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CHRISTIANITY'S AMERICAN FATE by David A. Hollinger Kirkus Star


How Religion Became More Conservative and Society More Secular

by David A. Hollinger

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-691-23388-8
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

A superbly concise examination of how American Christianity’s division into a Protestant two-party system parallel to the existing political one came to deeply alter the nation’s recent politics.

Among the preeminent scholars of American intellectual culture, especially of religious thought, Berkeley historian Hollinger, who admits to having “drifted away” from faith, focuses on how religious Christianity, previously only one among many sociocultural factors at play in public as well as private life, attained its current prominent role in politics. The author asks important questions: How did 20th-century American Protestantism break apart into evangelical and ecumenical camps? Why did White evangelicals gain such influence in the nation’s life? What made Donald Trump and the evangelicals take advantage of each other? While harshly condemning such figures as Billy Graham for racial prejudice, anti-intellectualism, and political favoritism, Hollinger never surrenders his scholarly balance. He fully acknowledges how evangelicalism “made it easy to avoid the challenges of an ethnoracially diverse society and a scientifically informed culture.” He sharply criticizes the mainline churches, the “ideological disarray of American ecumenical intellectuals,” and ecumenical Protestants generally for their failure to realize the growing strength of evangelicalism in their “multidecade campaign to achieve more cosmopolitan Protestantism.” Hollinger makes central to his story the roles both of anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic currents within evangelical Protestantism and the emergence of what he calls “Post-Protestants” and those claiming to be “nones”—people without any felt religious affiliation. The author’s only misstep is the relative lack of attention he pays to the growth among evangelicals of anti-Muslim bias since 9/11. In the end, for all his discouraging reflections, Hollinger, betraying some optimism, reminds us that the bitterness of evangelical opposition to recent social and cultural developments reveals how far post-Protestant social and ethical values have spread beyond religion into public life generally.

A critically important, authoritative history of great, immediate relevance.