Ross Douthat posted a column adapted from his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2012). Mormons are used to denigrating references — recall Mitt Romney’s response to the Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, “I’ve heard worse” — but it still has some shock value for most American Christians, who generally think they deserve a pat on the back instead of a kick in the … shin. Welcome to the club, fellow heretics.
Douthat’s point in the essay is that the religious center or “religious mainstream” doesn’t really exist anymore in America and that this year’s crop of presidential candidates reflects this development: “In 2012, we finally have a presidential field whose diversity mirrors the diversity of American Christianity as a whole. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum all identify as Christians, but their theological traditions and personal experiences of faith diverge more starkly than any group of presidential contenders in recent memory.”
He goes on to describe what is often called religious diversity but sounds more like religious anarchy:
These divergences reflect America as it actually is: We’re neither traditionally Christian nor straightforwardly secular. Instead, we’re a nation of heretics in which most people still associate themselves with Christianity but revise its doctrines as they see fit, and nobody can agree on even the most basic definitions of what Christian faith should mean.
There is no shortage of pressing domestic and foreign policy issues, yet Douthat thinks we are likely to get campaign rhetoric full of religious “division, demonization and polarization.” I hope for better, but I fear the worst. It’s going to be a long election year.