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Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  1,308 Ratings  ·  269 Reviews
From the popular New York Times columnist, a powerful and original critique of how American Christianity has gone astray—and the deeply troubling consequences for American life and politics.As the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for The New York Times and the author of the critically acclaimed books Privilege and Grand New Party, Ross Douthat has emerged as one of the most p ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 17th 2012 by Free Press
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Frank Roberts
I've been a Christian without a community for some time, and this book started to help me realize why. Douthat suggests, and I am convinced, that most of modern American Christianity is unorthodox, indeed heretical, and that this development is bad for the religion and bad for the country.

The major heresies Douthat describes as having taken over American Christianity are these: first, the Dan Brown school of Gnostic Christianity, an outgrowth of the new historical approaches and new apochryphal
Bryan Kibbe
Aug 10, 2012 Bryan Kibbe rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on contemporary Christianity that I have ever encountered. The first half of the book serves as an excellent history of the Christian faith as it has waxed and waned across the shores of the 20th and 21st centuries. The second half of the book offers deeply perceptive analysis of 4 dominant, heretical tendencies (gnosticism and the oversimplification of Jesus, the worship of the self via the god within theology, prosperity gospel teaching, and Christian nationalism) that th ...more
Jeff Miller
Jun 27, 2012 Jeff Miller rated it really liked it
I had noticed that TS of Video, meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor had been reading through Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat and quoting passages from it. The title and subtitle intrigued me as does the author and so I added it to my wish list and finally got around to buying and reading it.

This book is sort of a history and critique of Christianity as practiced by Americans especially in the last seventy or so years. His critique is that we are a nation of heret
D.M. Dutcher
Apr 21, 2012 D.M. Dutcher rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
The premise is all right: essentially we've been dominated by heretical forms of Christianity and other religions which overemphasize a few things at the expense of a more holistic view of faith. But the writing is too abstract and dry to make the book enjoyable, desperately needing more examples and stories and less formal argument. It also suffers from a mild "centrist" Catholic bias in terms of example selection and writing.

For example, he talks more about Glenn Beck than Mormonism itself, wh
Cora Judd
May 03, 2012 Cora Judd rated it it was ok
Torture the words of the Bible sufficiently and any endeavor can be justified. Douthat utilizes this scripture-twisting tradition to select history, authors, and statistics to build his thesis, which is: the only hope for Christianity, (or the ultimate fate of Christianity; depending on the chapter), is a return to the more extreme, self-sacrificing, exclusive brands of old time religion. The swath of destruction that most churches have plowed from earliest history to the present doesn't come up ...more
Simcha Wood
Feb 05, 2013 Simcha Wood rated it really liked it
The central premise of Ross Douthat's Bad Religion is that the problem with religion (and, specifically, Christianity) in America is not that there is too much or too little of it, but that too much of what passes for religion is "bad" religion - varieties of faith that serve primarily to stroke the ego and avoid confronting the faithful with any difficult questions about their place in the larger culture. The book's thesis is presented in three parts: four chapters tracing the historical develo ...more
Dec 26, 2012 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dude is pro-Catholic, which he says right off the bat, no surprises there. I enjoyed the first half of the book, which dealt with the evolution, if you will, of Christianity over the years, with emphasis on the 20th century, very much. The quasi-Christian second half was a long slog but I still found enough nuggets to keep plodding through.

Then it all falls apart with the last chapter. After such a good roll out of Christian ideals/ideas and a pretty good deconstruct of several of the "gimme min
Leroy Seat
Oct 11, 2012 Leroy Seat rated it really liked it
I found this book to be surprisingly good. Since the author is a conservative (and I am not) I was prejudiced against it, but I found it to be good and helpful overall.

The four chapters of Part II were the most helpful. Although I thought the first two chapters of Part I were also good, I had trouble with much of what he said in the fourth chapter and especially in the third chapter. For example, I think he was not fair or accurate in his depiction of Harvey Cox.

In particular, I thought his emph
Keren Threlfall
Feb 12, 2013 Keren Threlfall rated it really liked it

In Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics , Ross Douthat proposes that the religious predicament America is facing today is not one of too much religion or too little religion; but rather, he provocatively argues, we are facing the problem of bad religion, of being a nation of heretics:

"America's problem isn't too much religion, or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities i

Sep 28, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
I picked this book up from the library not knowing what to expect, and not knowing anything about Ross Douthat other than what is on the back of the book. He assumes a certain level of historical religious knowledge, and some familiarity with religious thinkers (which I certainly don’t have). I selected it mainly because it seemed timely, with the upcoming election and –depending on who you hang with- the belief that the United States is in trouble either because the atheists and liberals have t ...more
Apr 27, 2012 Frank rated it it was amazing
Ross Doathat, a New York Times columnist, among other things, hits the proverbial keyboard at full throttle and doesn't slow down until the end of his book Bad Religion. From the beginning he sets the tone "The US needs to is not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics." And from this jumping off spot he launches into a reportorial review of American religion from the native American through Puritans to present day. It is not the existence of heretics that concerns the autho ...more
May 20, 2013 Megan rated it really liked it
Even though I enjoy non-fiction, it rarely keeps me reading past my bedtime. This book did.

Douthat's analysis of the decline and fall of Christian orthodoxy in the United States is detailed, accessible and even funny sometimes. He concentrates on several of the more common heresies within Christendom: the prosperity gospel, the God-within Gospel, and the nationalist Gospel.

In many ways, his treatment of the last heresy - nationalism - is the best. Douthat splits this heresy into two parts: a me
Rachel De
Nov 05, 2012 Rachel De rated it really liked it
This book will appeal to those who are interested in the interplay between religion and politics in America as well as those who are interested in what the religious landscape of America looks like today. The author is making a case for a return to Christian orthodoxy as opposed to what he calls the pseudo-religions prevalent in America today: Among others, Accommodationism -- both in the Catholic and Protestant churches; the Prosperity Gospel of Joel Osteen and others; the therapeutic and mysti ...more
Sep 23, 2014 Bobbi rated it it was ok
A slog. Book shows promise early. I got into it at first. The history and rise and fall of "traditional religion" in America. Then we're on the scent of the evangelicals who will take over. But wait there are tangents here, thickets of research to explore, names to be dropped. I feel as though I'm now being dragged through brambles. Why is it so hard to connect the dots? Oh the winding trail. I'm told the second half is better. I may sample.
Sep 29, 2016 Ethan rated it really liked it
An exploration into the current state of Christianity in America by exploring its recent history suggesting the downfall of Christian institutions and the prevalence of heresies are responsible for many of the challenges being experienced by Christianity today.

Douthat begins with the last moment of full strength of Christianity in America immediately after WWII. He then chronicles the two types of responses to the events of the past 60 years: accommodation and resistance. He does well at showing
Jun 28, 2012 Pastor2112 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
In “Bad Religion” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argues that “America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place” (3).

In the first half of this book, Douthat sets the stage in which to evaluate our present heresies.

After a rise in religious influence in the first half of the 20th century through representatives like Reinhold Nie
To have a book about Christianity be engrossing, riveting, and amazingly educational, all at the same time is ludicrous - but Douthat has done just that! He writes well-researched, well-thought out material and not only that, but he is a passionate author. That passion for his subject matter shows in the way that each page seems to scream " America has lost her moral center and must get it back!" His message is as compelling as his arguments that there is a place for Christian Orthodoxy in Ameri ...more
Scott Holstad
Jun 06, 2012 Scott Holstad rated it liked it
This book has strengths and weaknesses. One thing that was an initial turnoff to me, although I got used to it, is it's quite dry and has an almost textbook feel to it, particularly the first half which consists of a history lesson of how the Church (Protestant and Catholic) has come to its present state dating back to the late 1800s. I mean, it's somewhat interesting, but there's only so much about 1920s fundamentalist preachers I want to read about.

Douthat's premise is that we've fallen off th
Webster Bull
Apr 30, 2012 Webster Bull rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faith

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you care about religious life in America — or if you hate religion, siding with the New Atheists — you must read this broad, deep study of Christianity in the United States since World War II. Throughout, Douthat, a practicing Catholic, maintains a striking balance while discuss four main strains of Christian practice in America: Catholicism, Mainline Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and the African-American churches.

The story begins with a Christian
Mar 03, 2013 William rated it really liked it
"Bad Religion" offers some very good commentary on the sad state of (North) American Christianity at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century. The first third of the book is an astute overview of post-WWII American Christianity, following the Roman Church, Mainline Protestantism, the Black Church, and Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism from their heyday in the 1940s and 50s to their decline into heresy and pseudo-Christianity in more recent decades. Douthat notes that this decline could have happene ...more
Douthat brilliantly analyzes the many permutations of experimental Christianity competing for Americans' attentions, from Ivy League Gnosticism, to the "pray, and get rich" nonsense peddled in some mega-churches, to post-Christian Oprah-style feel-goodism, to the supposed historicity and skepticism of the Jesus Seminar. He contrasts this with the towering intellectual achievements of mid-century Christianity when both Mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism were powerful institutions with r ...more
Lynn Joshua
Apr 10, 2013 Lynn Joshua rated it liked it
“Heresies have always sought to simplify and eliminate the paradoxical and difficult teachings of Jesus into something that better fits the spirit of the culture and the age.”

Ross Douthat is very perceptive in identifying these different “spirits of the age” throughout American history, and the heresies that sprang up to meet them. From liberal accomodationism and fundamentalist separatism, God as cosmic ATM and divine therapist, to Nationalism (the confusion of Christianity with Americanism, ei
Jul 13, 2015 Andy rated it it was amazing
Douthat's argument and articulation for the importance of a Christian renewal in American culture is among the most engaging and comprehensive I have read. He tells you his personal views in the introduction but does a superb job of keeping an objective tone to the book. He is fair in his chastisement to both right and left, conservative and liberal.

One of the great accomplishments of the book is his articulation about how American Christianity has lost a great deal of its authority and attract
George Matysek
May 03, 2014 George Matysek rated it really liked it
God wants you to have a sports car, a high-paying job and a McMansion. Just believe in his generosity, and all your dreams will come true.

God is within you - speaking to you through your every impulse. Do what feels good, and it is good.

God smiles favorably on the American nation. He wants democracy - a new gospel - spread over the globe by any means necessary. Oh, and he's okay with torture.

Those are a few of the ridiculous - yet immensely popular - modern American Christian "heresies" Ross Dou
Mar 02, 2014 David rated it really liked it
An excellent overview of historic Christianity in the US and critique of contemporary Christian culture. The chapter "The City on the Hill" is worth the price of the book. In it Douthat confronts the heresy of nationalism that is rampant in American Christianity. He begins the chapter by describing a rally led by Glenn Beck at the mall in Washington DC. He notes that the calls to restore the country's greatness, the worship of the founders, the connection between a theological reading of America ...more
Sep 02, 2013 Matt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion, history
Absolutely fantastic. Highly recommend, primarily and especially for my friends who grew up in church circles. I grew up in one of the old Mainline denominations and later joined an evangelical church (associated with another Mainline, but the local church, like many United Methodist churches, was out of step with the national leaders). This book put my upbringing and spiritual formation into context of the development of Christianity in the 20th century, at least form WWII onward. It was profou ...more
The book describes in detail the ups and downs of religion in America including several Great Awakenings. The author's thesis is not that religion or Christianity has failed, but rather the teachings of Christ have been hijacked by people who espouse a feel-good Christianity rather than a 'carry your cross and follow me' Christianity that requires dedication.

He argues that a spiritual recovery might be made if Christianity is (1) political without being partisan, which ignores the fact that Jesu
Robyn Ellis
Mar 08, 2016 Robyn Ellis rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, faith
I am thoroughly blown away by this book. The first part, which recounts the history of Christianity in America in the modern age, tends to drag a little. But once Douthat moves on to the actual "heresies" of our modern age, his insight is sharp as a razor, and I probably ended up highlighting more passages in this book than I left alone.

I don't give out five stars easily, but this book deserves it. I feel like I have a good understanding of my own faith, and I have for a long time had an inklin
Oct 07, 2012 Arni rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best popular level books on religion I've ever read. Beginning with his insight about heresy (as the attempted streamlining of Christianity's inherent paradoxes and mysteries), Douthat applies his keen eye and sharp pen to a number of topics relating to religion and American society - the rise of vibrant Christianity in the post-war period, its decline into liberal irrelevancy and conservative tribalism, and all the crap that followed. I found myself nodding along to most of h ...more
Sep 24, 2013 Stephen rated it it was amazing
Douthat paints an interesting and compelling picture of the American religious landscape. He narrates the history of American Christianity from the mid-century revival that followed WWII to the present situation. He ultimately argues that Americans are not becoming less religious, but simply falling into various heresies. While many Christians would not deny this initial claim, Douthat's more shocking argument is that these heresies are not only degrading the orthodox core of the Christian faith ...more
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics 1 5 Aug 25, 2012 04:15PM  
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Ross Gregory Douthat is a conservative American author, blogger and New York Times columnist. He was a senior editor at The Atlantic and is author of Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class (Hyperion, 2005) and, with Reihan Salam, Grand New Party (Doubleday, 2008), which David Brooks called the "best single roadmap of where the Republican Party should and is likely to head." He is ...more
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“In this America, too, the Christian teaching that every human soul is unique and precious has been stressed, by the prophets of self-fulfillment and gurus of self-love, at the expense of the equally important teaching that every human soul is fatally corrupted by original sin. Absent the latter emphasis, religion becomes a license for egotism and selfishness, easily employed to justify what used to be considered deadly sins. The result is a society where pride becomes 'healthy self-esteem', vanity becomes 'self-improvement', adultery becomes 'following your heart', greed and gluttony become 'living the American dream'.” 15 likes
“The physical vanity of the diet-and-exercise obsessive is recast as the pursuit of a kind of ritual purity, hedged about with taboos and guilt trips and mysticized by yoga.” 5 likes
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