Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

American Christianity in the Mirror!

Written by: on March 23, 2014


Douthat’s book “, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics”, is an intense and sobering read. The author’s work is informative indeed and even though it’s a magnifying polemic on American Christendom, one can’t help but feel all sorts of emotions along with follow up inquiry. Case in point, what have I believed or even more focused of a subpoena, what do I believe? From the outset, I wondered whether Douthat was going to give a survey of the building blocks to bad religion in America but he in fact delves in the crux of the matter even dating back to church history, World War II and to the current state of American Christianity. About the religious environment in the United States that author explains:

America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place. Since the 1960’s, the institutions that sustained orthodox Christian belief – Catholic and Protestant alike – have entered a state of near-terminal decline.[1]

Douthat rightly points to institutional Christendom namely the Catholic and Protestant establishment as the strong homes of Christian orthodoxy. There is a lot to look back on from those mother ships of faith mentioned, especially with today’s challenged and troubled evangelical brand. Historical narratives have a way of taking one’s memory back to certain difficult moments and good ones as well.

As a matter of fact, I thought Douthat could have been a little more objective about the lack of orthodoxy in certain epochs of Christian history. Douthat should have discussed a little at length  the Roman Catholic and Protestant’s mindset and action during Nazi German’s persecution of the Jew. I also thought that the author showed confusion when he glossily asserted that “the black Church had spent a century as the darker brother of American religion….”[2] and with the same stroke of a pen wrote, “The most segregated hour in American,” Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of saying, arrives at ‘11:00 and Sunday morning when we stand and sing that Christ has no east or west.’  But unlike most other forms of segregation, the exile of the black churches had been partially self-imposed”[3] (Loc 860). Sure, one should take responsibility for his or her actions; but how christianly orthodox is it to blame the black Church who were the sole target of white supremacy and impact of Jim Crow for trying to find comfort and a sense of belonging with their own community? Douthat’s use of language such as “partially self-imposed” belongs to one from a privileged perspective.

Granted, all humanity is imperfect, heretics are prevalent in American Christianity namely, “contemporary preachers of self-help and self-love… positive Thinking… and the prosperity gospel”[4], etcetera and “true golden ages don not exist”[5] So how should the Christian Church in America handle it’s opportunity to be a witness of God’s love, truth and grace with falling in the traps that held back the modernist and fundamentalist? The author notes:

But, just as many modernists had slipped inexorably toward a quasi-Christian religion of progress, many fundamentalists gradually embraced interpretations of the Bible that would have been foreign to earlier Christian authorities, and looked untenable in the light of modern scholarship. [6]

Reminiscing about the foundational orthodoxy of institutional religion is helpful in trying to get to answer but a there is need for an awakened imagination for the way forward.

Douthat gives pointer for a rediscovery of Christianity, namely: Christian should be “Political without being partisan”[7], “ecumenical but also confessional”[8] , “moralistic but also holistic”[9], “oriented toward sanctity and beauty”[10]

Another New Times columnist writes, “History is filled with revivals, led by people who were reinvigorated for the future by a reckoning with the past.”[11]


[1]Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (p. 20). Free Press. Kindle Edition.  LOC 133- 7354

[2] Ibid., 860.

[3] Ibid., 860.

[4] Ibid., 1008.

[5] Ibid., 998.

[6] Ibid., 650.

[7] Ibid., 5243.

[8] Ibid., 5273.

[9] Ibid., 5312.

[10] Ibid., 5375.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

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