I’m now reading three different books:
Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe
James W. Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (Thank you Michael Harris.)
Stark’s book is a product of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor. Using some major new polling research the program compares American church behavior with that of a previous study Stark did in 1960. It bears a close reading as his interpretation of the stats offers a lot of seemingly contradictory analysis. It’s complicated, nuanced, and you can get just as much from the material by noting what is not said. 30% of Americans do thus and such, which is actually x million people. This means, thus and such, and then I think to myself, “yes but it could also mean thus and such.” I’m bothered by the many comparisons between church and corporate behavior in the book. Instead of titling the book What Americans Really Believe, it should be titled Why Americans Believe Everything We’ve Come to Expect with analysis of why that’s a good thing. In short, yes the American church is a powerful cultural institution with strong volunteers (among those who regularly attend, who have friends), strong tithers, and strong opinions. The book’s purpose is to contradict all the voices that would indicate otherwise. If you’re looking for churches with a prophetic voice to the larger society, churches with an identification with the poor, or churches with decidedly different institutional frameworks, this is not that book.
I’ve become one of those word of mouth boosters of Robinson’s Gilead, and it seems funny to be doing that for a book that’s so popular. Let’s just say I hope it makes us all forget about The Shack.
Loewen’s Lies Across America is a book I sought out simply because I was looking for something by the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me. There’s something satisfying about uncovering history that makes us uncomfortable.
So if you read my blog you know I’m still picking out the same kind of books: literary, religious, political. . . socially awkward. And of course I’m trying hard to impress you.