In reflecting on Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace , Rod Dreher wonders if—indeed, worries that—our (relatively) newfound tolerance of religious diversity doesn’t come at too high a price:

The good news is that we Americans of different faith traditions get along remarkably well, not by casting aside religion, but by learning how to be tolerant even as we remain religiously engaged.

The bad news is that achieving religious comity has come at the price of religious particularity and theological competence. That is, we may still consider ourselves devoted to our faith, but increasingly, we don’t know what our professed faith teaches, and we don’t appreciate why that sort of thing is important in the first place.


I’ve certainly found many examples of this theological fuzziness, not to say ignorance, among my students and in various churches I have attended.  Following sociologist Christian Smith , Dreher suggests there has been a remarkable breakdown in the religious education of our youth.

Any thoughts on the causes of this breakdown?

I have a few.  Feel free to add or subtract.

(1)  There’s the busyness of our lives, both for parents and kids, even in intact families.  The demands of school and secular activities can squeeze out any serious efforts at religious education.  Sunday School and youth groups aren’t adequate substitutes for serious engagement with creeds and catechisms.  (Even the relatively serious denominations in which I’ve spent the past 10-15 years can’t seem to produce demanding and engaging Sunday School curricula for young people.)

(2)  The concern about filling the pews can—to be clear, “can” does not mean “must”—produce worship services and religious music that aren’t terribly sophisticated theologically.  I had one pastor who used to say of the seeker-friendly churches in our denomination that our church’s traditional worship service was for those who had found what they had been seeking.

(3)  There’s potentially a slippery slope to non-creedal forms of Protestantism.  If there’s a priesthood of believers and everyone is supposed to rely on scripture only, and ultimately on his or her own interpretation of scripture only, then there’s a real danger that the passions and pressures of the day, as well as the prevailing popular culture, will find their way into the hearts and minds of those who continue to think of themselves as serious believers.  Community and authority can be barriers against this assimilation, protecting the garden of the church against the wilderness of the world.  But they’re hard to maintain against the individualism inherent in non-creedal Protestantism.

There’s much else in this remarkably good essay, so please read the whole thing.

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