American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile by Richard John Neuhaus

By Richard John Neuhaus

Christians are via their nature a humans misplaced. Their actual house is with God; in civic lifestyles, they're alien voters “in yet no longer of the world.” In American Babylon, eminent theologian Richard John Neuhaus examines the actual fact of that ambiguity for Catholics in the United States today.Neuhaus addresses the fundamental quandaries of Catholic life—assessing how Catholics can hold their heads above water within the sea of immorality that confronts them on this planet, how they are often patriotic although their real kingdom isn't during this international, and the way they could reconcile their tasks as electorate with their dedication to God. Deeply realized, usually combative, and regularly eloquent, American Babylon is Neuhaus’s magnum opus—and should be crucial studying for all Christians.

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More than that, in the absence of an ecclesiology that tethered them to the Church from its beginnings through every period of its history, for many American Protestant thinkers America became their Church. That was true then, and it is true now. More than 300 years after the First Great Awakening, in yet another reversal that they describe as radical, some theologians today depict America not as the Church or as the precursor of the New Jerusalem, but as Babylon. Of course, America is that, in the sense that everyplace is a place of exile for those whose true home is the City of God.

With this in mind, we can better understand the argument of the literary and cultural critic Harold Bloom that “the American religion” is gnosticism. By gnosticism is meant the belief—sometimes more implied than explicitly stated—that the particularities of matter, time, and place are merely incidental, if not actually evil. Emancipation is to be found in transcending such particularities by “spiritualities” attuned to esoteric religious knowledge (gnosis) or experience. In American evangelicalism, the esoteric—that which is known by the initiated—is to be shared with everyone, thus producing what has been described as the “democratization” of American religion.

Emancipation is to be found in transcending such particularities by “spiritualities” attuned to esoteric religious knowledge (gnosis) or experience. In American evangelicalism, the esoteric—that which is known by the initiated—is to be shared with everyone, thus producing what has been described as the “democratization” of American religion. Since gnostics are the elite, the “knowing ones,” democratic gnosticism may seem like a contradiction in terms, but religion in America is notorious for producing improbable combinations of opposites.

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