*Bad Religion*

The author is Ross Douthat and the subtitle is How We Became a Nation of Heretics.  It is a very good and very serious book arguing that America needs better religious thinking and practice, excerpt:

The entire media-entertainment complex, meanwhile, was almost shamelessly pro-Catholic.  If a stranger to American life had only the movies, television, and popular journalism from which to draw inferences, he probably would have concluded  that midcentury America was a Catholic-majority country — its military populated by the sturdy Irishmen of The Fighting 69th (1948) and The Fighting Sullivans (1944); its children educated and its orphans rescued by the heroic priests and nuns celebrated in Boys Town (1938), The Bells of Saint Mary’s (1945), and Fighting Father Dunne (1948); its civic life dominated by urban potentates like Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York and Denis Dougherty of Philadelphia; its everyday life infused with Catholic kitsch, from the 1950s hit single “Our Lady of Fatima” to the “win one for the Gipper” cult of Notre Dame football.

My main question is what could have become of most organized religion in an era of newly found television penetration — a competing source of ideas about right and wrong — and the birth control pill and sexual liberation of women?  Not to mention gay rights.  The recent evolution of American religion may not be optimal, but it is endogenous to some fairly fundamental forces.  Non-religious thinking seems to offer especially high returns to successful people these days, and while American religion certainly has survived that impact (unlike in the UK?), what is left will seem quite alienating to much of the intelligentsia, Ross included.

For most mainstream religions, for most urban and suburban intellectuals circa 2012, it is hard to live a religiously observant life during the ages of say 17-25.  American religion is left with late convert intellectuals and proponents of various enthusiasms, all filtered through the lens of America’s rural-tinged mass culture.  Where is the indigenous and recent highbrow Christian culture of the United States?

Ross’s close comes off as voluntarist (“That quest begins with a single step…”), but in an economic model which change might nudge the United States back toward a more intellectual Christianity?  Your suggestions are welcome.


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