A piercing critique of heresy in a country where “traditional Christian teachings have been warped into justifications for solipsism and anti-intellectualism, jingoism and utopianism, selfishness and greed.”
New York Times columnist and National Review film critic Douthat (Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class, 2005, etc.), a practicing Catholic, takes aim at the forces, on both the left and the right, that are corrupting American Christianity from within. From its glory days after World War II, when preachers were respected as legitimate moral arbiters and theologians had huge followings, Christianity has fallen on hard times. The traditional pillars of American religion—the once-omnipresent Protestant mainline exemplified by Reinhold Niebuhr, the nuanced and self-confident Catholicism of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the evangelical revival led by Billy Graham and the beleaguered but transcendent black church of Martin Luther King Jr.—have all ceded their place in the public imagination, writes the author, as hundreds of dubious upstart doctrines claim converts in droves. The mushy universalism embraced by Protestant churches has caused believers to lose interest, the Catholic Church has been riven by dissension and scandal and the evangelical and historically black churches have given way to the creepy prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and others. While some of the particulars of Douthat’s arguments will be controversial—e.g., his portrayal of the academics involved in the Jesus Seminar as being as unconcerned with the facts as are fabulists like Dan Brown—his full-throated defense of Christian orthodoxy deserves to be heard in an age when theology, if not spirituality, has become something of a niche interest. For Douthat, the beauty of Christianity lies in the “paradoxical character” of Jesus, who “sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners.” When churches focus on only one aspect of Jesus’ nature and profess to offer easy answers to all of life’s problems, he writes, they hold up a false idol for worship.
A refined jeremiad sure to shake up the Christian establishment.