Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyWithout knowing it, American worshipers have moved away from Christianity and now embrace pre-Christian Gnosticism, asserts Bloom ( The Book of J ). In his most controversial book to date, the Yale professor defines ``the American Religion'' as a Gnostic creed stressing knowledge of an inner self that leads to freedom from nature, time, history and other selves. Every American, he writes, assumes that God loves her or him in a personal, intimate way, and this trait is the bedrock of our national religion, a debased Gnosticism often tinged with selfishness. The core of this odd, ponderous book focuses on Pentecostals, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and especially Mormons and Southern Baptists--the two denominations Bloom believes will dominate future American religious life. He argues that mainline Protestants, Jews, Roman Catholics and secularists are also much more Gnostic than they realize. He identifies African-American religion, mystical and emotionally immediate, as a key element in the birth of our home-grown Gnosticism around 1800. Bloom is not likely to win many converts to his viewpoint. First serial to Yale Reviewok ; BOMC and QPB alternates. (May)
Library JournalClaiming to have read everything of importance on American religion, Bloom engages in ``religious criticism'' in order to elucidate what is distinctive about our national faith. He concludes that the great revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801 and the momentous writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James are key moments in the creation of America's central religious doctrine. Bloom claims that American religion is more gnostic than Christian. He sees this American Gnosis expressed most powerfully in early Mormonism and in the moderate Southern Baptist tradition, though it thrives in virtually every denomination and cult. By turns brilliant and wrong-headed, provocative and repetitious, this work belongs in most libraries less for what it achieves than what it attempts.-- Steve Gowler, Wofford Coll. Lib., Spartanburg, S.C.
Michiko Kakutani"The American Religion" is a highly eccentric, occasionally brilliant, sometimes irresponsible and often maddeningly convoluted book....Many of his insights are useful not only for evaluating this country's spiritual Zeitgeist, but also for reassessing its literary and political history....All in all, it makes for an uneven, prickly book, a book that is bound to be highly controversial, if actually little read. -- New York Times
Kirkus ReviewsBloom wanders a bit, away from Yale into "the Evening Land" of America and its churchesand reconstructs a remarkable diagram of the religious imagination. As a literary critic, Bloom has shown an increasing fascination of late with scriptural texts and religious imagery (The Book of J, 1990; Ruin the Sacred Truths, 1988). Here, he attempts to go one step further and provide an exegesis of the religions themselves, concentrating on those sectsMormons, Shakers, Southern Baptists, etc.whose origins are particularly rooted in American history and American patterns of thought. "No American," according to Bloom, "feels free if he is not alone, and no American ultimately concedes that he is part of nature." The resulting solitude of American life has given rise, as Bloom recounts, to a phenomenal array of "enthusiastic" cults, all of which purport to give the individual direct access to divine truth without the mediation of church or priest. Bloom is clearsighted enough to understand the ramifications of this, remarking quite rightly that in religious terms it amounts to a re-making of God in man's imagea process that turns every traditional Christian theology inside out. As a self-styled "Jewish Gnostic," Bloom celebrates this Promethean refashioning, but as a religious critic he is equally sensitive to the contradictions it engendersparticularly in the case of the Baptist fundamentalists. The political lessons that he extrapolates (mainly on the basis of the theistic rhetoric of the Republican Party) are not so clearly argued, however, and become annoying after a while. A great bolt of originality: Bloom manages to wade into a hopelessly overexploredterritory and point out precisely those landmarks that everyone else has missed. Remarkable ideas remarkably set forth.
- Simon & Schuster
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