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Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Ross Douthat

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17. April 2012
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.


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"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." (Mark Oppenheimer New York Times)

"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...." (G. Jeffrey MacDonald Christian Science Monitor)

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

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.

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193 von 204 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Fascinating Look at American Religion, Culture and Politics 30. April 2012
Von Jody Harrington - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Although the title sounds polemical, Ross Douthat's book is actually a thorough, thoughtful and scholarly study of the ways in which the orthodox tenets of Christianity are losing ground to the many popular heresies of the day and the ways in which this phenomenon affects the church and the social and political culture of the country.

My IPad version of the book is covered with yellow highlighting and notes. This is not a quick and easy read because it is so thought-provoking that I often put it away for a while in order to digest a new insight.

Beginning with the fundamentalist-modernist conflicts of the early twentieth century in the mainline Protestant denomination, Douthat sets the stage for his thesis that

"America's problem isn't too much religion or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place."

These pseudo-Christianities include accomodationism, the embrace of Gnosticism, solipsism, messianism, utopianism, apocalypticism, nationalism and the prosperity gospel. As Douthat trenchantly observes in the prologue, heresies have always sought to simplify and eliminate the paradoxical and difficult teachings of Jesus into something that better fits the spirit of the culture and the age.

Historically, orthodox Christianity has been strengthened when it is forced to defining its beliefs against the popular heresies of the day. As Douthat says "Pushing Christianity to one extreme or another is what Americans have aways done. We've been making idols of our country, our pocketbooks and our sacred selves for hundreds of years. What's changed today, though, is the weakness of the orthodox response."

As a Protestant I was unaware of the extent to which the cultural conflicts which roil the mainline denominations also affected the Catholic church in America until I read this book. Douthat makes a persuasive case connecting the decline of orthodox belief in all denominations to the rise of the hyper-partisan gridlock in our government that threatens the future of the country.

Douthat is even-handed in his criticism. Readers will nod in agreement over some passages and then squirm uncomfortably as their own presuppositions are questioned.

The concluding chapter notes that Christianity through the ages has weathered other eras of decline and revived itself with reformation and offers four opportunities for its recovery in the present age which would make great discussion for study and book groups.

Bad Religion is an excellent book. I highly recommend it to readers interested in the intersection of Christianity with American culture and politics.
89 von 94 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The how, when and why of heresy 9. Mai 2012
Von Matt - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
As part of the generation just emerging from college, I've always been curious about the emergence of the dominant current forms of Christianity. There are churches galore, but few seats in the pews. Nearly everyone says they're a Christian, but few can give an accounting of what that means. The media is obsessed with Christianity, but usually to mock it. And there was the memorable line a guy shouted in my philosophy class, unrelated to the discussion at hand: "I hate organized religion!" The fact is, while the thought behind the line may have been surprising to me - a Christian whose education up until that point was a private Christian one - it was seemingly pretty normal among my college peers.

Ross Douthat charts a compelling narrative through the ideological landscape of the 50's and 60's to the present day. First, he takes us through the high water point of Christianity, when the horrors of World War II had disabused most everyone of the notion of continual human progress. This was the high point of institutional Christianity, when it could be theologically rigorous, intellectually respected and civil rights oriented, while being less politically polarized than it is today. Alas, the sexual revolution, a global outlook, materialism and class issues drove Christians into the two competing camps of the accommodators and resisters. The second part of the book looks at the current state of American Christianity. Douthat believes secularists and orthodox Christians alike have little to be pleased about, as a narcissistic, materialistic and nationalistic spirituality has carried the day. While Douthat supports his narrative with evidence, his strength is that he does consider competing hypotheses. He doesn't believe in a Christian "golden age", and qualifies many of the statements he makes. He manages to state and support how he believes society evolved and how Christianity was taken along for the ride, while not being dogmatic about his interpretation.

As a Christian, I'm intrigued by Douthat's book and the challenges it outlines. It's scope is both wide and deep, and packs plenty to think about in less than 300 pages. For the thinking Christian, it's an informed rejoinder to the political essence that envelops both sides of the aisle. However, I also hope the secular humanists also takes a look, as Douthat makes a strong argument that a strong institutional Christianity will do much more for the poor and helpless than alternative spiritualities. I consider it a must read and hope it finds a vast readership.
61 von 63 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Well-written, fun to read, thought-provoking, inspiring. 9. Juni 2012
Von D. Taylor - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
I came across this book while watching late night TV one night and being completely glued to a speech he was giving on C-SPAN. I had to read the book after that - in fact, I ordered it on my Kindle as soon as the TV program ended. By the time I finished this book, I was ready and inspired to take the mantle of Christianity more seriously than I had been. I read the Kindle edition which tracks that I made 263 notes & marks - which I'm now ready to go back and re-read.

His research is solid, robust and exhaustive. He describes the decline of American Christianity and does so by giving a good history of American Christianity. He is a brainiac of brainacs whose writing is still eminently readable and likable. He critiques the more common heresies we see in Christianity today, particularly accomodationism (which tries to keep Christianity relevant but at the expense of some of Christianity's core beliefs) and American exceptionalism (which sees America as a new kind of "chosen nation" thus giving America the right to evangelize the world with its thoughts, beliefs, and culture).

Consider some of these quotes:

"The result is a country where religion actively encourages the sort of recklessness that produced our current economic meltdown, rahter than serving as a brake on materialism and a rebuke to avarice," (p. 5).

He calls America "a nation of heretics...Yet heresy without room for orthodoxy turns out to be dangerous as well. Many of the orverlapping crises in American life, from our foreign policy disasters to the housing bubble to the rate of out-of-wedlock births, can be traced to the impulse to emphasize one particular element of traditional the expense of all the others...Yet the results often vindicate the older Christian synthesis. Heresy sets out to be simpler and more appealing and more rational, but it often ends up being more extreme...What's changed today, though, is the weakness of the orthodox response," (p.5 , 8).

His critiques include both Protestantism and Catholicism without ignoring the likes of Oprah, Joel Osteen, the New Atheist movement, Bart Ehrman, the Jesus Seminar, Dan Brown, Glenn Beck and many others.

He makes great points that American Christianity has suffered from second rate witnesses as seen in the televangelists and in Christian art/music. Many times, as a Christian myself, I have seen these same witnesses and thought that if this is what Christianity really is - big poofy hair, fake smiles dripping with manipulation, silly songs (though not of the VeggieTales variety!), gimicky church services - then no thanks. To this, Douthat says - "Worse, many Christians are either indifferent to beauty or suspicious of its snares, content to worship in tacky churches and amuse themselves with cultural products that are well-meaning but distinctly second-rate," (p. 292).

As a student in seminary, having read a lot of theological books both for school, for ministry, and for personal growth, I can say that chapter 5 "Lost in the Gospels" was incredible and almost Schweitzer-ian in its critique of the modern quest for the historical Jesus. "The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creed, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus. Its dogmas and definitions seek to encompass the seeming contradictions in the gospel narratives rather than evading them...The goal of the great heresies, on the other other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus, (p. 153). This is exactly what many current Jesus-questers do when they extract or re-interpret the miraculous element in the gospels, or try to re-constitute Jesus as a cynic or non-divine teacher. Jesus gets oversimplified. Douthat's further critique of this is just plain fun to read.

In one instance, he even sounds Spurgeoun-esque. On p. 152, he begins an artful section that is almost worthy of memorizing in its entirety. Here's just a snippit of it: "Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament's Jesus...He (Jesus) makes wild claims about his own relationship to God, and perhaps his own divinity, without displaying any of the usual signs of megalomania or madness...He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners."

He has so much to say - from critiquing the health and wealth, prosperity gospel (Ch. 6 - "Pray and Grow Rich") to describing the heresy of Nationalism and the heresy of Apocolyptism. He uses Thomas Jefferson, Basil the Great, Abraham Lincoln, John Winthrop and many, many others as sources of heresy and orthodoxy.

What a tremendous and thought-provoking read.
80 von 95 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen An Argument for Orthodoxy 26. April 2012
Von Tom Duffy - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Bad Religion contains a number of points that make it worth reading, whatever your religious or political persuasion. I find that Douthat:
1. Provides an excellent overview of Protestant thought and outlook since the founding of the United States. Deism, revivalism, evangelicalism, fundamentalism, mainline Protestant thought, etc. Growing up as a parochial Catholic, disinterested in things Protestant, I found this to be a great introduction to those religious traditions that I am not familiar with but obviously have a crucial role in present day politics.
2. Is not afraid to use the word heretic. The "gospel of prosperity" isn't remotely Christian and I'm glad he's willing to call a spade a spade.
3. Is very critical of accommodation. Watered down Christianity isn't Christianity. The Nicene Creed isn't a Chinese menu where you just pick the ones you want.
4. Presents his arguments in a reasonable and nuanced way. I'm not sure Douthat is blames Vatican II for the problems with the state of Catholicism today, rather, he's critical of some of the excesses following Vatican II. He is certainly not an apologist for Novak and points out that Church teaching is traditionally suspicious of capitalism.
Finally, he warns about the downside of tying your religious beliefs and your political affiliation. Which political party, for example, represents a socially progressive orthodox Catholic who is pro life and anti-death penalty? None of the above, I suppose.
Reading the reviews and the references to reviews in other publications about the book, it seems obvious that some Amazon reviewers are bringing a lot of baggage with them as they read the book. I haven't read enough of Douthat's Times columns to know if the criticism is justified, but the book itself is a reasonable call to return conservative orthodoxy. Categorizing myself as a "liberal" Catholic, I'm sure that Douthat and I could disagree on a lot, but I'm equally sure that we could say the creed together and both mean every word. I highly recommend this book.
24 von 26 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen provocative and gets you thinking 3. Juli 2012
Von Sunshine - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Having heard this book's author interviewed on NPR, I thought this book might be thought provoking. I was right. I am not sure I agree with the author, but his thesis is fascinating. For the most part it is easy to read, but keep a dictionary handy, since there are a bunch of "new" words in there that none of us use in everyday life. I look forward to discussing the author's thesis with our (Episcopal) priest. I strongly encourage anyone who is a member of a shrinking denomination, a member of a megachurch, or a "fallen away" church-goer to get this book, give it a critical read, and then begin a conversation!
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