Ross Douthat, from NPR:
The United States ranks as the most religious country in the developed world. And New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says that despite our politics, debates and doubts, this country is as God-besotted today as ever.
But in his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Douthat argues that religion has fallen into heresy (hence the feisty subtitle). Douthat recently spoke with NPR’s Linda Wertheimer about why he thinks American Christianity has become distorted….
“The heresies that I write about are what flourish in the vacuum that’s left by institutional Christianity’s decline. So if the country remains religious, but the institutional churches are weaker than they used to be, what steps into the breach?”
On the heresy of The Da Vinci Code
“I start with the project to basically go back into the gospels of the early church … and to sort of fashion a Jesus who seems to fit the modern world better than the Jesus of the Nicene Creed. And this project is best embodied by Dan Brown and by The Da Vinci Code. … Brown himself is very explicit that he has a theological, philosophical message about what direction Christianity — what direction religion — should go in. And that direction is toward this alternative Jesus that he’s sketched out, who is … a much more congenial figure for a lot of Americans than the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
On the heresy of the prosperity gospel
“From there I move toward heresies that are about money, basically, and about the idea that God wants you to get rich. This is the prosperity gospel. It’s Joel Osteen. It’s the televangelist you see on TV. All of these heresies I talk about speak to aspects of contemporary life, where traditional Christianity rubs up against the way we live now, and people don’t like it. … We’re a rich country. We’re a capitalist country. We’re a country of strivers and go-getters. And the prosperity gospel says that’s what God wants. God wants you to be rich. Which is not precisely the message of the New Testament.”
On the heresy of Eat, Pray, Love
“From there I move to what I call the god within, which is the heresy of Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love, of Oprah Winfrey, of Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle. … It’s less that God wants you to be rich and more that God is there to make you feel happy about yourself. And that the point of spiritual wisdom is not necessarily strenuous prayer and fasting and moral transformation. It’s more sort of blessing impulses you already have. … This ends up putting a kind of Christian stamp on narcissism, where the things we already want to do, we tell ourselves, are things that God wants us to do, too.