My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book has strengths and weaknesses. One thing that was an initial turnoff to me, although I got used to it, is it’s quite dry and has an almost textbook feel to it, particularly the first half which consists of a history lesson of how the Church (Protestant and Catholic) has come to its present state dating back to the late 1800s. I mean, it’s somewhat interesting, but there’s only so much about 1920s fundamentalist preachers I want to read about.
Douthat’s premise is that we’ve fallen off the wagon as a Christian nation, and he highlights three main areas where this has happened. One is the “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel preaching that seems so prevalent these days, and he particularly takes Joel Osteen to task. I got into this chapter, because I utterly despise this type of preacher. I think they have nothing in common with the can’t serve God and Mammon instructions found in the Bible. I think they’re frauds. Apparently Douthat does to. He then moves on to New Agers, like Chopra, Dyer, etc., only he doesn’t call it New Age. Instead he refers to this movement as the God Within movement. Call it what you like, but it’s a watered down, Eastern influenced form of pseduo-Christianity at best, and he calls a spade a spade. The third primary heresy here is the current politicization of Christianity, most notably contemporary Evangelicals and how they’ve hijacked the Republican party. I have much to say about that, but I’ll resist the temptation for the time being. In my opinion, Douthat didn’t spend enough time on this one, because I think this particular heresy is the one that is poisoning American society and politics and it makes me ill.
Here’s where the author loses me though. His last chapter is called “The Recovery of Christianity,” and he gives a series of examples of what he thinks needs to take place to bring the religion back to sanity and the masses in general. (He’s a Catholic and spend a lot of time on Catholicism in this book.) Here are his theories:
1. Christianity should be political without being partisan.
2. Christianity should be ecumenical but also confessional.
3. Christianity should be moralistic but also holistic.
4. Christianity should be oriented toward sanctity and beauty.
And then he goes into minor detail on each topic. And forgive me if I misread this, but it seems to me that he’s arguing for an early 20th century Catholicism returning in order to get things back on track. His ideas, the terminology he employs, his pleas all ring of a stern yesteryear, and it’s beyond odd to me that he’s arguing for a return to the roots when he just wrote an entire book criticizing how Christianity has been full of charlatans and frauds and how it’s gone uphill, but mostly downhill for decades, and now he wants a return to the Middle Ages. OK, harsh assessment, but perhaps you get the picture. It just didn’t jibe with the rest of the book, and while I thought the bulk of the book was well researched and written in a civil, even way (I would have hated to see a Baptist write this!), the last chapter just kills off everything he’s said for me. It’s blotto. Utter crap. Maybe not everyone will agree, and I do think the book is worth reading while skipping the final chapter, but I can’t get over that last chapter. I cautiously recommend this to anyone interested in seeing what has happened to the Church over the last century and what it means for today.
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