to the "emergent" church movement, which is on the Right (sort of) but attempting to appeal the vast and vapid "spiritual but not religious" crowd that likes its religious as solid as Jello. With any luck, by the time Douthat updates his book, that shifty and shapeless movement will be a mere footnote to history.
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