DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bad Religion

Written by: on April 6, 2015

In the book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Gregory Douthat traces the degradation of Christian religion in America through the decades following the Second World War. He challenges the idea that we are no longer a religious nation or a non-religious society and points out that, “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.”[1] It is not that we no longer believe, it is a question of what we believe. “At the deepest level, every human culture is religious—defined by what its inhabitants believe about some ultimate reality, and what they think that reality demands of them.”[2] In the past, it was common to hear people say, “I know it’s wrong, but I’ll do it anyway”. Now, it has become easier to erase the concept of right and wrong by redefining our religious believes by what we want the truth be rather than defining our lives by what the truth really is.

 

We should not be surprised that we are where we are; after all, we did not arrive here overnight. As we look at the years following World War II, we see a time that America was growing and prosperous. No longer were we praying the prayers for daily bread that were heard during the Great Depression. No longer were we praying for peace and the safe return of our children from the ravages of a world war. We thanked God for our good job, nice family, two-car garage, and the American way of life. For many, there was no need to pray at all. Wealth and power brought security both for now and for the future. Did we really need God anymore? Well of course we did…how else would we get to heaven. Besides, we were America, the greatest nation on earth and blessed of God. We could not get too radical about God; just enough to keep getting blessed and make sure we would go to heaven. We did not abandon God, we just redefined the gospel. Along came the next generation. Sensing the emptiness of their parent’s religion, they continued to redefine what was real and true. The rabbit hole runs deep. Oh what to do!

We must get back to a truly Christian America. We must elect Christian politicians who will make Christian laws to make us a great nation once again. Surprise, that doesn’t work either. “The Bush administration ultimately became a case study in the limits of winning elections as a means to achieving religious and cultural change.”[3] We continue to look outside of the Church for the cause of our despair. “The religious mistake has been to fret over the threat posed by explicitly anti-Christian forces, while ignoring or minimizing the influence that the apostles of pseudo-Christianity exercises over the American Soul.”[4]

We must look inside the Church and inside ourselves. It would be convenient to cast the blame at the feet of secular society, but that will change nothing. “Every argument about Christianity is at the bottom an argument about the character of Christ himself, and every interpretation of Christian faith begins with an answer to the question Jesus posed to his disciples: ‘Who do you say that I am?’”[5] This is the question we must answer in our lives and in our churches. Jesus did not pose this question to secular society, he asked it to one of his closest followers. Only when we, as followers of Jesus, define our answer based on who he is rather than on who we want him to be, will we moved beyond bad religion and become the people and Church we were created to be.

 

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

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid., 136.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 152.

About the Author

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Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

10 responses to “Bad Religion”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, I am using this in my Essay … “Only when we, as followers of Jesus, define our answer based on who he is rather than on who we want him to be, will we moved beyond bad religion and become the people and Church we were created to be.” Very powerful along with your … “No longer were we praying the prayers for daily bread that were heard during the Great Depression. No longer were we praying for peace and the safe return of our children from the ravages of a world war. We thanked God for our good job, nice family, two-car garage, and the American way of life. For many, there was no need to pray at all.” Great stuff! This was definitely one of our best LGP5 reads yet.

  2. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Brian, Great post. I really enjoyed this week’s reading and then really enjoyed your post. I agree with Phil that this is such a great comment, “Only when we, as followers of Jesus, define our answer based on who he is rather than on who we want him to be, will we moved beyond bad religion and become the people and Church we were created to be.”

    Recently, we did a congregational survey at my church and my “favorite” negative comment was, “you talk about Jesus to much, I want to hear more about how to live my daily life.” I really think this anonymous comment ties in directly with your quote about wanting to define Jesus to be who we want him to be…It’s a good reminder that we must be more careful about what we preach and teach and how we represent Jesus.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Nick,

      It sounds like the survey at your church was quite revealing. I’ve heard a similar response in other churches. I believe that people struggle to know Christ, as they often perceive Him as nothing more than a story that they have heard at church. You are right to raise caution on how we represent Jesus to the world. This reminds me of a book that I read a while back, called Fabricating Jesus. We have developed a system of bad religion, because we have fabricated or recreated Jesus to match the demands of consumers of religion. We’ve sold Jesus to people instead of introducing Jesus to them.

      • mm Nick Martineau says:

        Fabricated Jesus = Bad Religion. I’ll look into that book. Thanks Dawnel.

      • mm Brian Yost says:

        “We’ve sold Jesus to people instead of introducing Jesus to them.”
        Wow–that is a very convicting statement. What a difference in trying to sell Jesus and close the deal or just introducing Jesus and letting His Spirit speak.

        • Jon Spellman says:

          Yikes! When we feel the need to sell Jesus, we are saying that a mere introduction is just not enough. Hmmm

  3. mm Jon Spellman says:

    Brian, you said “In the past, it was common to hear people say, “I know it’s wrong, but I’ll do it anyway”. Now, it has become easier to erase the concept of right and wrong by redefining our religious belie[f]s by what we want the truth be rather than defining our lives by what the truth really is.

    Keen observation man… In the former way, at least there was a recognition of a “magnetic North” of sorts. Even if you chose to violate “right,” it did infect exist. In the latter way, everything is right. Chesterton (I believe) said “when people turn from God it’s not that they stop believing anything, it’s that they start believing everything…” (my paraphrase). IF everything is right then nothing truly can be right.

    Thanks Brian

    J

  4. mm Dave Young says:

    “Only when we, as followers of Jesus, define our answer based on who he is rather than on who we want him to be, will we moved beyond bad religion and become the people and Church we were created to be.”

    I like where you went with this, you brought it back to orthodoxy by bringing it back to the heart of the matter. Do I really know Jesus and if I really know him, and He is my Lord well then my life reflects him. If my life reflects him it impacts the church and the church impacts the culture. What we’ve incorporated in churches and in our personalized religion are warped versions of Jesus that we’ve made in our own images. Maybe we can reorient ourselves to the real Jesus but alas how? Isn’t distortion possible even in the ‘how?’ Ugh.

  5. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    Your perspective makes me think – does it require leaving the US and living in another country to see the radical disconnect Christians in America have made in regard to what following Jesus really means? Your sarcasm and playful jibes make me realize how much we have become the frog in the kettle. Without even realizing it, we become saturated with “bless me Lord by giving me what I want.” Taking the easy way, rather than the deeper places of understanding God. As G.K. Chesterton said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”

  6. mm Travis Biglow says:

    Brian,

    That is the question we have to ask, “who do we say Jesus is.”
    I am so convinced that we should not be looking for the word to do anything about us when it comes to our faith in Christ. Its like people be waiting for the newest fad or idea to come out so that they can adopt it in the church. I just pray that out of what we see as a nation of some Bad Religion we can see the underpinnings of people who are praying, studying, sharing Christ, batizing people, and leading them to Christ in the plethora of Bad Religion! blessings

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