From The National Post
There was a time when institutional Christianity was at the centre of American life because it stayed above partisan politics. A Christian leader could be a Republican or a Democrat, conservative or a liberal. A Martin Luther King and a Billy Graham could both promote civil rights and appeal to those of all political stripes. Religion provided a check on personal behaviour by promoting prudence and a moral compass that helped keep the nation healthy. But in the past several decades something went wrong, writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in his latest book, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. The centre began to crumble as the sexual revolution, globalization and increased wealth led to the decline of the mainstream churches. In its place emerged a nation that turned to the extremes: from Glenn Beck to Oprah Winfrey. Yes, that Oprah. The queen of self-actualization, says Mr. Douthat, preaches a brand of spirituality that is self-centred, destructive and parasitic. National Post religion reporter Charles Lewis spoke this week to Mr. Douthat, who was in his office in Washington.
Q: What is your definition of “bad religion?”
A: Bad religion may actually seem more logical than traditional Christianity because it does away with some of the paradoxes and mysteries inherent in the faith. It takes one element of the traditional Christian synthesis and promotes it at the expense of all others. But it ends up failing to do justice to the complexity of human existence and as a result having unfortunate consequences for the way people live their lives and for society as whole.
Q: You say Americans are “God haunted.” Are you saying that even in an era of bad religion, people feel God looming over their shoulders?
A: I think that’s true. One of the underlying themes of the book is because man is by nature a religious animal the decline of one form of religious faith is not necessarily doing away with the religious impulse. It ends up finding expressions in other ways, some of it exclusively religious and some spiritual and some political.
Q: What about when that impulse moves to politics?
A: When religious institutions are weak, as they are now, people with strong religious impulses are more likely to pour that fervour into politics. I argue that this take two forms — messianic and apocalyptic. Both are mirror-image heresies. It can take a messianic form where you assume that politics is the mechanism for bringing about the kingdom of heaven on Earth. This has always been the liberal temptation: to basically assume you can overcome human nature through political reform and bring the New Jerusalem down to Earth yourself. Look at the Barack Obama campaign in 2008 and its quasi-religious air: Magazine covers showed Obama with halos on his head and you had celebrities singing for him on YouTube. He had a messianic style.
Read the rest of this thought-provoking interview here.Advertisement