I am reading Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Mr Douthat has always struck me as the exemplar of what is becoming a rarity, the thoughtful and non-ideological conservative. This book, with a few caveats, is very good, an examination of the decline of first, mainstream Protestantism, then- despite the hopes of the John Paul years- Catholicism, and then, finally, in the wake of the Bush presidency, Evangelicalism. And it is about how these faiths, which shared a broad orthodxy, are being replaced in the popular mind with the new heresies of Joel Osteen, Oprah, and the rest of the purveyors of self help books and gurus of pop religion.
This quote is particularly good, on the many paradoxes of Christ:
Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a wise ethicist the next. He’s a fierce critic of Jewish religious law who insists that he’s actually fulfilling rather than subverting it. He preaches a reversal of every social hierarchy while deliberately avoiding explicitly political claims. He promises to set parents against children and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts.
In the revisionist mind-set, synthesis is always suspect. We have to choose between Mark’s Jesus or John’s Christ, between the aphoristic Jesus and the messianic Jesus, between Jesus the Jew and Jesus the light to the Gentiles. There’s no possibility that the original Jesus married eschatology to everyday ethics, or that he seemed both divine and human, in different ways and at different times, even to the first apostles. There’s no chance that he actually contained multitudes…