Saturday, July 28, 2012

The dangers of an individualistic faith

Ross Douthat's recent book on the state of American Christianity has elicited quite a few responses, some of them quite content — even optimistic — about the direction things are going. He worries that the anti-institutional, individualistic trends in religious practice will have almost entirely negative effects. From Douthat's column in The New York Times:
...[T]his individualism has consequences that liberal Christians as well more traditional believers should find more worrying than cheering: Consequences for local community (because it’s harder to care for your neighbor when you don’t have a congregation around you to provide resources and support), consequences for society as a whole (because the declining institutional churches leaves a void that our insolvent government is unlikely to effectively fill, no matter how many elections the Democratic Party wins), and consequences for private morality (because an individualistic faith is more likely to encourage solipsism and narcissism, in which the voice of the ego is mistaken for the voice of the divine). Like many religious progressives, Bass has great hopes for Christianity after organized religion, Christianity after the institutional church. But I feel like we already know what that Christianity looks like: It’s the self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith that Christian Smith and others have encountered when they survey today’s teenagers and young adults, which conceives of God as part divine butler, part cosmic therapist, and which jettisons the more challenging aspects of Christianity that the traditional churches and denominations, for all their many sins and follies, at least tried to hand down to us intact. [more]
Is Liberal Christianity Actually The Future? - NYTimes.com