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An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 11. Februar 2014

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“A strikingly original diagnosis of the national moral condition. . . . Deftly analytical and also beautifully written, it has the head of Christopher Lasch and the heart of Flannery O’Connor. Anyone wishing to chart the deeper intellectual and religious currents of this American time, let alone anyone who purports to navigate them for the rest of the public, must first read and reckon with An Anxious Age." (National Review, Mary Eberstadt)
“Provocative and profound. . . . With his exquisite, precise descriptions, . . . Joseph Bottum has changed the way we will look at American religion.” (Washington Times, Gerald Russello)
“The writing is so marvelous. Bottum’s chapter on John Paul II positively glitters. . . . His side-by-side profile of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and William F. Buckley Jr. says more about both men in a dozen pages than some books manage to convey. . . . The most interesting, accessible, and perceptive analysis of recent American religious history in years.” (The University Bookman, Geoffrey Kabaservice)
“An interpretive guide with great explanatory power. . . . James Burnham, Daniel Bell, Christopher Lasch, . . . with the publication of An Anxious Age, I wonder if these earlier thinkers haven’t all been surpassed. (The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty)
“Joseph Bottum may be America’s best writer on religion. . . . [An Anxious Age is] a new and invaluable contribution to our understanding of America’s frame of mind, . . . a work of great importance that should be read, re-read and debated by the literate public, believers and non-believers alike.” (American Interest, David Goldman) 

"An Anxious Age is a remarkable work--bursting at the seams with ideas, insights, analyses and propositions about Protestantism and Catholicism, religion and America, God and man, past and present, the public sphere and our private lives. It is one heck of a book." -William Kristol, Editor, The Weekly Standard

"An Anxious Age is bound to be viewed as a classic of American sociology—not only because of its vast knowledge of historical facts and personalities, its depth and multiple layers of meaning, but also because of its literary elegance and imaginative structure. Bottum offers a wholly new way of understanding religion in public life today. His 'Erie Canal Thesis' about the history of American culture is brilliantly laid out, and the magical trick Bottum works when he asks, Where did the Protestant ethic go? is nearly breathtaking. Who would have guessed that the starchy morals of an older generation would evaporate so quickly—and yet later Christianity-less generations would still exude the same old assumption of moral superiority? Joseph Bottum stands among the nation’s most vivid and penetrating writers." -Michael Novak, Winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize, Author of Writing from Left to Right

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

JOSEPH BOTTUM is one of the nation’s most widely published and influential essayists—and author of The Christmas Plains, classic reflections on the meaning of Christmas and the American prairie. Bottum, whose writing has appeared in The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, is the former literary editor of The Weekly Standard and editor in chief of First Things. He holds a PhD in medieval philosophy and has done television commentary for programs from NBC's Meet the Press to the PBS Evening News. Bottum Lives with his family in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Anxious to Find a Room at the Inn 26. April 2014
Von Wayne Lusvardi - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Joseph Bottum has a memorable joke in his book "An Anxious Age: The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America" that reflects the book's unique genre. Bottum writes: "...in any phrase the word social should be read as meaning basically not. Social scientist, for example, more or less equals not a scientist. "

Bottum's book is not mere social science, even though it might be the best book on the sociology of religion in America since Max Weber and Peter Berger. What Bottum's book is, is a sort of throwback to an age, circa pre-1900, when social science and religion was written about from a value-full perspective. In actual life the two are inseparable, except in modern social science. Bottum pulls off one of the most accurate sociological portraits of the decline of Protestantism in America while commenting as a Christian believer and without sacrificing sociological accuracy.

Bottum's methodology uses qualitative sociology to paint four biographical portraits of members of what Bottum calls members of The New Class that has supplanted the Protestant Business Class in America. The portraits are fictional but apparently a composite of actual people - something the famous German sociologist Max Weber would call an "ideal type."

Bottum's quote of T.S. Eliot is one of the most accurate about the definition of The New Class: "The elites" consist "solely of individuals whose only common bond will be their professional interest; with no social cohesion, with no social continuity."

Although Bottum doesn't put it in these words, The New Class is those who have married their professions in the knowledge industries: academia, media, entertainment, and government. What Bottum's book chronicles in the life of four fictional persons is the decline of the Protestant Work Ethic and the Old Business Class that made up Protestant Christianity. Today, it is the member of the New Professional Knowledge Class that has taken over Protestantism to its demise.

Where nominal Protestantism still exists it mainly does so in service to New Class Elites who have infiltrated and taken over the leadership positions in mainline churches. This takeover has resulted in schisms as conservative Protestants have fled for Evangelical and Catholic churches or declining remnants of older churches.

The surnames Bottum gives his four characters are: Paisley (Scottish), Jones (British), Winslow (Old English), and Doorn (Dutch). By profession they are a psychologist, American history professor, a hippie guitar repairman, and a retired woman activist. By former church affiliation they respectively were Presbyterian, Methodist, Unitarian-Quaker, Dutch Reformed.

Today they all fall into the category of the "Nones." They have no religious affiliation and no connection with the business class, which they despise. If they have a religion it is the social gospel without the Gospel says Bottum. Bottum calls them "The Poster Children": adult children afflicted with a social disease whose portraits are used to advance a cause.

"All that is necessary for self-esteem, for the certainty of individual salvation, is possession of the class markers of social suspicion that indicate one belongs to the fellowship of the redeemed" writes Bottum. The traits of those in the New Class is that they "rent seek" and form fiefdoms, hoard privilege, self-righteously congratulate themselves, need to feel superior, assert relativism in an absolutist way, and they arrogantly despise other classes and strict religion (particularly the Business Class and fundamentalist religion). They are post-modernists who have a romantic view of primitive life. They are assured that science is on their side and confident that morality can be socially engineered by the New Knowledge Class.

The test that he puts to his half fictional-half real characters is a field test: he simply asks them to name something they thought was beautiful. The typical response to this question Bottum writes is relativistic: "different cultures think different things are beautiful," as if they parroted something they learned by rote from a textbook. Very few answer that they found beauty in a classic piece of art, music, or even in nature because nature is despoiled by modern industrialism.

To the New Class there is nothing that is solidly true, good, or beautiful (and by extension nothing evil except other classes).

Bottom also calls them "tourists without homes," reminiscent of sociologist Peter Berger's term "Homeless Minds." Borrowing from pragmatic philosopher William James, Bottum says the members of the New Class live in the metaphorical corridors of their homes and have never entered any of the rooms to make a home. Because they have no spiritual home they have high spiritual and social anxiety that becomes instantly defensive and outraged, intuitively feeling that is only their self-assertion, collective political power, and feeling of being right that makes them right. Again, although Bottum does not use this term they are infused with "cognitive dissonance" where the moment they are exposed or confronted to contrary evidence or views, their own views get stronger in defense. Because of this there is no way to dialogue with those in the New Class, a conclusion that Bottum does not make however.

The second half of the book is about how Catholicism is the only vestige of Christianity left and what it's role might be in a Post Protestant culture where what is left of mainline Protestant Churches has been appropriated as modern temples for the New Class. This is a great book but I doubt it will be read by many in the un-self critical and self righteous New Class which he describes. The victors of culture wars will write their interpretation of history but this book is a self-critical examination of the history of the decline of Protestantism and rise of the New Class written by one of their own members. Bottum is a poet, memoirist, philosopher, American and classical historian with a sociologist's understanding who nonetheless is a religious believer.

However, Bottum is not a social scientist by training. If he were a social scientist he may have written a somewhat different book than a sequel to Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Instead, he might have relied on another of Weber's classic books to help understand why the New Class has ascended to supplant and appropriate Protestant Christianity for itself: Weber's book on Bureaucracy.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Insightful and Well Written Look at Religion and Spirituality in Modern America 16. März 2014
Von Kevin M. Derby - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Joseph Bottum had his work cut out for him in “An Anxious Age.” Trying to offer a revised take on Max Weber’s look at how religion shaped American life from 50 years ago, Bottum argues that religion and spirituality continue to shape culture, politics and daily life. Bottum offers a fascinating look at how Mainline Protestantism became sidelined in the last half of the twentieth century and how Catholics, mostly influenced by John Paul II, tried to take their place in the public square with some, but certainly not complete, successes. In one of the more unique arguments I’ve come across in some time, Bottum shows how the heirs of Mainline Protestants continue to embrace the tracings of that tradition while abandoning the core of it, namely traditional Christianity.

Despite his old perch at “First Things” and his long association with “The Weekly Standard,” Bottum is not, by any means, primarilly concerned with politics. While Bottum leans right, he’s certainly not a knee-jerk partisan and some conservatives still haven’t forgiven him for calling for an end to their efforts against government recognition same-sex marriage. Bottum is not looking to reinforce his side or bash the other. There is a great deal in “An Anxious Age” that will offer insights to liberals, conservatives and moderates while parts of the book will make all of them frown. Bottum is more concerned with presenting his case than trying to fire his side up--a rare and wonderful thing in an age where too many pundits and public figures are more concerned with being cheerleaders for their base. While I am familiar with Bottum’s work, the amount of learning he presents from various fields continues to impress.

Best of all, Bottum is a supremely gifted writer and there were passages that show why he is a fairly accomplished poet as well as the author of warm tributes to his childhood holidays in the Dakotas. “An Anxious Age” is important, insightful and well-written. Highly recommended.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen The Puritan Oligarchy Survives 25. März 2014
Von Robert Mitchell - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verifizierter Kauf
Bottum, like Max Weber, realizes the profound human need for a spiritual worldview, and how such a worldview shapes human history. His analysis of the "post- Protestants" really the heirs (often literally) to the Puritan tradition is the most powerful part of the book. From my vantage point, his diagnosis of the modern college-educated secular "elite" as merely the "Elect," with the same anxieties about the continual need to confirm their elect status (having the correct views about food, the environment, militarism and bigotry) is spot on. His analysis of the new generation of Catholics searching to find faith in the post Vatican II Church is less satisfying, reflecting I suppose his own personal ambiguity. Like the work of Samuel Huntington, Bottum's essays remind me once again how profoundly Protestant the culture of America is and always has been. Catholics and Jews, whatever their secular successes in rising within America, abandon or reshape their own spirituality in a Protestant way, even in this nominally secular culture.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen The End of Exceptionalism 29. März 2014
Von Eric Jackson - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
The “catastrophic decline of the Mainline Protestant churches that had once been central institutions in [American] public life” is far and away the most important development of the last fifty years. So argues Joseph Bottum in his thoughtful new book, An Anxious Age.

Other sociologists, working from materialistic assumptions, have noted the decay of civic virtue and social capital, but Bottum, using the insights of Max Weber and Alexis de Tocqueville, focuses his attention on the cause of the rot. Protestantism gave America “social unity and cultural definition that did not derive entirely from political arrangements and economic relations.” This unity and definition provided a common vocabulary with which to navigate secular spheres.

Bottum uses the image of a stool to envisage the American experiment, with democracy, capitalism and Protestantism as the three legs. Without the support provided by the Protestant churches, democracy and capitalism—that is, our political and economic arrangements—must bear more weight.

The effects can be seen everywhere. One example on which Bottum comments is the degraded form of our national discourse. Without the framework provided by Protestantism, we can no longer make “rhetorical distinction between absolute wickedness and the people with whom we disagree.” Our political opponents aren't merely wrong; they are evil.

This tendency is typified by a particular group of post-Protestants, whom Bottum dubs the Poster Children. They belong to Flannery O'Connor's Holy Church of Christ Without Christ, which worships no God and preaches a sort of “Christian morality without the tommyrot,” to quote John Humphrey. Above all, its adherents believe themselves to be morally superior—not merely elite, but elect. In the process, they have also transferred “the moral center of human worry about the body away from sex and unto food.” Drinking soda and eating meat are venial sins, with smoking and obesity warranting the post-Christian equivalent of damnation.

In the second half of the book, Bottum traces the history of Catholicism in American during the decline of Protestantism. Catholicism was always seen as something foreign—which, in a sense, it was. This gave rise to American anti-Catholic sentiment. But the same forces that undermined Protestantism also swept away a good deal of the bias against the Church of Rome, as evidenced by the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Catholicism found itself trying to occupy the space left by Protestantism. It failed to serve as a replacement for a variety of reasons, ranging from the tumult of Vatican II to the priest sex abuse scandals. There's no indication that the author regards this failure as inevitable, as indeed it may not have been. But if the language of Catholicism was too irregular, too alien, to serve as an adequate substitute in a Protestant country, what hope is there in one that is post-Protestant?

Moreover, the Swallows of Capistrano—Bottum's name for American Catholics—have been scattered. He hypothesizes hopefully that they may soon return to play a larger role in American culture. And his book ends by noting that these Swallows and his Poster Children might well get along because of “the middle-class etiquette, the good manners of niceness” that they share. This is, well, tommyrot. Our books must conclude with just this sort of boilerplate. First problem, then solution—no matter how insufficient.

As his book makes clear, Protestantism is gone, and—at present at least—Catholicism cannot fill the gap. America may have been exceptional in her religious composition, but it takes a considerable act of faith to see how she can remain so. Bottum is to be commended for the gentle way he leads the reader to this regrettable realization.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Beautiful Digressions 9. April 2014
Von John - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verifizierter Kauf
I first became acquainted with Joseph Bottum as the editor of First Things, a conservative journal dealing with religion in the public square. In his brief reign as editor, he brought flair, elegance, and extravagance to the journal—qualities that brought about his editorial demise, as First Things has a rather serious audience that does not appreciate full-color photographs (an innovation of his) interrupting pages of lengthy prose. Flair and elegance are also on display in An Anxious Age, as Bottum renders a serious (and sociological) book into a light and lovely reflection on religion in America.

Bottum focuses on two topics. Firstly, Bottum posits the transformation of 'mainline' Protestantism into a new secular ethos. He persuasively argues that today's 'elite' liberals are in cultural continuity with the mainline Protestants (e.g. liberal but religious; not fundamentalist) that once dominated the American scene. The new 'elite' retain the old Protestant sense of superiority and righteousness, but have simply dropped Christianity along the way. Secondly, Bottum examines how Catholicism attempted to fill the void left by mainline Protestantism and ultimately failed in so doing. He argues that Catholicism supplied America a new political rhetoric—based on the ideas of natural law and human dignity—that Evangelicals embraced. However, he finds that Catholicism did not and perhaps cannot replace traditional Protestantism in America, as the country is Protestant at its core.

This is only a small snapshot of An Anxious Age. Bottum fiddles with numerous ideas and observations, all of which show how significant and how strange American religion is. (But what of the rise of Mormonism? This is a pertinent topic that Bottum fails to address.) Unfortunately, Bottum frequently digresses, in particular by writing beautiful but inapposite biographies of major figures in America. These digressions make the book feel like a collection of essays loosely tied together by a not quite overarching theme. Whatever faults this book may have, Bottum's elegant style makes it worth reading. And oddly enough, because intellectuals are almost always cynics, I finished this book with the impression that Bottum is a man who genuinely cares for both religion and America.
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