In today’s age, our political opponents are not merely mistaken; they are evil. “Ours is an anxious age,” said author and commentator Joseph Bottum in Monday’s Bradley Lecture at AEI. The political is now where we find our salvation. How did this come to be?
For centuries, Bottum explained, Mainline Protestantism was the great river at the heart of American culture. But beginning in the 1970s and culminating in the 1990s, this river ran dry. While some of the post-Protestant generation became Evangelicals or Catholics, most stopped being Christians entirely.
The result of this collapse, Bottum hypothesized, was the creation of a new, educated elite class that experienced a nagging void. They had abandoned religion, but still hungered for something beyond the here-and-now. Thus, explained Bottum, sin has become social rather than personal, manifesting itself in malignant social forces such as bigotry and oppression. By rejecting these evils, the new elites are saved.
In the words of the Occupy Wall Street movement, “We want people to see how brave we are.” However, concluded Bottum, until they receive reassurance of their bravery, rightness, and salvation, the anxiety of today’s age will almost certainly remain.
If I’m right, you’re more than wrong. You’re evil. Or so American politics seems to say these days. The cause is the collapse since the 1970s of Mainline Protestant churches, which opened a cavernous hole in American public life. Evangelicals and a Catholic moral vocabulary were sucked into that hole in a desperate attempt to reestablish the old order.
But by 2008, the clear winners were the elite post-Protestants — a group created by the now 100-year-old Social Gospel movement. Not so much the elite as the elect, they elevated their views on social ethics into an anxious sign of their redemption and changed American politics into a supernatural battlefield.
Joseph Bottum will explore this central conflict in this Bradley Lecture based on his new book, “An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America” (Image Publishing, 2014).
Books will be available for sale at the event.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
Karlyn Bowman, AEI
Joseph Bottum Author, “An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America”
Adjournment and Reception
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Joseph Bottum is a widely published essayist, with work in journals from The Atlantic to The Wall Street Journal. A number-one bestselling author in Amazon’s Kindle Singles e-book series, Bottum has been profiled in The New York Times and many other publications. He has also provided commentary for television programs including “Meet the Press” and PBS “NewsHour.” Bottum is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and his books include, “The Christmas Plains” (Image Catholic Books, 2012), “The Second Spring” (St. Augustine’s Press, 2011), and “An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America” (Image Catholic Books, 2014).
Karlyn Bowman compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women’s attitudes. In addition, she has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States.