Read an Excerpt
Get Into It
A Pre-Christian Society
* In the original Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1855), the Bible and Shakespeare both constituted one-third of the text. Today there are about 2,000 quotes from Shakespeare and about 1,500 from the Bible. Shakespeare has won over Jesus.
* In Bernadette Vallely's manual The Young Person's Guide to Mind, Body and Spirit (1994), an A-to-Z encyclopedia of spirituality, Jesus gets only a page, less than 'Vampires' and 'Sacred Stones.'
* According to the co-founder of Mondo 2000, the thing to be feared in cyberculture is not weird Web sites or violence on the Internet but the book of Revelation. 'I'm not implying that we should regulate the Book of Revelations. I'm just saying that we should have congressional hearings about the terrible dangers that this book presents.'
* Spitfire Grill is a movie about a young woman who brings spiritual redemption to a small town in Maine. Even though it cost only $6.1 million to make, Castle Rock liked it enough to buy it for $10 million. It premiered at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, where it was early on the most popular movie at the festival, winning the Audience Award for drama.
Then chaos erupted. Sundance attenders found out that the financing, production, and marketing of the movie came from Gregory Productions, a company owned by a Roman Catholic order of priests. Instead of raising money for their order by baking bread or making trinkets, the Priests of the Sacred Heart decided to venture-capital family-friendly movies that promote 'Judeo-Christian values.' The profits would go to their charitable works --- including health care for children and AIDS counseling.
Spitfire Grill, with its Catholic backers, Protestant characters, and Jewish director, has had a hard time of it. It has been attacked for its 'hidden message,' and its 'outside agenda.' Castle Rock has been castigated for buying the film, and Disney, which initially showed an interest in distributing Spitfire Grill, dropped it like a hot potato.
* In 1976 the Jimmy Carter candidacy for president sent political journalists into a research frenzy. They wanted to know, as presidential scholar James D. Barber wryly observed, about this curious religious creature, the orthodox Christian. What was this oddity?
Twenty years later, at a cocktail party in South Carolina, the discussion turned to religion. Someone asked what 'born again' meant. Another said, 'Oh, that's something that Jimmy Carter started when he was in the White House.'
The lone Christian in the crowd tried to explain, 'No, 'born again' was something Jesus started when he said, 'You must be born again.' ' But no one listened.
* Daphne Hampson, who writes about Christianity with a hatred that is matched by many others, admits in her introduction to her good riddance book that 'there was a time when it took much courage to say publicly in the media that one was not a Christian. Now it takes none at all.'
She underestimates the case.
Post-Christian: The era of Christendom is over. Postmodern culture is sometimes described as 'post-Christian.' What captures the postmodern imagination and inflames its spirits is not Christianity. Does the Christian church have any good news left?
(When I Was A Kid) in the 1950s, people's minds were still naturalized in Christianity. If you breathed air, you knew who a 'Pharisee' was, or what it meant to call a city 'Sodom and Gomorrah.' When Bob Dylan was on a tour of Britain in 1965, he was attacked by folk music purists for 'selling out.' With the first bars of 'Ballad of a Thin Man,' someone in the Manchester audience yelled 'Judas' at the singer. The band stopped and refused to go on. They knew what it meant.
No longer. Christianity is now culturally as well as socially and religiously disestablished. Your computer's spell check proves it. Before I could write this book, I had to program the spell check of Windows 95 because it does not know the books of the Bible, or recognize biblical names.
The pastoral team at Trinity Church in Columbus, Ohio, 'retreated' to Indianapolis for the NCAA 'March Madness' basketball playoffs. The ubiquitous guy with orange hair and a homemade 'John 3:16' sign was under the basket at the other end of the court. Seated directly behind the pastoral team were two well-dressed couples debating what the 'John 3:16' sign meant. Reduced to guessing, one thought it must be an ad for a new restaurant in town. The others dissed that idea since 'who would send someone out with orange hair and a hand-drawn sign to advertise anything?' Another thought the 'John 3:16' sign might be a signal to someone to meet at the John on the third floor, stall 16. Talk about clueless. They were totally in the dark why anyone would be holding a sign with those words on it.
Within my lifebank of memory, the very thing that used to get pastors on community boards and other privileged positions in any town in the nation --- their religious leadership, especially of once-dominant Protestant dominations --- is now exactly the reason why they are kept off community boards and prevented from power positions.
Christian faith was never universal in USAmerica. But there was a broad consensus that our national culture should rest on a Christian worldview. It is this idea that is now suspect --- partly because a new global context de-centers any single worldview; partly because secular rationality has advanced to the point where we have pensioned off from the imagination things like Satan, hell, guilt, and grace; partly because religious plurality is a dominant feature of life in the US, as Professor Diana Eck of Harvard University has shown through her 'Pluralism Project.'
It is partly also because science has replaced religion as the basis of social morality. Pitrim Sorokin, founder of the Harvard University Department of Sociology, argued that when something other than religious faith underpins morality, which underpins society, the society begins to crumble. This was, said Sorokin, who died in 1968, 'The Crisis of Our Age.' If Christianity no longer provides the dominant language of public discourse, what does? Hasn't the grammar of therapy now become the discourse language that expresses the obligations and expectations between the governed and the elected officials?