Ross Douthat has another interesting column about the state of American Christianity in this morning’s NYT. It’s mainly a brief review of books by Robert Putman and David Campbell (American Grace) and James Davison Hunter (To Change the World). In different ways the authors reflect on the place of religion in a less-religious America. Putnam and Campbell are relatively sunny, Hunter dark.
Putman and Campbell note that religion still plays a very beneficial role in upholding the social fabric of America. Hunter decries the tendency of religious people to see through the lens of culture war, so that “both conservative and liberal believers…frame their mission primarily in terms of conflict, and…express themselves almost exclusively in the ‘language of loss, disappointment, anger, antipathy, resentment and desire for conquest.'”
Douthat sums up:
Believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.
Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.