The Dangers of Fake Faith

One of the problems of the weakening of traditional religion is the emergence of fake religions. Michael Burleigh's book on "Sacred Causes" links the rise of pseudo-religions like Soviet Marxism and German Nazism to the vacuum created by declining traditional religious commitment in twentieth century Europe. There's a useful summary of the book in today's WSJ. (The book, alas, is not Burleigh's best.) But this is not, I think, a defense of some of contemporary American evangelicalism, let alone contemporary Wahhabism or Salafism. Some strands of today's American evangelicalism are as phony and as fake as any atheistic alternative from the last century. The "Prosperity Gospel," for example, is not Christianity. It's a form of capitalist self-help under-pinned by emotional manipulation, legitimized by the patina of Christian scripture. Similarly, a Christian faith that is primarily about politics and social policy is not authentic faith either: it's Christianism, not Christianity. That's one reason, I think, that non-fundamentalist Christians should stay in established traditional churches and resist the fundamentalist onslaught. Institutions matter. Religion matters. A society that severs the two is prone to dangerous bouts of ill-considered zeal and far-too ideological politics. We're not there yet. But the danger signs are flashing red.