Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics ends with some positive possibilities for the future of the church in America but the author admits writing from a pessimistic framework. It was a very interesting and disheartening read. I worked through Douthat’s account of Christianity in the twentieth century in America to the Church’s responses of accommodation and resistance the last several decades, and I finally rounded the bend to chapters six and seven – ‘Pray and Grow Rich’ and ‘The God Within’.
Although I consider myself orthodox, I am amazed at how much I have heard, absorbed, observed of these heresies. I paused several times to self-reflect on where I stand with these messages.
I am aware of the transactional hustle message. Work hard enough and you too can get rich. God wants this for you. You do your part and God has to come through on His end by blessing you in this life. And our semester’s reading of Polayni and Weber have furthered my unease about our American myth of the self-made man or woman. Douthat presents evidence of just how early on in American history this existed.
I am also aware of the message that all God wants is my personal happiness. I understand better the foothold Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has in American culture. Douthat quotes Smith and Denton with the following definition:
‘…God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist; he is always on call, takes care of any problem that arises, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves.’
Personal happiness, comfort and fulfillment is the end and goal, not God. God becomes a convenient means to this end. We become the users and the exploiters. In my research, I had never previously considered the idea of how we use God. Is it a stretch to consider that God knows what it is like to be used and exploited?
When culture becomes consumed with self, then no longer is God at the center but we are. And while I am grateful for authors that have encouraged my self-esteem and personal development, there is a limit to these messages. But it is no wonder we are obsessed with productivity and self-help Christian books.
While reading Bad Religion this week, I have also read a few articles this week about Rachel Hollis’ new book Girl, Stop Apologizing. And while I hesitate to mention someone’s work in this way, it has made me wonder a great deal this week. She is beautiful, young and wildly successful. Her first book, Girl, Wash Your Face was on New York Times best-seller list for 46 weeks. It sold 800,000 copies its first six months. She does talk about her faith some but has said her goal is to be the female Tony Robbins. I do not know enough if this is an example of Hunter’s ‘faithful presence’ or one of Douthat’s heresies.
My sister-in-law text me during this same time a picture of Girl, Stop Apologizing at Target asking me what I knew and if she should get it. Since I have been encouraging her for years to apologize less, she was sure I would approve she said. I was hesitant. Who am I to judge? How do I know? All I have done is read a few scathing articles in an age where everyone gets blasted for something. And then, I think, what is one more reader, one more purchase, when there are 800,000+ involved?
Sure, I answered her. It probably will help you with your incessant, mindless apologizing for all things. But please think carefully about what is Gospel-centric and what is not in it. Just because something can inspire you to quit poor habits does not mean it is worthy to build your life upon – only Jesus Christ offers that kind of foundation.
I am not sure this was my most theologically rigorous response to Douthat, Hollis and my sister’s question, but this is where I am at right now.
Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How we Became a Nation of Heretics, New York: Free Press, 2012, 233.