Blessed Are the Cynical: How Original Sin Can Make America a Better Place

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Polls Report that 73 percent of Americans believe people are born good. Coupled with the narcissistic mandate to "find oneself," our current American ethos has fostered a society of self-absorbed, uninformed, and overly optimistic individuals. At the same time, however, there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction -- faced with unethical business practices, racial tensions, the imbalance of wealth, and declining education and moral standards, Americans are left with the impression that something is wrong. In ...
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Overview

Polls Report that 73 percent of Americans believe people are born good. Coupled with the narcissistic mandate to "find oneself," our current American ethos has fostered a society of self-absorbed, uninformed, and overly optimistic individuals. At the same time, however, there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction -- faced with unethical business practices, racial tensions, the imbalance of wealth, and declining education and moral standards, Americans are left with the impression that something is wrong. In Blessed are the Cynical, Mark Ellingsen contends that American problems are in fact primarily a function of our naively optimistic view of human nature. Ellingsen maintains that Augustine's doctrine of original sin has been eclipsed in America's therapeutic, feel-good culture, and shows how this eclipse has degraded politics, education, and business. Ellingsen argues that the doctrine of original sin is embedded in the framework of the Constitution and shows how a renewal of the principle of original sin can bring America back to its biblical and constitutional roots and help us find fresh ways of addressing our social ills. Blessed are the Cynical should foster debate among American historians, political and social analysts, cultural leaders, and members of the Christian community. It is a fascinating and erudite analysis of American culture that will appeal to socially-conscious Americans.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ellingsen, who teaches church history at the Interdenominational Theological Center, makes a plausible complaint against the narcissism and naivet pervading American culture today, which he sees rooted in unbridled optimism about human nature. Unfortunately, the book's allusions to an Augustinian corrective in theology, anthropology and political theory are often too vague to establish a clear alternative to such optimism. One problem is historical: assessing the influence of Augustine's teaching on original sin (as mediated by classical Protestantism) on the founders and their Constitution. On this point, Ellingsen assembles a suggestive case, although students of Scottish realism or the continental Enlightenment will not be satisfied with his portrayal of the former as a vehicle for Augustinian pessimism, or the latter as its naively optimistic foil. The more difficult problem is contemporary: discerning and explaining how this or that cultural development implicitly denies original sin or stands to be improved by an Augustinian critique. On this front, which occupies more than half of the text, the book is less successful, relying less on historical evidence and more on a web of analogical and impressionistic comparisons whose aptness varies. Ellingsen's critique of self-love and the natural alliance of consumerism and the therapeutic culture is generally credible. But for many of the cultural developments he discusses-in the spheres of politics, business, religion, family life and education-it is often doubtful that the doctrine of original sin offers any unique or sufficient basis for responding to the problems he sees. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587430428
  • Publisher: Brazos Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Introduction: American Society in the New Century: Whatever Happened to Original Sin? 13
1. The Augustinian Understanding of Reality 33
2. Augustinian Realism and the American Constitutional System 51
3. Politics with Glitz, but without Much Constitutional Common Sense 69
4. A Business-Driven Society: Whatever Happened to a Real Quality of Life? 99
5. Religion and the Real World: An Entertaining Religious Life without Sin and Guilt 119
6. Sex, Marriage, and Family without Common Sense 141
7. Augustinian Common Sense in the American Classroom 159
Conclusion: Augustinian Common Sense: The High Costs of Its Neglect 181
Notes 189
Index 206
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