An excellent summer read for those patrons so inclined, is Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, by Ross Douthat. He’s a writer for the New York Times and takes a non-scholarly approach…and all-in-all, I think he is fair. While I think it’s possible he has a pollyanna view of the state of play in religious America in the 1950’s, I didn’t live it so I can’t be sure, he certainly has a healthy perspective on the extremes of faith in our current world (equal jabs taken at folks like Joel Osteen, Oprah, and cable TV preachers).
Anyway, to get your brains engaged and discussion happening, here’s a couple of mind-vitamins:
That’s [referring to an earlier discussion on the crisis the Christian faith is experiencing] because 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. Since the 1960’s, the institutions that sustained orthodox Christian belief–Catholic and Protestant alike–have entered a state of near-terminal decline. The churches with the strongest connection to the Christian past have lost members, money, and authority; the elite that was once at least sympathetic to Christian ideas has become hostile or indifferent; and the culture as a whole has turned its back on many of the faith’s precepts and demands.
Did that fail to get your attention? He used the phrase “near terminal decline” to describe churches. Again, the church is withering, and I’ve yet to find anyone who proves otherwise. At what point will this bother folks?
But I digress. In describing the prevailing “pseudo-Christianity” milieu in our country, he quotes Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton who conducted a definitive study on the spiritual life of American teenagers. They describe the “de facto creed” of this generation of teens as Moralistic Theraputic Deism, which has five main premises:
1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. 2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the bible and by most world religions. 3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. 4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
…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…
…Theraputic religion doesn’t call its adherents to prayer or repentance, to works of charity, or even the observance of a Sabbath. Instead, being a moral person ‘means being the kind of person other people will like,’ which is to say pleasant, respectful, well-behaved, and nondisruptive.”
I’m no sure any of those adjectives would’ve been used in the first century to describe Christ.
And, ultimately, Douthat’s solution, you ask? That Christians need to be the “set apart ones” Scripture so clearly defines:
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, utopians, and demagogues. It depends on public examples of holiness, and public demonstrations of what the imitation of Christ can mean for a fallen world. We are waiting, not for another political savior or television personality, but for a Dominic or a Francis, an Ignatius or a Wesley, a Wilberforce or a Newman, a Bonhoeffer or a Solzhenitsyn. Only sanctity can justify Christianity’s existence; only sanctity can make the case for faith; only sanctity, or the hope thereof, can ultimately redeem the world…To make a difference in our common life, Christianity must be lived–not as a means to social cohesion or national renewal, but as an end unto itself…Anyone who would save their country should first look to save themselves. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. That quest begins with a single step…
Welp…that should be plenty for you to mull over while drinking that cup of joe…Have at it, patrons!