Literary Review of Douthat’s Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics

             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.

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Chick-fil-whatnow?

Am I jumping on the Chick-fil-gimmeabreak bandwagon? Unfortunately, yes.

I don’t care what Dan Cathy thinks about gay marriage. I know what I think about gay marriage. I’m not a president of a national fast food chain. If I wanted to speak out about how I felt about the price of tea in China no one would pay attention.

Have you ever seen two seagulls fighting over a chicken bone? Most likely you haven’t, but it doesn’t take impressive mental gymnastics to understand the image. If you’ve taken an outspoken stance on Dan Cathy’s statement, you do realize that you are one of the seagulls in my analogy, right? The media literally threw a chicken bone right in the middle of our incredibly politically polarized society, and each side, like some scavenging hyena, jumped all over it in some vociferous rant about “fighting legal oppression” and “funding hate groups” (yes, real quotes).

I am officially not taking a stance on the Chick-fil-gay controversy. I don’t judge someone because they sin differently than me. And I don’t get pissed off because someone has different views than me. I have my views and the ones I share, explicitly or implicitly, don’t have to be espoused by everyone around me. Why? Because I respect others and appreciate their individuality. My choices do not have to be their choices, but all of our choices have consequences, good or bad, and I’m okay with that, because that’s the way it is.

Why not the controversy over the greed displayed by the presidents and ceo’s of the oil companies? Why not the outrage over the selfishness and covetousness of the elected politicians who are supposed to be representing us? Doesn’t the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act deserve as much fury from We The People as Dan Cathy’s personal views on marriage, if not much much more? Did you ever hear of Monsanto? Were there as many status updates asking why we spent upwards of $1,000,000,000 on a bombing campaign in Libya as there are about Chick-fil-a protests?

A friend of mine had it right when he posted as his Facebook status “Keep fighting about chicken, everyone”. The world moves in dangerous directions all around you, but you fail to notice because you’ve built your soapboxes too high to smell the crap below you, and you’ve yelled too loudly to hear the small whispers of truth right next to your ears. Stop letting the media tell you what to focus on. Practice discernment and avoid the hype. Stand apart from the masses and swim against the current. Move slowly, but with purpose, and always be listening, listening, listening.

There’s more going on in this life than what we think.

allgoodchildrengotoheaven

Fingerprints

Art is the fingerprints of God left on the clay of mankind

When a sculptor molds and shapes clay he leaves his fingerprints on the surface of the clay. When he’s done he smooths the surface of the clay so the fingerprints are erased. God didn’t smooth the surface of mankind when He created us in his image. He left his fingerprints all over us.

What separates man from the other animals? So many things. One of them is our artisitic nature. I am currently reading G.K. Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man”, and the main point of the first chapter is the stark contrast between man the animal, and man the mind. He explains, “Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The high animals did not draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was not an Impressionist and the race-horse a Post-Impressionist”.

Chesterton is saying here that although there may be evidence pointing to the evolution of man the animal, there is no evidence of the development of man’s mind. All the earliest, rawest evidence we have of man’s early mind shows that when man came on the scene he already possessed the ability to express something artistically, i.e. cave drawings.

When we create something artistic, we are reflecting the creative nature of The Creator. Even when the artist doesn’t know it, or refuses to acknowledge it, there is no getting around the fact that even the most sophisticated animals, be they monkeys, dolphins, dogs, pigs, etc… show no desire, nor the capability, to express their emotions, thoughts, experiences or understanding through artistic creation.

We are not an accident. We were intentionally made. Our Maker’s fingerprints are all over us.

allgoodchildrengotoheaven

Our First Question

Rare candid photo of me

“Why” – The easiest question to ask; the hardest question to answer.

This is my first blog post ever. I have plenty to say, but before I start blogging all of my incredibly deep insights about the world and how it works (if you’re missing the sarcasm already then this blog may not be for you) I felt I should answer the question of “why am I starting a blog”? This is not for you, who probably don’t give a damn why I’m now blogging, but more for me, who is indeed curious of the answer to the question. It’s a reality check.

Q: Why am I starting a blog?   A: I am passionate about  a realistic, objective, informed and productive world view, and I want to share my observations and commentary on what I see, and have seen, and what I learn, and have learned.

That read somewhat like a resume.

The content will be mostly comprised of questions (hopefully intelligent questions) that ought to spur you on to think, debatable theological issues, thoughts on the human condition, and other varying pretentious pontifications on whatever my fancy that particular day.

So… let’s see what happens.

allgoodchildrengotoheaven