Despite being technically defined as constitutionally secular, the U.S. is largely affected by Christianity and the associated values, traditions, and perceptions. As a result, the role of the Christian church has been expanded to influence nearly every domain of most American people’s lives (Finke & Stark, 2005). In the range of areas that religion affects in the American social setting, economy is not an exception, as researchers Roger Finke and Rodney Stark explain. In their 2005 book, “The Churching of America,” the authors unanimously concede that, due to increase in the social influence of the Christian church, it can be considered not only as the spiritual force, but also as a kind of an economic power. Although the book suffers from several quite far-fetched interpretations of historical events in the U.S., the incisive analysis of key systematic problems in the approach toward connecting Christian beliefs to economy allows understanding foundational socioeconomic and the related sociocultural issues within the American community better.
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The book delves into the very origin of the United States’ religious history, stating explicitly that, over the course of its existence in the U.S. setting, the Christin church has developed clear markers of an economic force apart from a religious one. According to the authors, the early U.S. community could be represented as the “free market religious environment,” causing religious organizations to compete in the manner that had apparent economic characteristics (Finke & Stark, 2005, p. 2). Additionally, Finke and Stark (2005) point to the fact that, since recently, a decline in the so-called “mainline” denominations, namely, the key denominations of Christianity, have declined in their influence, giving rise to a broad range of sects (Finke & Stark, 2005). Claiming it to be one of the Great Awakenings, namely, shifts in the perception of the Christian church, the described change represents the need for innovation and a change in perspectives. Overall, the authors concede that, once a church becomes too secular, it loses its followers.
Although the shock value that the book produced initially upon its release has been stifled slightly over the past 16 years, it still produces the intended impression, making the reader pay attention to the arguments and engage in a discussion with the author. Therefore, Finke and Stark (2005) should be credited for introducing the argument that remains provocative yet compelling as time passes. Remarkably, the authors provide not only historical, but also statistical data to support their argument regarding the parallels between the economic market and the religious environment, which adds to the persuasiveness of their statements. For example, the inverse correlations in the numbers of Baptist and Methodist church members represents impressive evidence worth taking into account (Finke & Stark, 2005).
However, the book also demonstrates several unfortunate weaknesses. An excessively free interpretation of some of the historic events associated with the introduction of Christianity into the U.S. community should be mentioned as the main problem. Specifically, the events associated with the endeavors to unify the Christian church in the American religious environment and the presence of internal conflicts could have been elaborated on in greater detail to represent a more nuanced argument. Nevertheless, Finke and Stark (2005) have managed to weave an intricate and compelling argument based on the little evidence that they had.
The thesis regarding the economic nature of the Christian church’s decisions that Finke and Stark (2005) endorse can also hold up under other interpretations. For instance, the process of church secularization could be considered as the direct effect of the drop in its role in the U.S. community (Finke & Stark, 2005). Nonetheless, the idea of viewing the power of the church as similar to an economic one is quite peculiar. As a result, from a personal perspective, their arguments can be considered sensible. However, the evident attempt at making their discovery intentionally controversial appears to devalue the significance of their study. A more measured approach toward representing their theory and making a statement could be utilized; however, even as it is, the book is worth considering as an important study on the development of the Christian church in the U.S. Still, when considering the key argument objectively, it does appear to be rather sound, especially in the context of modern American society driven by consumerism and market relationships.
Although “The Churching of America” could use a more objective assessment of some of the historical events that have occurred in the U.S., it helps to build a proper understanding of where the current systematic issues in the sociocultural environment originate form by outlining the impact of the Christian church on the U.S. community. Therefore, the book can be considered essential in examining the history and the present of the U.S. through the prism of a religious perspective. Proving that religious values and standards that the Christian church has been adhering to have morphed significantly, accepting the form of an economic force, the book illustrates the flaws and benefits of the impact that Christianity has produced on the U.S. citizens.
Finke, R., & Stark, R. (2005). The churching of America, 1776-2005. Rutgers University Press.
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