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Bad Religion by Ross Douthat
Friday, July 20, 2012

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics is about how American Christianity came to be what it is. Douthat's argument is that things have been better but have gone bad. And while this isn't new, his synthesis of past events and cultural criticism of current shortcomings make his case fairly compelling; his style like a charismatic young man in ink.

The historical survey is entertaining because Douthat heavily emphasizes characters who, apart from being heroes and villains, are also leaders that shape and reshape the landscape of American Christianity. It begins in the 20th century – far enough to a distant memory, but near enough to have a direct casual relationship in our 21st (More detailed descriptions have been written to death in other reviews). This makes it an excellent place for laymen to explore religious history since its proximity enables the reader to bring a critical mind to the table, and increases the benefits of understanding.

Douthat's opinions are generally reasoned and laid out in most segments but feel forced towards the end. As a non-American, I won't assess further the validity of his cultural criticism. I will say however, that non-American Christians have much to benefit from this book. America is the hotbed of Christendom and its influence of ideas and spirituality is unavoidable. Personally, it made me more adept at categorizing my own religious climate (especially since I recently read Lian Xi's Redeemed by Fire and had a context to contrast America's this world messianism with China's apocalypticism). I also become more aware of what's at stake practically over the liberalization of theological ideas and particularly enjoyed his explanation of the prosperity gospel's appeal.

Although it's mainly a story of the church losing ground, Bad Religion is ultimately undergirded with an actionable hope for a brighter tomorrow here. Douthat doesn't have the solution but by writing this book has become part of it. Hopefully, I'm becoming part of that by reading it – I've grown curious about how I might be contributing to accommodationist causes and I'm asking God 'What really matters?'. So even if history books put you off, there are good reasons to give Ross Douthat's Bad Religion a second chance.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


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