Last year, the book I spent more time urging you to read than any other was Robert Barron’s Catholicism, which I called a “course in revolution”, arguing that a better-understanding of who we Catholics are, where we came from and what we embody in the world can be a social and political game-changer like nothing else.
This year, I believe I am going to be nagging you to read Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics as a sort of “companion book” to Catholicism. Once we know who we are a people of faith, we need to understand what that has meant to our society, how we’ve ceded our own place in the public arena, and how to get it back so the revolution of mind, heart and soul can really take place.
Interestingly enough, the two links I’m keen to give you today involve both Barron and Douthat, and public faith. At his Word on Fire blog Father Robert Barron has compiled a slew of reports of Christian persecution around the world, adding:
We’d all like to think that things are getting better. That religious tolerance is the norm. That people now are able to worship in peace without fear of reprisal. That is, unfortunately for Christians around the world, far from the case. Please take a minute to read these stories and pray for their plights.
The persecution and silencing of Christians in other parts of the world have always seemed so very remote to Americans, for whom the freedom of religion is an enumerated and codified fundamental right. Religious persecution, we think, cannot happen here. And yet, over the past few years we have noticed both a double standard about religion (President Obama may talk about Jesus; President Bush was ridiculed for it. Democrats may address constituents from a church-pulpit; a Republican dare not attempt it without hearing faux-outrage about “looming theocracies!”) and a genuine attempt in powerful quarters to limit the rights, speech and mission of churches. This administration alone has argued that churches have no right to define ministry and name its ministers, that their successful programs in aid to victims of human trafficking are no longer useful unless they include abortion, that church-run institutions “have no conscience” and therefore may be compelled by government to violate their precepts and teachings, and that those working for clerical or church interests are no longer qualified to receive student loan forgiveness.
Recently I heard a pastor say, “in America, religious persecution will involve silencing you, minimizing your presence and penalizing your teachings. At least to start.” He’s probably right and that is why my column at First Things this week focuses on Douthat’s thoughtful book.:
Douthat’s book is a neatly laid-out dissertation on the people of faith and their place in American society. It is a deft chronicle of where faith communities went right—spanning a heyday of religious commentary and social activism, from John Courtney Murray to Martin Luther King—where they gravely misstepped (through over-accommodation, self-defeating scriptural scholarship, and the inevitable discovery of “the God Within”) and where, through the embrasure of so-called “prosperity gospels” catering to the worst instincts of a post-binge capitalist society, they have simply gone mad.
Douthat also lays a humbly offered groundwork for how and where the churches may yet recover their sense of both social place and mission. Not surprisingly, it will involve a confrontation with the self that will be as painful as any bacchanal’s bleary-eyed gaze into a well-lit morning mirror; groaning pleas for mercy will make a slow, careful nod toward justice.
You can read the whole piece, here.