Jan 1, 2004 9:31 pm


In my Early National/Jacksonian U.S. course last fall, I had students read most of Nathan Hatch's Democratization of American Christianity. One of his major themes is that the"audience" became more and more important in shaping religious teachings.

Just after the Christmas, one of the students in that class sent me a NT Times op-ed piece by David Brooks called "The National Creed.

Brook's description of the fluidity of American Christianity and the implications for our culture echoes many of Hatch's themes (though Brooks may be more optimistic). He also sheds light on something that I have been thinking about for several years, which is the two-way interaction between conservative Christianity and the larger culture.

Since the article is going to shift to pay archive status soon, I will copy here the last section, which provides a lot of food for thought.

The third effect of our dominant religious style is that we have trouble sustaining culture wars. For some European intellectuals, and even some of our own commentators, the Scopes trial never ended. For them, the forces of enlightened progress are always battling against the rigid, Bible-thumping forces of religion, whether represented by William Jennings Bryan or Jerry Falwell.

But that's a cartoon version of reality. In fact, real-life belief, especially these days, is mobile, elusive and flexible. Falwell doesn't represent evangelicals today. The old culture war organizations like the Moral Majority or the Christian Coalition are either dead or husks of their former selves.

As the sociologist Alan Wolfe demonstrates in his book,"The Transformation of American Religion," evangelical churches are part of mainstream American culture, not dissenters from it.

So we have this paradox. These days political parties grow more orthodox, while religions grow more fluid. In the political sphere, there is conflict and rigid partisanship. In the religious sphere, there is mobility, ecumenical understanding and blurry boundaries.

If George Bush and Howard Dean met each other on a political platform, they would fight and feud. If they met in a Bible study group and talked about their eternal souls, they'd probably embrace.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Josh Greenland - 1/6/2004

Oscar, thanks for the link to the David Brooks article.

History News Network