An Anxious Age—and an Antagonistic Future? | Christopher White | CWR
Jody Bottum's new book examines why the old language of traditional religion is out, and a new language of spirituality is in
In 1965, over fifty percent of Americans were active members of mainline Protestant churches. Today that number is down to under ten percent. Meanwhile, Catholicism in America continues to enjoy moderate success, primarily due to the wave of new immigrants, but weekly mass attendance is in significant decline. Yet ask the average passerby on the streets about their religious beliefs and few are willing to dismiss religion all together. From the increased practiced of yoga, to the deeply moralistic rationale of Wall Street’s occupiers in 2011, to Tea Party members who invoke the Almighty as often as they do patriotic duty, there is no shortage of spiritual language filling our public discourse today—it’s just that American religion as we have known it is seemingly passé.
The old language of traditional religion is out. A new language of spirituality is in.
“Ours is an anxious age—the Anxious Age, it often seems,” writes Joseph Bottum in his new book by that very title. “A moment more tinged by its spiritual worries than any time in America since perhaps the 1730s,” he speculates. Borrowing from the great sociologist Max Weber, Bottum laments the disenchantment of the world, and in particular, the fact that Christianity has been stripped bare of its mystery and supernatural elements, with social and political ideas now elevated to the divine and with science considered salvific.
Bottum’s project in An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America is twofold: first, to trace the decline of mainline Protestantism in America, which has been central to our public institutions and vocabulary. “When the Mainline died,” he writes, “it took with it to the grave the vocabulary in which both criticism and support of the nation could be effective.”