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Jeremy Lott

American Gnostic

Harold Bloom's post-Christian nation ten years on

The release in 1992 of celebrity literary critic Harold Bloom's The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation was less than the smashing success that both the author and Simon & Schuster were hoping for. Published on the coattails of the Yale professor's idiosyncratic but widely noticed foray into source criticism, The Book of J, and suffering from Bloom's usual vices—arrogance and melodramatic exaggeration—not to mention a tin ear to some aspects of the faith, the book was mostly dismissed or ignored by the religious and quickly forgotten by the secular.

In a review of a later Bloom book, Omens of Millennium, Boston University Professor John J. Reilly spoke for the consensus when he judged the earlier work's conclusions to be "a trifle eccentric" to those "familiar with the professed theologies of America's major denominations."1 Particularly baffling to many was Bloom's contention that Mormons stand well within the mainstream of a uniquely American mode of faith.

The American Religion's thesis was stated repetitively, even tediously, throughout. The religion that most Americans adhere to "masks itself as Protestant Christianity yet has ceased to be Christian." Bloom elaborated:

There are indeed millions of Christians in the United States, but most Americans who think they are Christians truly are something else, intensely religious but devout in the American Religion, a faith that is old among us and that comes in many guises and disguises, and that overdetermines much of our national life.

Bloom argued that this faith is a slippery devil that "needs to be tracked by particles rather than by principles." Nevertheless, he contended, a set of basic assumptions run through America's "indigenous religions"—Mormonism, Southern Baptism (in Bloom's peculiar schema, an American original), Seventh-day Adventism, Christian Science, and the like—and rub off on transplanted sects, Christian and otherwise. In his "Invocation" (as the introduction is waggishly styled), ...

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