Oprahdoxy…is it as bad as Douthat imagines? Has it turned U.S. Christians into throngs of heretics?
In the book Bad Religion: How we Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Douthat, a conservative Catholic journalist, writes a synopsis of the history of Christianity in its various forms and denominations from the 1950’s to the present. He delivers interesting points with humor and passion. However, his “orthodoxy” which he so desperately believes is the answer for the current “heretical” Christian church, and ultimately for every human on the planet is never fully explained. Instead he criticizes the “feel good” theology of Joel Osteen, the “gluttony” of the “farm to table” movement (i.e. gardening), and the “mystical pantheism” of the “God Within cult.” Interestingly enough the “God Within” movement that Douthat discusses is exactly what brought me back to a Christian faith. After leaving a legalistic, almost unbearably heavy-handed Christian tradition it was the biblical scriptures stated from a large New Thought church pulpit and an African-American pastor in Los Angeles that gave me hope in being a believer in the Bible and ultimately the Christian faith again. Orthodoxy, depending on how it is interpreted, can sometimes feel more like the squeeze of a boa constrictor more than the warmth of loving arms depending on how it is communicated. However, I do agree with his point that the “God Within” movement can lean towards a self-centered narcissistic practice with devastating results for practitioners and their families if left without some kind of moral structure.
I agree there needs to be a “skeleton” to house the “spirit,” and orthodoxy might provide this type of structure for the body of Christ. The phrase Christianity is about a “relationship, not a religion” has taken root and turned into the idea that “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,” hence the buffet of philosophies and ideas about Christianity. However, even if the Christian church developed in the United States with a set orthodoxy, the interpretations and diversity of thought would not change. The “unified” Roman Catholic Church remained for centuries partly due to the facts that lay people could not read Latin, and the “Universal Church,” with its backing from the Roman Empire, could be very “persuasive” in its modes of conversion. As Douthat explains when describing the “threat of global warming” and its effect on “mystical pantheism,” “…every successful religion needs – a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,’ and a piping-hot apocalypse.” (Kindle, 4583) Well, that sounds fun…sign me up! Wayne Dyer’s interpretation of the Tao (Way) sounds more like Jesus than that.
In Douthat’s final chapter he states that his hope throughout this book, “…has been to persuade even the most skeptical reader that traditional Christian faith might have more to offer this country than either its flawed defenders or its fashionable enemies would lead one to believe.” (Kindle, 5650) He also explains that, “Anyone who seeks a more perfect union should begin by seeking the perfection of their own soul. Anyone who would save their country should first look to save themselves.” (Kindle, 5657) I think his first statement would hold more weight if he had focused more on what traditional Christianity has to offer instead of his aggressive posture against the modern day faces of Christianity and the “God Within” folks. His second statement rings more of a Hindu or Puritan philosophy with its goal of “perfection.”
Overall, Bad Religion was a fun read with its smattering of topics and names from Teresa of Avila to Oprah, from Reinhold Niebuhr to Paulo Coelho; and I commend him on his effort to “right the wrongs.” It is written with a journalistic spirit and Catholic undertone; and includes an idealistic hope regarding traditional Christian orthodoxy and it practice as a solution to many of the issues in the United States.
Do you think Oprahdoxy has caused more harm than good in the U.S.?Do you think traditional Christian orthodoxy can work for every person on planet Earth? Do you think it is possible that every person would interpret the orthodoxy in the same way? Do you think there should be one world religion?
Douthat, Ross. Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. New York: Free Press, 2012 (Kindle)