The American Religion

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated May 18, 2021

I've spent this week almost catching up on the reviews I owe my 2014 resolution. While the full review below was a fun one to write, I think I missed the most important point: honest religious writing by an unreligious person is worthwhile reading.

Almost all religious writing I've read has been written from a specifically religious view (in this I include the anti-religious). While polemics and their replies are invigorating, they mostly miss the point. Harold Bloom understands the point: religion isn't something anyone will be convinced into or out of, it is something billions practice. Appreciating their faith starts with understanding it, and an unreligious person may be the best suited to beginning this approach.

The American ReligionThe American Religion by Harold Bloom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A literary critic and professor of Literature at Yale has a theory about American Religion. This premise doesn't interest most people, much less most Christians. Even though I am both, I found this premise and the book it inspired wildly interesting.

I was hunting through the free books available to owners of a Kindle who also pay $80 a year to Amazon for the privilege. Yes, a book every month and two-day shipping. Again, another small sliver in a Venn diagram. I selected the religion area, and began sorting down the list of available titles. There were all kinds of Christian books, most of which I'd seen in my adolescent reading of Christian Book Distributors' catalogues. There were some vaguely terrible mystic/new age books. And there were a bunch of romance novels (the #1 book Kindle owners borrow in categories ranging from Business to Cooking to Literary Fiction to Self Help--trendpiece later).

Not surprisingly, Harold Bloom's book stood out.

The American Religion is a work of religious criticism, a discipline respected by neither the religious nor the unreligious, and that's a shame. This book is exceptional, a worthy defense of the discipline. Without trying to prove or disprove faith, Bloom writes about the motivating forces of the great American religions. Mormonism, Baptistism, Pentacostalism, and a few sundry others. These great three, which I've at least brushed by in my own religious upbringing, comprise an unholy trinity proving that the American soul has crafted its own religious tradition, a reversal of the normal view.

If you can get beyond the premise that American Baptistism isn't at all Christian, you'll at least appreciate, if not outright agree with, this book.



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