Why religion endures as Christianity declines
Author Ross Douthat talks about his book 'Bad Religion: How we became a nation of heretics'
- Duration 11:07
- Date Apr 27, 2012
Author Ross Douthat talks about his book 'Bad Religion: How we became a nation of heretics'
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We'll religion thrives in America but my first -- -- loss to dump that -- that rather.
Says christianity especially has been misunderstood and misused over the last few decades.
And he writes about it in his critically acclaimed new book Bad Religion how we became a nation of -- -- -- joins me now from Washington DC welcome us.
Hey -- how are you I'm great great wonderful book and like -- -- it has been critically -- claimed.
And I think is very interesting to kind of start out of the basics of the vote because you know you're talking about.
And in -- marketplace of ideas and he got in America's problem isn't that.
Too much religion or too little of it but it's Bad Religion what do you mean by -- Religion.
I mean -- kind of religion that takes some aspect of christianity.
And pushes it further than it was meant to go and -- it -- the exclusion of other messages.
And I think if you look at American religion today just as you said Lauren.
Going going back across the last fifty years America has remained as religious as ever if you dig into polling numbers on.
Whether people believe in god whether they've had a direct experience of god and so on.
We're not only more religious than the rest of the developed world were in some ways more religious than ever before.
But what to weaker is institutional christianity both my own Catholic church and many Protestant denominations as well you've had this steep falloff in religious participation.
Attendance and so on.
And what gets lost when he institutional religion declines.
Is the kind of check on what I think is -- characteristically.
The temptation to say that well god just exit exists to blast what ever I wanted to do already whether in my personal life for my financial life or where -- -- What what are the things you say it about heretic because that's a quest that's it's a word that we don't hear very -- -- Very loaded word -- a loaded word because the minute you see the -- heretic -- wouldn't -- it hearkens back to this fashion position and it.
Trials and Galileo and all of those things when it went to church really didn't.
Come -- looking so hot.
So right what do you actually mean by heritage acts by -- It takes I mean people who are still so influenced by christianity.
That it doesn't make sense to say that they are.
Post Christian that they represent a new religious movement and so on.
But people who depart in some profound way from.
On the original core of Christian -- have some of the examples I use our.
Dan Brown in the Da Vinci code right where you know he -- an incredibly popular novel that's clearly fascinated with the personality of Jesus of Nazareth.
But it's all about how Jesus was actually not be difficult challenging figure of the new testament what but was.
I thoroughly modern guy he had a wife you know -- house in the -- -- suburbs and so on and he would.
And he would never dream of judging you contemporary American.
I'm more -- another example I -- is the prosperity gospel right the idea that god particularly wants you to get reaction that you should for instance.
Go ahead and take out that mortgage you can't quite afford because if you're seeking in the super natural you know that that -- god will take care -- -- which is.
I think -- very powerful idea in American life and one -- had.
Unfortunate consequences over the last ten years or sound.
-- think is driving this because at the core of every.
Spiritual pursuit something else is driving it.
Right I mean I think part of it is just look there's a deeply American tendency towards religious individualism right to want to kind of do it yourself face to face it doesn't.
You know where you aren't listening to any external authority where you're just listening to what in the book I call.
The god within.
This -- always been part of American life and I think.
You know the decline of institutional religion is related to that decline of our public institutions more generally the declining faith in government the declining faith in.
Business institutions and so on.
And it's been exacerbated by the failures of those institutions themselves I mean as I said I'm a Roman Catholic and clearly.
The Catholic sex abuse crisis has played a big role in sort of discrediting.
Outside that you know that sort of internal religious quest and the same has been true I think.
On the Protestant side as well so there are there a lot of things going on but really it sort of taking something that's always been part of American religion.
And making it the whole -- I I say in the book.
Orthodoxy without heresy is obviously dangerous but we're living in a landscape that increasingly heresy without orthodoxy.
And that's dangerous as well.
We'll look back and actually explain the term orthodoxy because I overtime said that to people their eyes glaze over thinking about -- -- -- in the -- explain what -- actually ends.
Well I'm taking hopefully a pretty broad definition of orthodoxy basically I'm saying look you know obviously there -- sort of all kinds of differences over what.
Christianity means between Protestants and Catholics and so on but there is a core of Christian faith and that -- goes back to.
The early centuries of the church and this embodied in a nice -- creed -- embodied in the idea.
-- that Jesus died for our sins that he was resurrected and so on.
And also I argue it's in body -- things that you can see in the new testament like.
-- suspicion is great wealth than the temptations associated whether it.
A strong emphasis on the chastity and monogamy and so on and I think that this is that -- Is something that boasts catholicism.
The historic Protestant denominations and -- north eastern orthodoxy.
Have always held in common it's -- kind of great tradition and its departures from that I think.
Whether it's about money or about -- More what have you that constitute heresy today.
Good -- may give you what I'm hearing you say is there's a comprehensive business to christianity that has been really lost in -- I sort of peeling off what appeals to me.
And then kind of ignoring sort of the rest -- just don't jive with what I would like to do.
-- exactly I think anyone who reads the new testament seriously.
Will come away facing a challenge to some part of their life if you -- one of one of their beliefs so.
Obviously if you're a secular liberal and you read the new testament you'll be challenged by that Jesus is super nationalism you know his emphasis on.
-- -- you know the the his emphasis on sort of I kind of apocalyptic vision and by everything that he has to say about sacks.
But then if you're a conservative Republican maybe you read the new testament and -- should be challenged.
You know by what Jesus has to say about about wealth -- the dangers associated with it because Republicans are obviously tend to be very.
Oriented towards the you know the virtues of capitalism and so on.
And Jesus has some hard things to say about the temptations of the capitalist society so.
I I completely agree it's that comprehensive vision and an attempt to be faithful to it that.
That you want from Christian orthodoxy and I think you get less of an American life.
Today how is it driving the thumb.
Politics of today because you know you as we sort of peel -- those different aspects of the kind of -- and -- the things we don't like.
How can how is actually driving the political fervor that you've been saying in in Washington DC why I think what have.
Sense is that if you have if America is as religious as ever.
But religious institutions are weaker than ever before and then there's all this sort of free floating religious enthusiasm.
On both the left and the right.
And it's very easy for people to sort of people who used to pour that enthusiasm into say the Presbyterian Church -- the Methodist Church to pour it into the air.
Political party or faction instead and so.
Something like this sort of the religious element in Barack Obama's 2008 campaign right this sort of and let's hope and change celebrities.
Singing for him on YouTube videos and so on.
I think in part that represents sort of -- misplaced religious enthusiasm that in a different era might have been.
Gentlemen stoop -- -- institutional religion and instead was channeled into the idea that.
By electing Barack Obama we could do you know slow the oceans are.
-- and so long they you know it really is from does.
Illustrate how old and it's human beings we need to worship doesn't mean that the business sense that.
-- if I don't believe in a supernatural.
I'm gonna witnessed something I've got to put -- -- someplace.
Absolutely and I and I think one of the big themes of my book is that.
Is that it isn't really possible to have a completely.
Secular society that even in the most secular societies on earth even in Western Europe.
If you really drill down beneath the surface people say oh well I'm no longer Catholic I'm no longer -- Christian.
But then you ask them do you believe that there is meaning and purpose in the universe and they'll say yes do you believe in some form of sort of -- some supernatural being who guides you well maybe so do you pray people still -- so.
I think that that's it's important to be -- skeptical of the idea that.
You know we we're moving toward some truly post religious era and two to recognize that what's actually happening is that.
You're just having these sort of alternatives to traditional christianity whether it's.
-- you know Dan Brown or Jolo skiing or Eat Pray Love it become popular instead.
Do you see any movement to rid of them -- sort of restored orthodoxy that's on the horizon or do you see this continual moved towards.
More war on heresy and sort of this.
Fun -- pushing out an untraditional kind of orthodox -- I think that there's some real resilience in pockets of American christianity and -- both Protestant and Catholic you can go to.
Catholic diocese in the United States where.
And they you know what Pope John Paul the second called the -- of -- nation seems to be really working in you have.
Abundant -- and so on and you can go to.
The evangelical community is that I think are.
Doing a very good job of practicing -- -- -- Christian faith it's really rooted in historic christianity and isn't just focused on sort of -- you know the big personalities are the superstar pastors and so on so I think there's absolutely reasons for hope and signs of resilience but.
If you zoom out and look at American society as a whole I think it's often hard for those sort of pockets of more robust traditional face to gain purchase on that society as a whole that the trends I'm describing I think are very powerful.
Wow I want to thank you so much for being in the book is called Bad Religion.
How we became a nation of parent takes Ross and they'll say is the author he's also.
-- a New York Times columnist he's brilliant and a thank you so much I just and they say that things I really think you weren't well you know like any any author appreciates hearing you say thank you so much Lauren thank you so much Ross had a great aunt.