Joseph Bottum and America's Anxious Age – Part 1

A few years back I was lucky enough to co-host a podcast interview with Joseph Bottum regarding his Kindle Single hit Dakota Christmas (which was picked up and re-released in hardback as The Christmas Plains).  I have followed his writing since then and so when his new book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, was released I thought it would be fun to dust off the podcast format and have a conversation with a great writer about religion, American history and public life.

It is a fascinating book and I hope our conversation entices you to read it. I will try to capture my thoughts soon and post a review.  In the meantime, Part One of our conversation is above and I will post the second half tomorrow (Part Two).  (It has been awhile since I have done a podcast or audio interview so excuse any awkward pauses or less than high fidelity recordings. )

More about the book and some links after the jump.

Publisher’s Blurb:

We live in a profoundly spiritual age, but not in any good way. Huge swaths of American culture are driven by manic spiritual anxiety and relentless supernatural worry. Radicals and traditionalists, liberals and conservatives, together with politicians, artists, environmentalists, followers of food fads, and the chattering classes of television commentators: America is filled with people frantically seeking confirmation of their own essential goodness. We are a nation desperate to stand of the side of morality—to know that we are righteous and dwell in the light.

In An Anxious Age, Joseph Bottum offers an account of modern America, presented as a morality tale formed by a collision of spiritual disturbances. And the cause, he claims, is the  most significant and least noticed historical fact of the last fifty years: the collapse of the mainline Protestant churches that were the source of social consensus and cultural unity. Our dangerous spiritual anxieties, broken loose from the churches that once contained them, now madden everything in American life.

Updating The Protestant Ethic and the Sprit of Capitalism, Max Weber’s sociological classic, An Anxious Ageundertakes two case studies of contemporary social classes adrift in a nation without the religious understandings that gave them meaning. Looking at the college-educated elite he calls “the Poster Children,” Bottum sees the post-Protestant heirs of the old mainline Protestant domination of culture: dutiful descendants who claim the high social position of their Christian ancestors even while they reject their ancestors’ Christianity. Turning to the Swallows of Capistrano, the Catholics formed by the pontificate of John Paul II, Bottum evaluates the early victories—and later defeats—of the attempt to substitute Catholicism for the dying mainline voice in public life.

Sweeping across American intellectual and cultural history, An Anxious Age traces the course of national religion and warns about the strange angels and even stranger demons with which we now wrestle. Insightful and contrarian, wise and unexpected, An Anxious Age ranks among the great modern accounts of American culture.


Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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