Bad Religion, Great Book
Present day America has plenty of problems. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat puts his finger directly on one of the most important “whys” in his book, Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics. Refreshingly void of revisionist history and off-track speculation, Douthat’s analysis of America’s love affair with the Church is poignant and perspicacious. From his Biblical citations to his allusion of W.H. Auden’s poem “A Thanksgiving”, Douthat faithfully represents objectivity and logic. A book about America’s societal ills and how they relate to the American Church’s behavior, particularly with the Church’s affinity for heresies, could be quite the snoozer, but Douthat, a brilliant wordsmith, did an excellent job making it a good read.
As the youngest New York Times columnist ever, Douthat holds his own as a writer. Having graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, worked as a senior editor for The Atlantic, and written three books on sociological issues (the vitae goes on) Douthat’s career and education all but guarantee his superb writing skills. His vocabulary alone stands as a testimony to his ability. Using words such as jingoism, solipsism and glossolalia, ensured I had a dictionary nearby while reading Bad Religion. This did not detract from my reading experience.
Unlike authors who dishonestly cite sacred texts to suit their own viewpoint, such as, say, Neale Walsche in Conversations with God, Douthat cites holy writ with precision and verity. He is also obviously more than familiar with intellectual giants such as Alexis de Tocqueville, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Sǿren Kierkegaard (all of their names, and more, are mentioned within the first twenty pages of his book). Douthat effectively quotes all of these men of renown; Bob Dylan included.
Personally, I agree with Douthat’s point of view, and so I didn’t struggle with Bad Religion like Douthat’s colleague, Randall Balmer, did. Balmer attacks Bad Religion on the tenets of Douthat’s argument, but as far as a socially conscientious, orthodox Catholic point of view is concerned (you read that right), I say Douthat nails it. Bad Religion excels in insightfulness. Explaining Christianity’s role in American politics, the civil rights movement, and society as a whole, Douthat breaks this heady exposé into two easily digestible parts (Part I Christianity in Crisis, and Part II The Age of Heresy), identifying the problem at its source and following it through to present day. Bad Religion presents well whether you agree or disagree with Douthat’s viewpoint.
Labeled a jeremiad by its critics, Bad Religion was astute and stimulating. Douthat skillfully reveals how heresy, both credited for its contribution to, and its subversion of, orthodox Christianity, prevails upon our political and social nationality. By examining America’s deep-rooted religious history, the modern history of American brands of Christianity, and the changing landscape of our culture over the past fifty years, Bad Religion offers a compelling and rational argument of why we are where we are, and the best way to right ourselves.