Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America

I started this Blog partially because I thought it would be a great place to do book reviews. While I DO like to write (as the couple thousand blog entries out here show), I like to read MUCH MORE! So, when I'm done with a book, I find it daunting to get a summary down to a size of Blog entry that I want to write before opening another book. Writing LESS is often MUCH harder than blathering on for pages for one that has the "writers gene". 

So, I'm trying to reform, AGAIN. I'm going to try my hardest to give a VERY short summary of what **I** thought the book said, throw in some excerpts, and call it good! 

"Anxious Age" was quite humbling. Lots of references to other works and figures in American and world Religion that I was only barely aware of. 

The thesis is that Mainline Protestantism WAS the core of what it meant to be American. We lost that, and now the spiritual core of America has been converted to a "secular salvation" that is extremely unsatisfying and unable to carry the weight of what it means to be human. The NEED for the metaphysical, the spiritual -- the angels, demons, ghosts and goblins if you will. 

The core of this book is "the social forces of bigotry, power, corruption, mass opinion, militarism, and oppression" and your knowledge of, and opposition to those forces defining you as "saved". So "history" is like the "patriarchal oppression of women", slavery, taking lands from indigenous people, colonialism. bigotry is racism, sexism, speciesism, homophobia, etc.

Power is anybody but people who are "saved" having any power (or wealth, or speech, etc) at all. Corruption is again anything that is not "of the saved" is corrupt -- and it is impossible for the "the saved" to be corrupt. For "mass opinion", I read bourgeoise, the "little people", the "unenlightened" ... the kind that might still hold to the old ought to have been abandoned "old time religion". I think you get the idea ... "liberalism now saves you".  
A need to see themselves as good people— a hunger for spiritual confidence in perfect parallel to the hungers that drove previous generations of American Protestants— still compels them in deeply significant ways. In their view, the social forces of bigotry, power, corruption, mass opinion, militarism, and oppression are the constant themes of history. These horrors have a palpable, almost metaphysical presence in the world. And the post-Protestants believe the best way to know themselves as moral is to define themselves in opposition to such bigotry and oppression—understanding good and evil not primarily in terms of personal behavior but as states of mind about the social condition . Sin, in other words, appears as a social fact, and the redeemed personality becomes confident of its own salvation by being aware of that fact. By knowing about, and rejecting, the evil that darkens society. 
So the "believers" here are really new puritans -- although of course they would HATE that comparison.
They are, for the most part, politically liberal, preferring that government rather than private associations (such as intact families or the churches they left behind) address social concerns. They remain puritanical and highly judgmental, at least about health, and like all Puritans they are willing to use law to compel behavior they think right.
Lots of quotes from Tocqueville and others, and some somewhat interesting coverage of Catholic thought history in especially the late 20th century, on how it impossible for Catholicism to carry the metaphysical load that was borne by the mainline protestants for 150+ years as the "Mississippi of what it spiritually meant to be American".

If you like to be a bit challenged in your reading, and realize that even if you think you are well read, there is always someone much better read, it is worthy. It isn't very uplifting -- which seems to be a negative in this new ice age that we have run afoul of.

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