Ross Douthat's "Bad Religion - How We Became a Nation of Heretics," is a researched explanation of why Douthat believes religious feelings and attitudes have changed over the last fifty years. Yet according to Randall Balmer in the New York Times Sunday Book Review Douthat was not thorough enough. And, this reporter would have to agree.
While Douthat's insights into the current crop of "TV evangelists" and "prosperity Gospel" celebrities is spot on, I have to say that his sentiments on the USA being a nation of "heretics" is a bit unrealistic.
This reporter has heard this type of rhetoric before. It seems what Douthat is expressing is a mourning of sorts. Yes, many can sympathize with his perspective. Yet, it seems he is the type of person that wishes the clock of society could just get "turned back to 1955." Well, Sorry, no can do!
And, while Douthat provides what seems like a conservative's point of view, what I see here is a sentimentalist's point of view. Not that sentiment is bad, only it is inaccurate. And, such sweeping sentiments often lead to very short-sighted accounts of history. Douthat has left out a lot of details in history that must not be speculated upon but simply acknowledged. What about other cultures and eras far older and more complicated than that of the Post-World War II era? Douthat seems to have omitted much in his overall research.
It might be better for Douthat to replace the word "heretic" with something like hedonist or maybe narcissist, those would be more accurate, I think. And, such self-centeredness is a cause for concern. But screaming "heretics" does not help.
Also, Douthat seems to equate "orthodoxy" with righteous living or high moral character. I doubt that any form of religion be it Protestant or Catholic or whatever can or will ever make someone a moral person. Morality, ethics I think resides within the essence of a person, how they have bonded with others, the decisions they make, etc.
I do agree that the social "mores" (a sociological term) of these high-tech times have changed considerably from those of 50 years ago. Yet, while the mid-20th Century does seem more like a simpler and gentler time, I doubt very much if human nature was any more or less moral.
Now, that being said, I think those of the Great Depression and World War II generation might of had a lot more advantages to being ethical and moral, but to say those times were better, I wonder?
It seems to me most of the theology and piety Douthat points to is of another time. And, that time is past, it is gone! True it is missed by those who knew it. But no amount of preaching and rallying will bring it back. That form of piety and feeling, belonged to those generations that expressed it.
Instead of ranting on about the past so much, why not look and find the good in the present? Douthat should try to find present-day examples of people sharing new ideas on faith, marriage, devotion, etc.
I also challenge Douthat's notion of deity. Where does he think all of these ideas about Christianity and monotheism come from? The Judaic, the pre-Christian and pre-Judaic concepts helped form what he considers to be "orthodoxy" anyway, so why not focus his scholarship and academic energies on finding current day morality and modes of good character?
Also with our nation's founding principle of "separation of church and state," he might use his journalistic and research skills for more pressing matters, like examining the morals and ethics of our banking system. Or he might consider using his considerable skills at examining more closely our modern system of US government, rather than pointing to the word "heretic."
It is a waste of time to wallow about the past and to blame the current low morale of the people on some out-dated sentiment about religion. No amount of "orthodoxy" will "fix" America's problems.
Yet for those who like history and want an overview of mainstream religious ideas in the early to late 20th Century, Douthat's book is interesting and can provide some insight.