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A: I think using the word just clarifies the distance — the very real theological distinctions — between Jeremiah Wright’s vision of Christianity and what a lot of traditional churches consider Christianity.
Q: Even if heretics are no longer burned at the stake, it seems that many Americans have an aversion to labeling others heretical, no?
A: And I would disagree with that very strongly. The promise of a liberal society is that we agree to a kind of truce where nobody will impose their religion on anyone else and the government will not set up an established church, or the Spanish Inquisition. But part of religious freedom is the freedom to have arguments about religious beliefs. People who take religion seriously should have serious public arguments.
Q: You quote Philip Rieff’s idea of a modern prophet who denounces the rise of a therapeutic, ego-driven faith. Do you see yourself in that role?
A: (Laughs) I don’t think I’m comfortable calling myself a prophet. I’m more comfortable calling myself a critic. Even though I use pretty strong language to criticize trends in contemporary theology, I also want to get at what it is about "Eat Pray Love," for example, that so many people respond to. It’s very easy to be mocking and dismissive from a more highbrow perspective. But there is a coherent theological core at the heart of the prosperity gospel and the "God-within" schools, and I take them seriously.
Q: Why do you say this book was written in a spirit of pessimism?
A: As a practicing Catholic, I have an obvious bias in favor of institutional religion. But if you look at Christian history, the belief that everyone can follow Jesus on their own is not a particularly realistic approach to religious faith. It is a faith best practiced in community with doctrine passed down through generations. What makes me pessimistic is that all the trends in contemporary American life are toward deinstitutionalization, not just in religion but across the board.
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