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Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
Ross Douthat
Free Press, 2012
337 pp., 26.00

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John Wilson


Bad Religion

A flawed diagnosis

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I could cite many similar instances, but one more will have to suffice. In his chapter "Lost in the Gospels," Douthat never mentions N. T. Wright and other first-rate scholars who have countered the effusions of the revisionists. In the process, these scholars have given countless lay Christians a better, more deeply grounded understanding of their faith (not least in their attention to Jesus' Jewishness: again, correcting against heresy). It's a lovely ironic twist.

"We" are not "a nation of heretics." We are a nation of sinners. We haven't become a nation of sinners; we've been that from the beginning. But "a nation of heretics": that's much sexier. Is it true that, over the last five decades, "the river of orthodoxy has gradually been drying up"? And has the "orthodox response" to the heresies Douthat highlights been feeble? On the contrary: all of the heresies he singles out have been explicitly rejected by a wide range of orthodox pastors, theologians, and popular writers. That these false teachings have nevertheless taken hold is not necessarily a sign that the orthodox witness has been inadequate. It may say more about the wickedness of the human heart.

But then I don't seem to live in the same world that Douthat inhabits. He inhabits a world where my fellow believers and I have to demonstrate to someone (to readers of the Times?) "that the possibilities of the Christian life are not exhausted by TV preachers and self-help gurus, utopians, and demagogues."

From the very beginning, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the church has made its way imperfectly. "True golden ages do not exist," as Douthat writes (a truth I wish he had taken to heart). Still, the continuity is unbroken, from the handful who first followed Jesus to the believers who call him Lord today, anticipating the time when all that is broken will be made whole.

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.

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