One of the most hopeful things that I have witnessed in recent times was the decision of evangelical Christian publisher Thomas Nelson to discontinue publishing David Barton’s Jefferson Lies. For those of you who are unfamiliar, David Barton is a historical revisionist very popular in the Michelle Bachmann/Glenn Beck circles for trying to advance the claim that America’s Founding Fathers were 21st century evangelical Christians and not 18th century Deists. The reason Thomas Nelson dropped his book is because other conservative evangelical historians cried foul at the way that Barton distorted history to support his ideological propaganda. This is a very significant development because what most turns people off about today’s “conservatism” is actually not the part that is conservative, i.e. its commitment to ancient, timeless truths, but rather the hijacking of conservatism by populist demagogues who reveal their lack of conservatism with their contempt for the truth. So if American conservatism is in fact rediscovering the importance of integrity, this will be much better for its long-term health than continuing to foment short-term political power through fact-free, sensationalist rabble-rousing. Continue reading
Everyone else is writing about the “crisis” of American Christianity so I figured I’d add my own two cents. Andrew Sullivan wants us to cut up our Bibles and follow “Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a simpler, purer, apolitical Christianity.” Ross Douthat writes that the problem is we’ve been overrun by heresies. Christian Piatt claims that young adults are “leaving the church to follow Jesus.” I think that underneath the prosperity gospel, the ideological echo chamber, and the shallow, therapeutic Jesus-as-boyfriend theology considered by all three of these writers are two basic idolatries — opinion and relationship — which have filled the gap created by the loss of a sacramental understanding of Christ’s body within popular American evangelical Christianity. Continue reading
I’ve often been cynical about American exceptionalism. Especially on days when I walk into Barnes and Nobles and see the political bestsellers on display in the front of the store. Americans are exceptional? Really? Exceptionally tacky? Exceptionally self-righteous? Exceptionally deaf to opinions outside of our own echo chamber? Exceptionally good at building an industry off of paranoid hate and conspiracy theories?
One of the most exceptional Americans I know about, Mark Twain, famously said that “patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels.” There is something quintessentially American and even partly healthy about his cynicism. At the same time, I’m feeling contrite today about my cynicism and lack of patriotism because a dream and vision for humanity that was exceptional about our country is in the process of dying. Continue reading