Top positive review
Heresy is easy. Orthodoxy is hard.
Reviewed in the United States on April 9, 2015
Bad Religion is a well-written and well-organized tour of American Christianity from its post-war heights to its post-millennial doldrums. Part one describes "a kind of Indian summer for orthodox belief":
"... During this era the Protestant Mainline enjoyed a kind of twilight glow. The years of the Niebuhrs and neo-orthodoxy were the last years that Presbyterians and United Methodists and Episcopalians and Lutherans would see a sustained growth in membership, the last era during which Mainline churches conducted serious missionary efforts overseas, the last period when leadership seemed to care as much about evangelization as about political activism."
Then came.. the accomodationists, Protestant and Catholic, clerical and lay, who wanted to bring Christianity up to date, and in the process threw out nearly everything. Douthat is very telling about what these reformers wrought (although I should point out, that he is never as caustic about heresy as Chesterton, let alone Belloc):
"...In their quest to be inclusive and tolerant and up-to-date, the accommodationists imitated his scandalously comprehensive love, while ignoring his scandalously comprehensive judgments. They used his friendship with prostitutes as an excuse to ignore his explicit condemnations of fornication and divorce. They turned his disdain for the religious authorities of his day and his fondness for tax collectors and Roman soldiers into a thin excuse for privileging the secular realm over the sacred. [...]
Given the climate of the 1960s and ’70s, these choices were understandable. But the more the accommodationists emptied Christianity of anything that might offend the sensibilities of a changing country, the more they lost any sense that what they were engaged in really mattered, or was really, truly true. In the process, they burned their candle at both ends, losing their more dogmatic parishioners to more fervent congregations and their doubters to the lure of sleeping in on Sundays."
In part two, Douthat covers the modern heresies, "Pray and get rich," "The God Within," and the two strains of Christian Nationalism, Messianic and pessimistic in very breezy chapters with a knack for getting to the heart of the matter:
"... Therapeutic theology raises expectations, and it raises self-regard. It isn’t surprising that people taught to be constantly enamored of their own godlike qualities would have difficulty forging relationships with ordinary human beings. (Two Supreme Selves do not necessarily a happy marriage make.) Learning to love ourselves and love the universe isn’t necessarily the best way to learn to love our neighbor as ourselves, it turns out, and an overemphasis on the essential unity of all things—the Creator and creation, God and man, Yahweh and Elizabeth Gilbert—may be a good way to dissolve more intermediate loyalties completely."
Too rich to summarize, easy to quote from, Bad Religion is pessimistic but never despairing, polite but never misty-eyed. A timely restatement of some long-standing truths.