Book review: Bad Religion - how we became a nation of heretics
Bad Religion - How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Author: Ross Douthat. Publisher: Free Press. 2013. 352 pp.
'Bad Religion' is an excellent analysis of the ways we and our political leaders of our nation, for hundreds of years, have attempted to use Christianity as a tool for achieving our ideals. As far as author Ross Douthat goes in his analysis, he is very insightful and raises some rather serious and sobering questions about the premises that have tended to contaminate those ideals. His book brought to mind the keen insight expressed by St. Paul in Ephesians 5:12, where we are told that "our struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the rulers of this present darkness, and with the evil spirits in the heavens."
Ideals contaminated with the idea that it is permissible to temporarily cooperate with evil for the sake of a "greater good" have led to horrible atrocities throughout human history. Such detours from righteousness have overlooked the fact that our actions in the present moment, both as individuals and as societies, do not only have consequences in our cultures, but also in our personal characters, both here and hereafter. All seductions are thus based on the deception that the end can indeed justify the means, and thus the that a soul or a society can be legitimately dispensed from obeying the absolute demands of morality and from reverencing the eternal truths they incarnate.
There are several lacunas in Douthat's analysis, though, which should be noted. One is the fact that he does not seem to realize how much vituperation and slander have infected our whole political process. How often do we have citizens and civic leaders with legitimate concerns bullied by such vicious slander. If a Christian upholds the sacredness of marriage, sexuality and human life, he is charged with attempting to wage a war on women. If a person demands our current President be held accountable for his actions and that there be transparency in government deliberations, he is accused of being a racist. And if he has any questions about scandals in the IRS, the VA, the EPA or the Justice Department, he is charged with being a crazy conspiracy theorist.
Secondly, Douthat overlooks how the logic of our whole electoral process has been horribly infected with the attitude so boldly proclaimed by President Barack Obama late in his 2012 campaign, "Voting is the best revenge!" And negative campaigning, rather than striving for noble ideals and virtues, have promoted our continuing degradation from a nation of resilient patriots into a nation of resentful parasites. The core message of so many political campaigns can be summed up as follows - "My opponent is a disgusting perverted liar and cheat, he is no better than a pile of infectious waste. So vote for me. I am better than a pile of infectious waste." With leaders selected on the basis of their willingness to slander and to bankrupt our nation for the sake of paying off their cronies, we are gradually discovering that our city has been build on a dunghill.
In addition to this, the whole electoral process has been so fraught with fraud and abuse that the exhortation, "Vote early and vote often" has been accepted as part of the legitimate humor of our politically correct society. Thus it is that those who seek to ensure the integrity of the electoral process by voter ID laws are slandered as racists.
Thirdly, Douthat's analysis does not seem to adequately appreciate the multi-dimensional and infectious nature of evil. The reality and dynamics of militant evil require that militant Christians take decisive stands for virtue and morality. We are called to be the Church Militant, not the Church Milquetoast. We need to stand firmly and faithfully for the whole truth of God, the TruthWho is ultimately and decisively incarnate as Jesus Christ. Thus it is that the core tenet of the anti-Christ is that truth cannot be incarnate, but only indicated. Sadly, in our own day, many of our churches have been seduced into proclaiming the moral truths, which have been entrusted and proclaimed by the Church for centuries, are merely noble ideals, not as definitive standards for integrity of life. To use an example, I once saw an ad for a company, "Zero defects is our goal."
It sounded nice, at first. But on second thought, it seemed to me that a more effective logo would be "Zero defects is our standard." Satan is more than willing to have Christians act asif "someday" will be the acceptable time to really take Christ and His teaching seriously, but not"now". But salvation postponed is salvation denied. And those who presume on God's mercy,rather than reverently receive and share it in a spirit of repentance and gratitude, are in seriousdanger of eternal perdition.
With the above caveats in mind, I am grateful to Ross Douthat for pointing out so clearly some of the major dangers threatening the Church in our age. I pray that it may help all of us to do some more profound soul-searching and repentance, so that the true light of Christ may be more humbly received and faithfully shared for generations to come.
Spero Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest who servie the people of Virginia.
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