Are we suffering from “bad religion”?

posted at 1:31 pm on May 13, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Ross Douthat believes so, and he expounds on his theory in a new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, which argues that our religion has become as extreme as our politics as the two have intertwined.  Douthat, always an intriguing conservative writer, expounds on this argument in an interview with the National Post in Canada.  The Post sets up the central premise of the book in its prologue:

The centre began to crumble as the sexual revolution, globalization and increased wealth led to the decline of the mainstream churches. In its place emerged a nation that turned to the extremes: from Glenn Beck to Oprah Winfrey. Yes, that Oprah. The queen of self-actualization, says Mr. Douthat, preaches a brand of spirituality that is self-centred, destructive and parasitic.

There is much to agree with in Douthat’s interview.  As people fall away from traditional churches, they tend to look for other saviors.  Douthat calls this a “God haunted” affliction; we have a deep-seated religious impulse that will go in destructive directions when we try to elevate the secular to the divine.  To the extent that people do so with Beck, Winfrey, and other secular figures is their own error, since neither figure explicitly claims to be a religious leader, even if their fans sometimes treat them as such.

Of course, we’ve often noted the messianic treatment of one particular secular figure in American politics, by both his supporters and a national media that should know better:

Q: What about when that impulse moves to politics?
A:
 When religious institutions are weak, as they are now, people with strong religious impulses are more likely to pour that fervour into politics. I argue that this take two forms — messianic and apocalyptic. Both are mirror-image heresies. It can take a messianic form where you assume that politics is the mechanism for bringing about the kingdom of heaven on Earth. This has always been the liberal temptation: to basically assume you can overcome human nature through political reform and bring the New Jerusalem down to Earth yourself. Look at the Barack Obama campaign in 2008 and its quasi-religious air: Magazine covers showed Obama with halos on his head and you had celebrities singing for him on YouTube. He had a messianic style.

Obama certainly had a messianic style himself, but that would have been a subject for lampooning by the media — if they hadn’t busied themselves covering Obama with the same messianic fervor as his fans.  (Arguably, Obama’s fans and the media are redundant.)  The difference between 2008 and 2012 is that fewer media outlets are treating Obama as The One, which is why his distraction strategy isn’t working very well, at least so far.  Even when he gets the press to bite, as they did with same-sex marriage, they actually bit, castigating Obama for not having the courage to drop the “evolution” pretense and quit lying about his position.  Instead of stretching out a “will he or won’t he” storyline all summer long as a distraction to sinking jobs and economic numbers, the attention forced Obama to bring the strategy to a quick conclusion … which was predictably followed by another burst of messianic coverage.

The problem in this case is that people move away from religion, though, and not so much (or not always) that religion itself moves.  For instance, in Obama’s post-SSM justification, he claimed that Christian teaching led him to support the legalization of same-sex marriage, an absurd argument that is utterly unsupported in Scripture or in traditional teaching in any of the more established Christian sects.  Nancy Pelosi made the same argument.  None of the media challenged these statements, which shows how little reporters know about Christian Scripture or traditional teaching.  That isn’t a church moving toward an extreme; it’s the churches staying in the same spot they have been for centuries or millenia, while the culture moves away from religion.  That is hardly a case of bad religion, although a strong argument can be made that it might be bad religious formation for churchgoers, which is another subject entirely, and one of significant worth.

That brings me to one argument from Douthat which provides another example of the same:

But that being said, I do think in the civil rights movement, religion related to the culture as a whole and there was a sense that it was easier in that era for religious figures to be influential in a way that transcended partisan divisions. Look at today when the [Roman] Catholic bishops come out against abortion. The assumption is they are siding with the Republican party. At mid-century it was easier for religious figures to present a message that was Christian first and then liberal or conservative second.

Douthat offers this as though the Catholic Church decided in the 1960s that abortion went against Catholic doctrine, and was motivated by a desire to become more Republican (when Kennedy was President?).  That reveals a rather large gap in knowledge for someone who wants to write about Bad Religion.  While it’s true that the Second Vatican Council addressed abortion in 1965 by calling it “an unspeakable crime” (Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, section 51), this was hardly the first teaching on abortion by the Catholic Church.  It remains one of the few acts that can result in automatic excommunication latae sententiae from the Church (paragraph 2272 of the Catechism), although of course a remorseful confession and penance would remedy the status of the individual who procures one:

Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77 “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

This teaching goes back almost literally to the founding of the Christian faith, as the website Catholic Answers shows:

  • “The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” (Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]).
  • Athenagoras: “What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers?
    . . . [W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it” (A Plea for the Christians 35 [A.D. 177]).
  • Tertullian:”In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed” (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).”Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.”There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. . . .”[The doctors who performed abortions] all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).
  • Council of Ancyra: “Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees” (canon 21 [A.D. 314]).
  • John Chrysostom: “Wherefore I beseech you, flee fornication. . . . Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit?—where there are many efforts at abortion?—where there is murder before the birth? For even the harlot you do not let continue a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to prostitution, prostitution to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder. For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born. Why then do thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with his laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter? For with a view to drawing more money by being agreeable and an object of longing to her lovers, even this she is not backward to do, so heaping upon thy head a great pile of fire. For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine” (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).

And so on.  The USCCB is an odd target anyway for Douthat as an example of extremity in conservative politics.  The bishops have pressed for universal health-care coverage for almost a century, a longstanding policy goal of Democrats, not Republicans, and were supporters of ObamaCare until it started to dawn on them last year that the law gave the Obama administration so much power that they could force the church to fund contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, all of which violate Catholic doctrine. The HHS mandate in late January showed just how much Obama and his administration cared about the concerns of their one-time allies in the health-care “reform” fight.

Once again, the issue isn’t that the Catholic Church (in this example) moved at all, but that Democrats so fiercely adopted a pro-abortion policy that the Catholic Church ended up with only Republicans as allies on that issue. The church didn’t move, and the religion certainly didn’t change; Catholics merely defended their position as they always have in a culture that has leaped toward a utilitarian view of life rather than see its sacred nature, the latter of which is foundational to Catholic teachings, and always has been.

That, it seems to me, is most of the problem that Douthat describes.  As people move away from the moorings of traditional religion, they fill that vacuum with cultural substitutes, while the culture descends from those traditional values to a “whatever works” mentality.  That’s the proximate cause for turning Winfrey, Beck, and Obama into ersatz Messiahs to the extent that they have become such, not that religion itself moved.  Maybe what we need is a little more of that old-time religion, and better formation in it, to inoculate ourselves to those outcomes.


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Good article. Long, but makes a lot of intersting points.

WeekendAtBernankes on May 13, 2012 at 1:37 PM

Religion shouldn’t be about social activism, which is politics. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s … and don’t make a show of your charitable giving. Religion isn’t politics. Religion is more personal, private. More humble. That’s what’s wrong with the feminist slogan “the personal is political”.

Paul-Cincy on May 13, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Great post, Ed. A lot to think about there.

dogsoldier on May 13, 2012 at 1:45 PM

I have long thought the Catholic Church should start excommunicating American politicians, beginning with Nancy Pelosi. I wish they had the will to do so.

John the Libertarian on May 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Religion shouldn’t be about social activism, which is politics. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s … and don’t make a show of your charitable giving. Religion isn’t politics. Religion is more personal, private. More humble. That’s what’s wrong with the feminist slogan “the personal is political”.

Paul-Cincy on May 13, 2012 at 1:42 PM

Every thing you said here, I agree with.

thebrokenrattle on May 13, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Bribes and preachers

Schadenfreude on May 13, 2012 at 1:53 PM

(Arguably, Obama’s fans and the media are redundant.)

Arguably?

Typhoon on May 13, 2012 at 1:55 PM

Clearly

DarkCurrent on May 13, 2012 at 1:56 PM

A nation of Heretics?

A nation of Gayretics

The land is full of eunuchs and she’s turning into one big Starnesville, from all aspects, financial/economic, social, cultural, spiritual and etc.

Schadenfreude on May 13, 2012 at 1:58 PM

When can we expect an excommunication for Nancy Pelosi?

Dack Thrombosis on May 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Wow, those ancient writings could have been published any time in the last 40 years.

We just keep saying the same things over and over: you’re killing a person in a gruesome way when you have an abortion.

But somehow, it just doesn’t sink in.

Jocon307 on May 13, 2012 at 2:03 PM

For instance, in Obama’s post-SSM justification, he claimed that Christian teaching led him to support the legalization of same-sex marriage, an absurd argument that is utterly unsupported in Scripture

I shouldn’t say this … I shouldn’t judge. But every time Obama invokes Jesus or Christianity to support some policy decision of his, I do a facepalm, because, from my point of view, he’s been way wrong, every time. Years ago he even paraphrased the Golden Rule as “do unto others as they do unto you”. He corrected that subsequently, so I can’t say he can’t learn. If he has a spiritual connection to scripture, I just don’t see it.

Paul-Cincy on May 13, 2012 at 2:07 PM

Obama and Pelosi can say with a straight face that they are for gay marriage because of their religios beliefs and all I hear is crickets. We as a God fearing nation are through. Period!!!

dddave on May 13, 2012 at 2:09 PM

… “Bad religion” is a redundancy.

Religion is essentially pseudo-philosophy resulting from merging philosophy (and its branches: metaphysics, epistemology,ethics, politics, aesthetics, & psychology) with “belief in god(s)” and the corollary belief(s) that these things have something to do with this/these supposed beings -despite the fact that the entire notion of “god(s)” -to the extent it’s even intelligible- is (A) absurd, (B) arbitrary/void of anything that remotely qualifies as evidence, and (C) lacking any epistemological/ontological “need” (i.e. “god(s)” simply are not either needed or useful for “explaining” existence.

Religion is thus distinct from philosophy in that a “philosopher” has no allegience/obligation to anything other than truth, while the “religionist/theist” is, by definition, committed to defending the dogma that is religion.

And religion was long ago entirely discredited by intellectually honest critical thinkers. It’s simply not accurate to merely say religion doesn’t have a case; it’s transparently and obviously false, and this is obvious to any and all intellectually honest people -as are the motives for accepting it: human beings have a tendency to reason selectively, and to believe some of the things they believe because of what they and/or others want, irrespective of the truth.

Thus, religion is synonomous with dogma, “anti-reason”, and intellectual dishonesty. To perpetuate itself, religion MUST (and therefore always has, and continues to) perpetuate these things.

Irrationality, subjectivity, and all the things they breed are the result of a long and concerted attack on reason, logic, epistemology, and objectivity -that is directly attributable to religion.

Ironically, though so many of the “occupy” maggots are atheist anarchists, they are the direct product of epistemological anarchy resulting from religion.

Historically, “religion” has not tolerated critical inquiry and free speech, nor been an advocate for individual rights; these things were the product of a paradigm which was/is fundamentally antithetical to “religion”. (Not withstanding the predictable apologists who attempt to reconcile religion with science.

The well-being of human civilization would best be served by an ever-increasing percentage of humans coming to recognize, accept and adopt a legitimate, rationally defensible philosophy for life.

It is not the rejection of religion and its falsehoods, but rather the continued use of the things religion requires to perpetuate (intellectual dishonesty, dogma, “faith”, believing what you/others want instead of having truth as ones criteria, etc), and the failure (as a result) to CONSISTENTLY (as opposed to selectively) value reason, truth, objectivity -that causes the problems in our country, and in our world.

This is plain fact; to deny it is to be dishonest.

Human civilization is at a critical point; the contradictions of trying to simultaneously integrate the opposing paradigsm of objectivity and subjectivity have carried themselves to their logical conclusions; and we need to commit ourselves to one or the other -as a species/race.

GuitarMark on May 13, 2012 at 2:14 PM

That photo (and the countless others like it) makes me seethe with anger and disgust. I’m done with this last four years. Maybe my life will become new again after my obsessive loathing is diminished in November.

freedomfirst on May 13, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Human civilization is at a critical point; the contradictions of trying to simultaneously integrate the opposing paradigsm of objectivity and subjectivity have carried themselves to their logical conclusions; and we need to commit ourselves to one or the other -as a species/race.

And those that dont agree should be enslaved or killed off.

Its the future according to the dances of dna!

tom daschle concerned on May 13, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Many churches have lost their doctrine. They have allowed themselves to be sucked into the culture. There is nothing wrong with love for God so loved us but when you turn a blind eye to sin and say we have to love above all else…..oh, oh..too many churches have turned to government to do what the Lord wants us, the church to do thus we have man made social programs that have done absolutely nothing but destroy families in the inner city….we allowed men and woman to determine that life was not a gift from God but something that can be disposed of as a nuisance

There has to be an appropriate balance of law and gospel….our pastor this morning said this in his sermon…..too bad if the culture doesn’t like what you stand up for, the culture did not save you, Jesus Christ did…..by the way I agree with an earlier poster…the Catholic church needs to start booting the apostics like pelosi from the flock and distance themselves from the government social program teat………..

crosshugger on May 13, 2012 at 2:21 PM

Right….the solution to all our problems is atheism!

/s

freedomfirst on May 13, 2012 at 2:21 PM

I have long thought the Catholic Church should start excommunicating American politicians, beginning with Nancy Pelosi. I wish they had the will to do so.

John the Libertarian on May 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM

I’ve wondered the same thing. Could Ed give us any enlightenment on this?

Ordinary American on May 13, 2012 at 2:22 PM

Another section of the catechism treats an issue that warrants Ms. Pelosi’s attention for her own spiritual good.

Respect for the souls of others: scandal

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”86 Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.87

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.

Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.“88 This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger,89 or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”90

Mason on May 13, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Douthat calls this a “God haunted” affliction; we have a deep-seated religious impulse that will go in destructive directions when we try to elevate the secular to the divine.

I never really noticed one, but, unlike most atheists, I was raised without religion.

Count to 10 on May 13, 2012 at 2:33 PM

I have long thought the Catholic Church should start excommunicating American politicians, beginning with Nancy Pelosi. I wish they had the will to do so.

John the Libertarian on May 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Yep, not doing so harms the Church’s credibility and moral authority.

wildcat72 on May 13, 2012 at 2:39 PM

GuitarMark on May 13, 2012 at 2:14 PM

You seem to be going out of your way to justify your belief.

John the Libertarian on May 13, 2012 at 2:41 PM

The problem lies in the fundamentalist circles. Solid Bible teaching is being replace by guitars, drums and emotionalism in many of the mega churches. “the salt has lost its savor…”. DD

Darvin Dowdy on May 13, 2012 at 2:43 PM

Have you seen the rainbow-colored Hula-hoop of a halo that Newsweek has hovering over the President’s mug on their latest cover? They’re not journalists, they’re iconographers.

sistrum on May 13, 2012 at 2:46 PM

BRAVO, Ed Morrissey. Excellent post.

I, too, agree with Ross Douthat; Good religion needs to remain vigilant as a necessary counter balance to the malignancy of bad religion, which is far worse than no religion.

I’ve oft said that pres. Divisive is a proponent of bad religion. Obama claims to be a Christian and I won’t dispute his claim, but he’s demonstrated himself to be a very shallow and immature Christian, short on Biblical literacy, yet long on taking text out of context in order to further a mendacious secular pretext.

locomotivebreath1901 on May 13, 2012 at 2:49 PM

All religion is bad it attracts the mentally deficient, the insane and the fearful that have an fetish to be told how to live because they can’t figure it out on their own. The religious are completely stupid and the worst sort of followers.

Your Mamma loves me on May 13, 2012 at 2:53 PM

“Douthat calls this a “God haunted” affliction; we have a deep-seated religious impulse that will go in destructive directions when we try to elevate the secular to the divine.”

– I never really noticed one, but, unlike most atheists, I was raised without religion.

Count to 10 on May 13, 2012 at 2:33 PM

======================

Not noticing one doesn’t prove it isn’t there. It’s always possible your upbringing didn’t prepare you to recognize the signs and identify its nature. Before there was religion there was some deep spring in the nascent human psyche that prompted it; you may not know the well by that name, but that doesn’t mean yours is dry.

sistrum on May 13, 2012 at 2:57 PM

That, it seems to me, is most of the problem that Douthat describes. As people move away from the moorings of traditional religion, they fill that vacuum with cultural substitutes, while the culture descends from those traditional values to a “whatever works” mentality. That’s the proximate cause for turning Winfrey, Beck, and Obama into ersatz Messiahs to the extent that they have become such, not that religion itself moved.

Except this doesn’t explain North Carolina voting to ban Ghey marriage in favor of the definition of traditional marriage. IF people are indeed substituting cultural figures like Oprah, Obama and Beck, for their traditional religious mores’.

Dr Evil on May 13, 2012 at 2:57 PM

I have long thought the Catholic Church should start excommunicating American politicians, beginning with Nancy Pelosi. I wish they had the will to do so.

John the Libertarian on May 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Excommunication is a big deal to Catholics. I can understand why the church does not take such action on a whim. That being said, it seems to me a long political career of undermining the church is reason enough that “good” Catholics like Pelosi, Sibellieus, and Biden shgould get the boot.

Along the same lines, we Protestants should not stand by and let Obama get away with claims that he speaks for Jesus. The final judgement on our sorta Muslim sorta Christian is God’s but sitting for 20 years among heretics in a church that clearly is not Christian disqualifies Obama from declaring that Jesus would support his (Obama’s) agenda.

Happy Nomad on May 13, 2012 at 3:00 PM

That picture of Obomwa…

… and how the media treats him like Jesus, just makes me want to vomit.

Seven Percent Solution on May 13, 2012 at 3:01 PM

Except this doesn’t explain North Carolina voting to ban Ghey marriage in favor of the definition of traditional marriage. IF people are indeed substituting cultural figures like Oprah, Obama and Beck, for their traditional religious mores’.

Dr Evil on May 13, 2012 at 2:57 PM

A small point. North Carolina’s vote was not to ban gay marriage. It is already legally banned there. The vote this week concerned amending the state constitution in order to ensure that biased activists judges couldn’t rule out of thier own bigotry. The way that homosexual judge in California ruled on their referendum. His ruling was nothing but an anti-Christian screed that had absolutely no basis in the law.

Happy Nomad on May 13, 2012 at 3:04 PM

All religion is bad it attracts the mentally deficient, the insane and the fearful that have an fetish to be told how to live because they can’t figure it out on their own. The religious are completely stupid and the worst sort of followers.

Your Mamma loves me on May 13, 2012 at 2:53 PM

But other than that, it’s OK, right?

Religion is the language of the heart. A way of life. Our highest understanding and guidance. What we will live and die for. Don’t discount its value.

It’s incredibly hard to figure all of life out on your own. If people take some religious guidance off the shelf, how can we blame them? We can’t all be as smart and independent-minded as you.

Paul-Cincy on May 13, 2012 at 3:08 PM

For instance, in Obama’s post-SSM justification, he claimed that Christian teaching led him to support the legalization of same-sex marriage, an absurd argument that is utterly unsupported in Scripture or in traditional teaching in any of the more established Christian sects. Nancy Pelosi made the same argument. None of the media challenged these statements, which shows how little reporters know about Christian Scripture or traditional teaching.

Virtually all of the Flying Monkey Media know damned good and well how preposterous are Obama’s and Pelosi’s claims of support in Christian teaching for same-sex marriage.

They simply have no intention of ever calling them out for their patent absurdities. That would interfere with the preferred narrative.

novaculus on May 13, 2012 at 3:17 PM

What we are suffering from is bad government religion. Nothing more, nothing less. The Religion of the State is evil. It has killed hundreds of millions since it’s inception in the late 1800s and has put billions in misery.

jukin3 on May 13, 2012 at 3:26 PM

I’m not sure I understand the reference to Beck here. Oprah has certainly been a secular figure that has brought about religious-like fervor in her adoring fans, as has Obama. Beck on the other hand has merely been telling people to get back to God, and back to their church. He has never claimed to be a spiritual leader, as is noted here, and nor do I believe that most of his fans treat him as one. It is simply that what he says resonates with many religious-minded people. Because he happens to be one of the few secular voices that speaks out about religious issues. I’m not sure how that makes him an extreme version of ‘bad religion’ or some kind of ‘ersatz Messiah’. Nor do I think we need ‘inoculation’ from his kind. We just need more people willing to speak out for the virtue of returning our lives to God and church, as he has had the courage to do.

PSConservative on May 13, 2012 at 3:42 PM

All religion is bad it attracts the mentally deficient, the insane and the fearful that have an fetish to be told how to live because they can’t figure it out on their own. The religious are completely stupid and the worst sort of followers.

Your Mamma loves me on May 13, 2012 at 2:53 PM

So what is your excuse?

tom daschle concerned on May 13, 2012 at 3:49 PM

Beautifully reasoned, Ed. Artfully written. For a moment I was whisked back to 4th grade Catechism class!

Still an atheist, though. Worship no god, no man (my husband’s omlette and flowers this a.m. puts him closer to sainthood, however).

;)

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on May 13, 2012 at 3:56 PM

None of the media challenged these statements, which shows how little reporters know about Christian Scripture or traditional teaching.

-Ed Morrissey

How much do we know about Mormon teachings and doctrine? I assume that by calling out the Media on its lack of knowledge on Christian doctrine means that you support a fuller investigation and open conversation of Mormon doctrine.

Would I be correct in that?

sartana on May 13, 2012 at 4:06 PM

Douthat calls this a “God haunted” affliction; we have a deep-seated religious impulse that will go in destructive directions when we try to elevate the secular to the divine.

Said “better” in Matthew 12

[43] “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none.
[44] Then he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.
[45] Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation.”

Cleombrotus on May 13, 2012 at 4:28 PM

freedomfirst on May 13, 2012 at 2:21 PM

Heh. Good response to Guitar Mark”s “philosophy”.

Cleombrotus on May 13, 2012 at 4:43 PM

Ironically, though so many of the “occupy” maggots are atheist anarchists, they are the direct product of epistemological anarchy resulting from religion.

GuitarMark on May 13, 2012 at 2:14 PM

Boy, I’d love to hear your argument for the Occupy crowd being descended from the New Testament authors rather than the Enlightenment philosophes.

Cleombrotus on May 13, 2012 at 4:53 PM

Along the same lines, we Protestants should not stand by and let Obama get away with claims that he speaks for Jesus. The final judgement on our sorta Muslim sorta Christian is God’s but sitting for 20 years among heretics in a church that clearly is not Christian disqualifies Obama from declaring that Jesus would support his (Obama’s) agenda.

Happy Nomad on May 13, 2012 at 3:00 PM

Is there any Bible believing organization that acknowledges the UCC as being Christian? While there maybe some mixed up Christians there, the UCC started out apostate or close to it. When you deny the Deity of Christ, His resurrection, the Virgin Birth, etc, etc, why bother with the charade of being Christian.

Kjeil on May 13, 2012 at 5:07 PM

Ed:

Douthat offers this as though the Catholic Church decided in the 1960s that abortion went against Catholic doctrine, and was motivated by a desire to become more Republican (when Kennedy was President?).

I don’t know whether Douthat confines himself to Catholicism, as you do here, but if you fast forward to the 1980′s, the Christian Coalition drove itself full bore into partisan politics. Pat Robertson ran for President in 1988, and by 1992, Ralph Reed was claiming that G.H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid because he failed to cultivate the Christian right, which Reed cited as the essential “Republican base.” Evangelicals like Robertson and Falwell became high profile fixtures on political talk shows, and while sometimes at odds with Republican leadership, they firmly planted their flag on the rightwing side of the political divide.

Fast forward to Hot Air, and you’ll find partisan politics routinely painted as a battle pitting godless liberals against “Judeo-Christian” conservatives, (despite the preponderance of liberal Jews!), not to mention political discussions which devolve into denominational disputes. You, yourself, even castigate Obama for invoking Christian values on the subject of gay marriage as a matter of scriptural, doctrinal errancy, when Christianity’s greatest gift to western culture, both religious and secular, is the Golden Rule upon which he claims to rely. That concept is absolutely foundational to the American rule of law, and it hardly seems heretical to consider how it might find expression in the legalities of marriage. You may believe Obama ends up drawing unchristian conclusions, but the Golden Rule is no small feature of Christian teaching. That’s that’s certainly where my Sunday school lessons began!

While there may be increasing numbers of those who secularize “a deep-seated religious impulse,” there’s a flip side in those who increasingly frame differences over secular governance in religious terms — to similarly polarizing effect.

JM Hanes on May 13, 2012 at 5:17 PM

No, we are just suffering from Obozo’s lack of religion, well, unless it’s Islam….which is not a religion….

chai on May 13, 2012 at 5:39 PM

None of the media challenged these statements, which shows how little reporters know about Christian Scripture or traditional teaching.

I don’t think so. I think the media know exactly what they’re doing. I believe the media are only going to do what it takes for their survival. The instance that the State begins to censor the media is the collapse of the media. Christian Scripture is easily verified and fact-checkers wage great battles against a war over the collapse of morality but the media keeps immorality alive and keeps it growing. The stronger immorality is the more distant the media is from censorship. It isn’t the reporter that has the final edit on his copy, nor is it the reporter who decides if his copy gets published in the media machine – unless the reporter is a lowly blogger.

ericdijon on May 13, 2012 at 5:40 PM

the Christian Coalition drove itself full bore into partisan politics. Pat Robertson ran for President in 1988, and by 1992, Ralph Reed was claiming that G.H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid because he failed to cultivate the Christian right, which Reed cited as the essential “Republican base.” Evangelicals like Robertson and Falwell became high profile fixtures on political talk shows, and while sometimes at odds with Republican leadership, they firmly planted their flag on the rightwing side of the political divide.

This was a reaction to the Democrat party going Hard left on matter Christianity speaks to. (Gay life style, Drugs, and abortion being chief) You’re not say the Christian should remain silently hidden in their churches are you?

Kjeil on May 13, 2012 at 5:40 PM

GuitarMark:

Human civilization is at a critical point; the contradictions of trying to simultaneously integrate the opposing paradigsm of objectivity and subjectivity have carried themselves to their logical conclusions; and we need to commit ourselves to one or the other -as a species/race.

Indeed! Let us banish lyin’ novels and science fiction! All those superhuman deeds and white knights to the rescue we love in the movies, and stories in which good triumphs over evil, hope over despair, are a danger to truth seekers everywhere!

Human rationality is all we need to survive and prosper. The human ability to imagine that which does not exist just produces miscreants like Edison & Shakespeare. The world would be better off without the otherworldly visions of folks like that guy who painted the Sistine Chapel, and don’t even get me started on the travesty of surrealism, which no intellectually honest person could embrace. Spirituality just makes us weak. Logic uber alles!

There is nothing that the mind of man can’t understand, with the apparent exception of those who find religious faith utterly inexplicable.

JM Hanes on May 13, 2012 at 6:14 PM

Thanks, Ed.

It’s also interesting that in this day when medical ethicists are now writing in support of infanticide, that one of the gravest condemnations reported by God, not only of the Jewish people but of the kings that advocated or allowed the practice, was that of passing children through the fire — or burning children alive as a sacrifice to particular common pagan gods for the purposes of fertility and prosperity.

Even Nineveh repented; but without repentence on this, as a people, as a nation, as a culture, I do expect the same godly punishment (in Israel’s case, invasion and subjugation) to be exacted upon those who excuse it, accept it and through their choices promote it.

flicker on May 13, 2012 at 6:21 PM

Great topic. Despite being an atheist myself, I always look forward to reading and hearing Douthat and hope that Ed can provide more thoughts on the book itself which raises a number of very interesting issues which aren’t discussed here.

lexhamfox on May 13, 2012 at 6:26 PM

JM Hanes on May 13, 2012 at 6:14 PM

Fan of Chesterton?

flicker on May 13, 2012 at 6:21 PM

There is a pattern in scripture. It is utterly sobering to think of the hand of grace being lifted for good.

tom daschle concerned on May 13, 2012 at 6:47 PM

Ironically, though so many of the “occupy” maggots are atheist anarchists, they are the direct product of epistemological anarchy resulting from religion

You sound like Democrats who try to claim Abe Lincoln and the Civil Rights, because you know the Republican of those times were actually Democrats.

You can’t write an long-winded SUBJECTIVE post(although I know you think it is objective) and then not claim other atheists. Claim them, love them- they are all YOURS..

melle1228 on May 13, 2012 at 7:18 PM

…using religion for slutty purposes…is not something I want to atone for some day…

KOOLAID2 on May 13, 2012 at 7:59 PM

Fast forward to Hot Air, and you’ll find partisan politics routinely painted as a battle pitting godless liberals against “Judeo-Christian” conservatives, (despite the preponderance of liberal Jews!), not to mention political discussions which devolve into denominational disputes. You, yourself, even castigate Obama for invoking Christian values on the subject of gay marriage as a matter of scriptural, doctrinal errancy, when Christianity’s greatest gift to western culture, both religious and secular, is the Golden Rule upon which he claims to rely. That concept is absolutely foundational to the American rule of law, and it hardly seems heretical to consider how it might find expression in the legalities of marriage. You may believe Obama ends up drawing unchristian conclusions, but the Golden Rule is no small feature of Christian teaching. That’s that’s certainly where my Sunday school lessons began!

JM Hanes on May 13, 2012 at 5:17 PM

Well said.

dedalus on May 13, 2012 at 8:25 PM

Human civilization is at a critical point; the contradictions of trying to simultaneously integrate the opposing paradigsm of objectivity and subjectivity have carried themselves to their logical conclusions; and we need to commit ourselves to one or the other -as a species/race.

GuitarMark on May 13, 2012 at 2:14 PM

Your (evidently) limitless faith in rationalism sounds just as fundamentalist as those whose faith you condemn.

May I remind you that militant atheism (Communism) killed a grand total of 100 million people. Just to compare, the Spanish Inquisition “only” killed about 3000-5000.

SubmarineDoc on May 13, 2012 at 9:22 PM

How much do we know about Mormon teachings and doctrine? I assume that by calling out the Media on its lack of knowledge on Christian doctrine means that you support a fuller investigation and open conversation of Mormon doctrine.

Would I be correct in that?

sartana on May 13, 2012 at 4:06 PM

The media will never move past the polygamy, the strange underwear, and “blacks weren’t admitted to the priesthood until the ’80′s”

Don’t expect the media to do anything about vetting a person’s religious faith and how well their public policy adheres to it.

As a Catholic, I took it upon myself to find out what the LDS official position is on abortion (it’s on their official website — you can Google it).

They have a much more lax position on abortion than the Catholic Church, but the needle points to general opposition — with a “the woman should consult with God before doing it” kind of flavor.

Pretty weak tea, but stronger than anything Mr. Obama serves up.

http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=63c139b439c98010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=bbd508f54922d010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

unclesmrgol on May 14, 2012 at 12:47 AM

I appreciate an article that tackles such a weighty subject. But this:

The centre began to crumble as the sexual revolution, globalization and increased wealth led to the decline of the mainstream churches.

is backwards. The mainstream churches didn’t crumble because of the sexual revolution or globalization or even wealth. The mainstream denominations crumbled because they abandoned the key doctrines of what they believed in preference for accepting a view of science that was actually just naturalism.

To be clear, science describes the naturalistic world, so could always be described as naturalistic in that particular sense. But naturalistic in the broader sense means to believe that the natural world is all that exists, which is NOT a belief required by any true science. Science itself is limited to the natural world, and can make no statement about the supernatural, by definition.

Once the mainstream Protestant denominations accepted a naturalistic viewpoint that rejected belief in miracles or the power of God because they could not be verified by science, they necessarily abandoned a belief in a Creator, salvation, and Biblical authority.

Fortunately, even as many of the mainstream Protestant denominational organizations withered, those who still held to their Christian faith left and formed their own organizations. With the end result that the so-called mainstream Protestant organizations are actually a small group today, far outnumbered by evangelicals.

There Goes The Neighborhood on May 14, 2012 at 1:57 AM

Look at today when the [Roman] Catholic bishops come out against abortion. The assumption is they are siding with the Republican party. At mid-century it was easier for religious figures to present a message that was Christian first and then liberal or conservative second.

Douthat offers this as though the Catholic Church decided in the 1960s that abortion went against Catholic doctrine, and was motivated by a desire to become more Republican (when Kennedy was President?). That reveals a rather large gap in knowledge for someone who wants to write about Bad Religion.

I think you may be missing Douthat’s point. I got the sense from this passage that he wasn’t complaining about the opposition to abortion, but was saying opposition to abortion was threatened by the general politicization of religion. In other words, because people already see religion as a conservative, republican thing, they are more likely to shrug off the Church’s position on something like abortion.

I’m not sure there’s anything that could be done about that, though – it was inevitable that all of these things would become politicized, particularly after Roe v. Wade.

If people disagree about something, and the disagreement includes a disagreement over the law, then it’s going to become politicized, period.

RINO in Name Only on May 14, 2012 at 4:01 AM

I have long thought the Catholic Church should start excommunicating American politicians, beginning with Nancy Pelosi. I wish they had the will to do so.

John the Libertarian on May 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM

The failure and cowardice of priests and bishops is not the fault of the Catholic Church. As shepherds, their sins are all the more grievous. They too will have to answer to God eventually.

swinia sutki on May 14, 2012 at 6:07 AM

John the Libertarian on May 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Dack Thrombosis on May 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Ordinary American on May 13, 2012 at 2:22 PM

wildcat72 on May 13, 2012 at 2:39 PM

swinia sutki on May 14, 2012 at 6:07 AM

Please read the entire article and see what Ed correctly pointed out. People such as Pelosi, Biden, Sebelius, and any Catholic politician who campaigns or votes for “abortion rights” have already incurred excommunication latae sententiae. That is, they are excommunicated Catholics and there is no further action required by the Church. Do I wish that the bishops and priests would formally deny them participating in Communion? yes, I do. Bur the bishops not doing so doesn’t make any difference. These people are still excommunicated Cathoilcs and paricipating in Mass and receiving communion is a meaningless act that devalues and degrades the Host. These folks are going to have a lot to answer for, but that’s what happens when you set yourself above God.

Trafalgar on May 14, 2012 at 7:53 AM

…not that religion itself moved. Maybe what we need is a little more of that old-time religion, and better formation in it, to inoculate ourselves to those outcomes.

posted at 1:31 pm on May 13, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

glad you mention some 4th century sources:
like the:
Council of Ancyra
John Chrysostom

i sure you know those times were full of christian intolerance, so, when you say : “Maybe what we need is a little more of that old-time religion”, you are placing in the same bag some things you might agree with now and some really nasty stuff.

and that to the point. how you know which part of the “old-time religion” should we take or not? if you open it to reasoned criticism, to filter the good from the bad, everything can be challenged, even abortion.
if you don’t, you will have to support also countless persecutions of heretics and pagans than happened from the 4th century on. that is old religion too.

nathor on May 14, 2012 at 8:55 AM

Trafalgar on May 14, 2012 at 7:53 AM

Our bishop is a personal friend of Dipsh!t Donnelly (IN, 2nd) as was our previous pastor. They worked behind the scenes to help him stay in office, even knowing his allegiance to Obamacare (mandated abortion coverage, anyone?). They may well be helping him now in his campaign for the US Senate. If so, then in my opinion they are welcome to burn in hell right beside Donnelly.

swinia sutki on May 14, 2012 at 9:06 AM

All of the churches who practice politics and back that up with a little religion are in trouble which is why most of them are losing members. A lot of people on both sides can’t submit their will to God’s will. The Word is not a pick and choose like a restaurant menu. It is very specific about everything.

Kissmygrits on May 14, 2012 at 9:58 AM

Social Issues are religious issues. Abortion , gay sex/marriage/ etc certainly fall under the realm of God’s word. OUr liberal churches of today pick and choose what they preach and do not seem to care at all on what God says . Some day they will be held accountable.

Bullhead on May 14, 2012 at 11:00 AM

GuitarMark on May 13, 2012 at 2:14 PM

You’re simply going around in circles. You say that philosophers have no agenda but the truth and then you say that religion is philosophy mixed with “belief in Gods”. But if Gods were to exists, that is the truth and philosophy has no purpose to avoid the principle of Gods as you give them the role of free agents for the truth.

Taken historically, God hardly has no explicative power, as both Plato invokes Socrates concept of a single God and Aristotle posits an Unmoved Mover to avoid the seeming infinite regress of Causes. This is the start of Western Philosophy and it was the part that was adopted first by Acquinas and again by the Wesleys because of their use in establishing a foundation for the Christian worldview.

Your idea of contending for “the truth” is an abstract. Philosophy as a way of finding out what we mean by “truth” and what we take for its criteria–has seen philosophers dig in and fight for their model and methodology of analysis.

And now a little history:

Socrates lived in the cultural height of the world before Christianity. He valued the culture of Athens so much, and credited Athens with having provided him so much, that if the people of Athens thought it right to put him to death, not only would he seek no other home when banishment was on the table, nor escape afterwards, but he would suffer the punishment of the city that he adored and drink the hemlock.

There is nowhere a clear indication of individual rights in pre-Christianity. There is individualism and various tolerance of the individual. But there is no pre-Christian idea of rights.

I have debated with numerous atheists on this forum, and when they’re backed against the wall, to be CONSISTENT, they admit that “individual rights” are an agreement by society. Thus, if religious societies are the type that do not “recognize” individual rights, then they are that type of society that that does not grant certain individual rights. You can argue that they ought to grant more, but we know that Hume debunked the natural “ought” for “intellectually honest critical thinkers” centuries ago.

You seem to be saying that truth is not just what you think it is, so you can’t be arguing that the correct amount of individual rights is what you think it is–can you?

Like sooooo many other net atheists, you seem to think that “consistency” is the same thing as conviction that you are consistent. So a “CONSISTENT” value of the objective truth would have you say what about individual rights?

Actually, Classical Relativism comes out of Classical Skepticism. It’s chief proponent is usually personified as Protagoras, who was tutored by the skeptic Diogenes Laertes and its relationship to religion is about as debatable as any of your cartoon sketch of epistemology is.

Axeman on May 14, 2012 at 5:19 PM

One thing that everyone above has missed is the fact that Obamaism is both Messianic and Apocalyptic, to use Douthat’s terms.

The Roman Catholic Bishops have an obligation to openly castigate and announce the excommunication of heretics such as Biden and Pelosi. They may have been excommunicated latae sententiae, but if they keep presenting themselves for the Eucharist, and it is not denied them, then just what does excommunication mean? Little from what this non-Roman Catholic sees.

The reality is the Roman Catholic Church long ago made themselves accessories to the crimes of the Democrats. They have pushed a Government nanny state for many years in the name of Christianity, and have bought into the heresies such as Liberation Theology The Jesuits, for example have been one of the most rebellious of orders, yet nothing is done.

While as a Non-Roman Catholic, I respected the RCC, the RCC has exchanged its moral authority for a mess of postmodernist pottage.

Quartermaster on May 14, 2012 at 7:18 PM