How is it that when asked, so many Americans profess to be Christians or people of faith, but when push comes to shove, they don't live like it. The answer is that too many have lost sight of, or fail to understand in the first place what Christianity really means, and thus have become "heretics" of sorts. During this paradigm-challenging interview, you'll meet Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist and author of the book, "Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics."
Douthat is a devout Roman Catholic who keeps his fingers on the pulse of American culture and Christianity at the world's most influential Newspaper. Challenging popular perception, he argues that America certainly hasn't succumbed the secularism like much of Europe, and probably won't anytime soon. Instead, he argues, the United States has become a nation filled with "heretics," people with vaguely religious or spiritual outlooks who nevertheless reject the tenets of orthodox faith, by which he means traditional Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity.
"The problem that we face in American society today is not necessarily too little religion," says Douthat. "I think if you drill down below top-line numbers that are about, 'do you attend church?' and 'do you belong to a Christian denomiation?' — if you go one level below that and start asking people, 'do you believe in God?' how often do you pray?' 'do you believe in an afterlife?' and so on, I think you can argue that Americans are not only as religious as ever, in some ways we are even more religious. The story I try to tell in the book is a story of how traditional Christianity has declined in the United States, even as religious and spiritual concerns have remained as pressing as ever, and in turn what that means for our national life. What has taken the place of the Christian Church in American religious life? I don't think it's a pure secularism. I think it's 'bad religion.'"
Of course, admits Douthat, we have always had heretics in our midst. But such heresy has historically struck a balance with America's vibrant orthodox, institutional Church. Not so any longer. Today, the partially religious — the "heretics" — have the field to themselves in a way they never have. The decline of traditional faith has left in its wake a thirst for ultimate meaning and the supernatural which secularism cannot fill. Instead, says Douthat, pseudo-Christian religions like "the cult of the god within," moralistic therapeutic deism, and liberalism (with all its thunderous demands for social justice and equality) have rushed in to fill the void.
Though Douthat points to many of the causes he believes led Americans down this road, the one which he and John Stonestreet discuss at length in today's interview was the polarization of America along partisan lines — a trend whch led people to associate our common heritage of orthodox Christianity with one just political party. Politics taking ownership if Christianity, says Douthat, was the worst thing that had happened to religion in this country for a long time.
We hope you enjoy today's riveting interview, and look forward to you tuning in each Saturday for "BreakPoint This Week." To find when the program airs on your local station, click the bar at the top of this page.
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