Their emulation of Jesus proved fatally incomplete …

Here their emulation of Jesus proved fatally incomplete. In their quest to be inclusive and tolerant and up-to-date, the accommodationists imitated his scandalously comprehensive love, while ignoring his scandalously comprehensive judgement.  They used his friendship with prostitutes as an excuse to ignore his explicit condemnation of fornication and divorce. They turned his disdain for the religious authorities of his day and his fondness for tax collectors and Roman soldiers into a thin excuse for privileging the secular realm over the sacred. While recognizing his willingness to dine with outcasts and converse with nonbelievers, they de-emphasized the crucial fact that he had done so in order to heal them and convert them-ridding the leper of his sickness, telling the Samaritans that soon they would worship in spirit and truth, urging the women taken in adultery to go, and from now on sin no more.

Given the climate of the 1960s and ’70s, these choices were understandable.  But the more the accommodationists emptied Christianity of anything that might offend the sensibilities of a changing country, the more they lost any sense that what they were engaged in really mattered, or was really, truly true.

— Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

Their emulation of Jesus proved fatally incomplete …

Here their emulation of Jesus proved fatally incomplete. In their quest to be inclusive and tolerant and up-to-date, the accommodationists imitated his scandalously comprehensive love, while ignoring his scandalously comprehensive judgement.  They used his friendship with prostitutes as an excuse to ignore his explicit condemnation of fornication and divorce. They turned his disdain for the religious authorities of his day and his fondness for tax collectors and Roman soldiers into a thin excuse for privileging the secular realm over the sacred. While recognizing his willingness to dine with outcasts and converse with nonbelievers, they de-emphasized the crucial fact that he had done so in order to heal them and convert them-ridding the leper of his sickness, telling the Samaritans that soon they would worship in spirit and truth, urging the women taken in adultery to go, and from now on sin no more.

Given the climate of the 1960s and ’70s, these choices were understandable.  But the more the accommodationists emptied Christianity of anything that might offend the sensibilities of a changing country, the more they lost any sense that what they were engaged in really mattered, or was really, truly true.

— Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

Joseph Bottum and America’s Anxious Age – Part 2

In the second part of my conversation with Joseph Bottum about his book An Anxious Age we focus on the future.  If Bottum’s description of American history is right and his understanding of where we are and why is on target, what now?  We touch on the culture war, drawing pictures and telling stories rather than engaging in intellectual combat, the path from editor of magazines in the power centers of the East Coast to writing memoir and fiction two time zones west, and even on the state of publishing today.

Part one of the interview.  Listen to Part Two above. (Again, apologies for my lack of audio skills and or technological adeptness)

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.

Continue reading

Quick Takes: American Grace

Over the past year or so I have read a number of non-fiction books but failed to review them here. For some reason I have a hard time reviewing non-fiction – I always want to offer a more detailed and intelligent engagement with the book but never seem to have the time or focus to do so. Quick Takes is an attempt to offer quick assesments of these type of books without feeling the pressure to offer a full fledged review (whatever that is).

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us
by Robert D. Putnam, David E. Campbell
688 pages
October 2010
Simon & Schuster

 

I found this to be a fascinating and informative look at religious life in America. If you are a stats/data geek this is heaven – charts galore – but they have weaved the data into a compelling narrative. And church vignette chapters break it up and provide some more personalized examples.

There are some interpretations that are arguable, and the authors pretty clearly come from a liberal perspective, but it is still a remarkably interesting read for anyone interested in the history of religion and the debates over politics and the culture wars.

Here is the core narrative or argument of the book:

America has experienced three seismic shocks, say Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In the 1960s, religious observance plummeted. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, a conservative reaction produced the rise of evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Since the 1990s, however, young people, turned off by that linkage between faith and conservative politics, have abandoned organized religion. The result has been a growing polarization—the ranks of religious conservatives and secular liberals have swelled, leaving a dwindling group of religious moderates in between. At the same time, personal interfaith ties are strengthening. Interfaith marriage has increased while religious identities have become more fluid. Putnam and Campbell show how this denser web of personal ties brings surprising interfaith tolerance, notwithstanding the so-called culture wars.

I know there is a lot of disagreement about the components of this argument or story arc (both the conclusions and the data) but I don’t have the depth of knowledge needed to offer much of a conclusion either way.

Here is an example from the Books & Culture review by James L. Guth and Lyman A. Kellstedt:

This dovetails with a more pervasive concern: Putnam and Campbell’s persistent dismissal of the content of religious faith. Although their own survey includes a solid battery of belief items, the authors repeatedly deny that what people believe has any major relevance to social or political values, whether partisanship, charitable activities, or civic engagement. We are unconvinced. An old adage among students of religion and politics is that “behavior begets behavior, and belief begets belief.” Religious practices like church attendance should foster voting or working in campaigns, while religious beliefs should influence choices on issues, parties, and candidates. Thus, findings in American Grace that churchgoers excel in civic participation are not surprising. But reliance on religiosity may be misleading when explaining political choices. True, abortion and gay rights opinions may be structured by religiosity more strongly than other issues, but the authors ignore the possibility that they might be influenced even more by religious beliefs.

What is so helpful about the book is that you don’t have to agree with the authors to enjoy and learn from it. They present the data and the argument and you can engage it at whatever detail is appropriate for you – get into the data or just read it absorbing as much as you can along the way.

With this in mind, I wholeheartedly echo the above review’s conclusion:

These caveats should not deter anyone interested in American religion from reading this challenging volume. For scholars hoping to fathom the connections between religion and public life, for clergy wanting to understand better the people in the pews (and those not there), and for grass-roots believers desiring a broader picture of faith in America, this volume is required reading.

 

 

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

I was practically bullied into reading 31 Hours. So many people on Twitter were gushing about it and the folks at Unbridled Books were obviously excited about it. When I was able to get an ARC at Net Galley I figured I should just give in to the peer pressure.

Like most things in my life these days, it took me a while to get it together but I finally managed to read it. And I am glad I did as it was an enjoyable and interesting read. But I had a host of reactions from a variety of angles that led to an ambivalent conclusion.

So I will try to organize my thoughts by themes or perspectives.

First the basics. As you might have guessed from the title, the story takes place over 31 hours. The central character is Jonas Meitzner a 21-year old who has dropped out of college and who – lonely, emotional and confused – connected with Islamic terrorists in New York City.  The story relates the hours as he prepares to complete a suicide mission in the heart of the city.

Interwoven in with the story of Jonas are the lives of his friends, family and potential victims: his divorced parents, his high school best friend turned recent lover (and her family), and a homeless panhandler who makes his living on the subway system Jonas plans to attack.

My semi-organized thoughts below …

Continue reading