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

Are We Becoming PC? (No…it doesn’t stand for “politically correct”)

Written by: on April 12, 2014

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 (PC) in its place. [1] This is Douthat’s argument throughout his book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Herectics.

Douthat believes that America has been invaded with “heretical” versions of Christianity and that this has weakened America’s cultural heritage. According to Douthat, there are two popular explanations for America’s current predicament – one offered by the Christian right, and the other by the secular left.[2]

“The right holds that Americans have lost their way because they have fallen away from faith of their fathers…their prescription from the 1970s to the present day, has been a religious counterrevolution, aimed at restoring faith to its rightful place at the center of American culture, politics, and law.  The left insists that the United States is in decline because it’s excessively religious…a once-great nation brought low by piety and zeal. Yet both sides have embraced a wildly simplified vision of our culture…children of light contend with children of darkness…every inch of ground is claimed by absolute truth or deplorable error. This is the real story of religion in America. For all its piety and fervor, today’s United Sates needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.”[3]

So who are the heretics and what are the heresies that Douthat mentions in his book? According to Douthat, orthodox belief is most threaten by the bad religion fostered by the pseudo-Christianities found in our society. The danger that we face is not from the shortage of religious thought and feelings in America but from an excess of lite Christianity which adjusts itself to the ultimate self and every fad in society.  In the second part of his book Douthat devotes three chapters to three pseudo-Christianities that have taken over our cultural landscape. He identifies them as the “prosperity gospel,” the “God within” and the “God bless the USA” nationalism.

These pseudo-Christianities offer a cafeteria or buffet style Jesus.  Douthat states that a choose-your-own Jesus mentality encourages spiritual seekers to screen out discomforting part of the New Testament and focus only on whatever Christ they find most congenial.[4] Our culture is dominated by these pseudo-Christianities that encourage a choose-your-own-Jesus.

The choose-your-own-Jesus mentality offers quick fixes and band-aids. The prosperity gospel offers a plate of quick fixes. Douthat mentions that Joel Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living your full potential” tells us that it’s all about you…if you have faith in yourself…in your strength…if you work harder…if you think positive…you will succeed.  The “God-within” selection offers a “do it yourself religion.” “You have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace with God.”[5]  It provides an excuse for making religious faith more comfortable, more dilettantish, more self-absorbed—for doing what you feel like doing anyway, and calling it obedience to a Higher Power or Supreme Self.[6]  Basically, the God-within encourages you to do what pleases you and to do what feels good to you.

To this Douthat writes that the prosperity gospel is a theology of striving and reaching and demanding. The gospel of the “God within” is a theology of letting go. The prosperity gospel makes the divine sound like a broker; the theology of the “God within” makes him sound like your shrink.[7]

This buffet style Christianity is also served “over easy” in politics with a “side order” of patriotism. Douthat stresses that the heresy of nationalism’s co-option of Christian faith has left the faith too weak to play the kind of positive role it has often played in our public life. He argues that the Christian body has less moral authority today than it did generations ago, and patriotism in its various forms burns far brighter than most religious Americans’ affections for their churches and denominations.[8]

On the 4th of July, Americans in the United States celebrate Independence Day. Our churches are decorated in red, white, and blue. Flags, small and large, decorate the sanctuaries and altars. Anthems of “God Bless America,” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” are sung. One can say that there is a spirit of profound freedom and dedication. Yet this freedom does not free believers from the obligation to strive in political affairs as they strive in all things, to do what God would have them do.[9]

According to Douthat the future of American religion depends on believers who can demonstrate, in word and deed alike that the possibilities of the Christian life are not exhausted by TV preachers, and self-help gurus, and demagogues.[10] It is about living a holy life and living in the image of God. It is about turning to God first. It is about taking God’s character for our pattern in life. Matthew 6:33 reminds us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The Kingdom of God offers no quick fixes, no band-aids, and no choose-your-own Jesus.   When Jesus spoke about the kingdom he was not offering a piecemeal, fix-it-up remedy for the wrongs suffered in this world. The Kingdom of God is something new. Something different. Something that replaced one reality — that of a sinful, broken world — with a new reality, a world made whole and living in covenant with God’s design for shalom and love. May God help us from becoming “PC.”

[1] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, (New York, NY: Free Press, 2012) p. 3.

[2] Ibid., p. 2

[3] Ibid., pgs. 2-5.

[4] Ibid., p. 175

[5] Ibid., p. 214.

[6] Ibid., p. 230.

[7] Ibid., p. 217.

[8] Ibid., p. 274.

[9] Ibid., p. 276.

[10] Ibid., p. 292.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

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