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American Church:The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America [Kindle Edition]

Russell Shaw
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Has the Americanization of American Catholics-their cultural assimilation, that is-been a blessing or a curse for the Church in the United States? Or has it been a bit of both?

In American Church Russell Shaw takes a searching look at that question and reaches a disturbing conclusion. Cultural assimilation, which was ardently championed by churchmen like the great Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore around the turn of the last century, has undoubtedly conferred many benefits on Catholics. Their absorption into the secular culture of America, however, now threatens the Catholic identity of millions of faithful and of their institutions, such as schools, universities, and hospitals.

Shaw does not offer this conclusion as an unsupported generalization. American Church is a richly documented analysis of a process extending over two centuries. Colorful characters and dramatic incidents abound, including the nineteenth-century intellectual feud between Orestes Brownson and the Transcendentalist convert to Catholicism Isaac Hecker, Pope Leo XIII's condemnation of Americanism, the anti-Catholicism that greeted the presidential campaigns of Al Smith and John F. Kennedy, and the numerous intra-Church conflicts that have divided American Catholics since the Second Vatican Council.

In concluding his study, Shaw offers a number of thought-provoking suggestions about what the Church in America needs to do now in the face of an ongoing decline that is sapping its strength and may threaten its very survival.

Editorial Reviews


"The new bull-in-the-china-shop of U.S. Catholic history, Russell Shaw upends pedestals, reimagines story-lines, and invites all of us to think again about the roots of the severe challenges -- and great opportunities -- facing the Church in the United States in the first decades of the third millennium." ---George Weigel, author of Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church

"Russell Shaw marshals a good deal of evidence on behalf of his provocative thesis about the problems of American Catholicism. Even those who do not fully subscribe to that thesis will find the book informative and suggestive." ---James Hitchcock, Professor of History, St. Louis University, author of History of The Catholic Church

"Russell Shaw's American Church is a piercing and essential meditation on the past, present, and future of Catholicism in these United States. It should be required reading for all -- secular, devout, and otherwise -- and is beautifully narrated to boot." ---Mary Eberstadt, author, Adam and Eve After the Pill

Product Details

  • File Size: 348 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (April 12, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CD9F0FG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #516,336 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every Catholic should read this book April 28, 2013
By Rita B.
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"American Church," the latest book by Catholic writer and commentator Russell B. Shaw, sets out the process by which US Catholics have been assimilated into American culture during the past two centuries and assesses the impact of this assimilation. In particular, Shaw examines the impact of the various "isms" (Americanism, modernism, neo-modernism, relativism and secularism) on Catholic culture, identity and faith.

Every Catholic who can read English should read this book, the cost of which is a small price to pay to be informed on its subject-matter which is, essentially, the secularisation of Catholics and loss of Catholic culture and identity in the Western world. While this book is specifically about the Catholic Church in the USA, there is much in it which will resonate with Catholics in other parts of the world, including in Europe and Australia.

As Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput of Philadelphia points out in his foreword to the book, "The world we [Christians] live in is not a friend of the gospel ... It has contempt for Jesus Christ, contempt for the Cross, and contempt for the people who carry their own cross and follow him." Indeed. Christian now live in a world which is not only inimical to God, to His Son and to the Christian lifestyle, but openly hostile and aggressive towards those who are attempting to live in accordance with God's plan for humanity. They are constantly bombarded with propaganda vilifying them and promoting sinful conduct and evil of every kind in the name of freedom and equality. In addition, the laws of the land are increasingly compelling Christian institutions and individuals, under pain of prosecution and punishment, to act in a manner directly contrary to the divine law.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
It seems book subtitles are becoming much like news headlines as a kind of summary meant to bring you in. Although news headlines often do not have much to do with the actual story. The subtitle in this case is actually quite indicative of the contents. Although the title "American Church" did not thrill me and when I discovered that the original title was "The Gibbons Legacy." I prefer the original title.

There are a couple themes in this book regarding the history and the future of the Church in America. One is the contrast between the views of Orestes Augustus Brownson and his friend Isaac Thomas Hecker. Orestes Brownson a convert to the Church was rather pessimistic on future of the Catholic Church in America. Isaac Heckler was the founder of the Paulist Fathers and is now a Servant of God. Heckler had a very optimistic view of the Church in America and thought the two fit together perfectly. The other theme regards the 1950's best selling book "The Cardinal" by Henry Morton Robinson which had a view much akin to Isaac Heckler's. The book partly based on the career of Cardinal Spellman was also made into a movie directed by Otto Preminger.

These themes help in part to explore the history of the Catholic Church in America. Considering that while there were some prominent Catholics at the founding of this country such as Daniel Carroll, for the most part Catholics were a very small minority. It was only after later immigration that Catholics became a more sizable minority. An anti-Catholic bias was there from the beginning for a variety of reasons, but partly concerning the doubt that Catholics could be good Americans with their "allegiance" to Rome. The Know-Nothing Party was on the extreme side of this bias, but it was prevalent in a largely Protestant populace.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding the Past; Preparing for the Future April 24, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America surveys recent history as a personal memoir, analyses the efforts of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Church leaders to chart a path for Catholics in America, and provides some ideas to strengthen Catholic culture in America, ideas which build on movements and efforts already in place. The first several pages of this book presented some confusion as evidently Ignatius Press had changed the title of the book sometime after the text was printed and bound. The original title was "The Gibbons Legacy" and therefore the Foreword by Archbishop Chaput and the Introduction kept mentioning that title. I see that the Kindle edition on has cleared up that confusion but it was off putting for a time as I read the paperback edition, which I purchased..

(This is an interesting note for the present and future production of books--the printed and electronic editions can be different: it's much easier to address changes and even corrections in the electronic version. Which one is the official version? Does the Library of Congress decide?)

I presume Ignatius and Shaw changed the title because of concern no one knows who "Gibbons" was--James Cardinal Gibbons, the ninth Archbishop of Baltimore (from 1877 to 1921). Shaw's book comes at a time when others are writing about the renewal of Catholic culture in the U.S., including George Weigel and Ryan N. S. Topping. I have not read those books, so I cannot compare them, but Shaw's book traces the path of assimilation of Catholics in American culture--and as that culture became more and more secularized, then Catholics on that path became more and more secularized.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Arrived on time and as expected.
Published 2 months ago by Nathan
5.0 out of 5 stars Shaw Nails It - a Truthteller
Shaw tells the truth. Very well written and factual. You can trust his facts. A must read for any American Catholic
Published 4 months ago by Max Bville
4.0 out of 5 stars The Catholic Experience in the United States
This was at least the fourth book that I have read by this author. Earlier, I have read (i.e., Fulfillment In Christ (with Germain Grisez), To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain:... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Joseph P. Tevington
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 7 months ago by Thomas W. Votel
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Interesting perspective.
Published 8 months ago by Charles Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 8 months ago by roger dowling
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
You can't understand where we are today, why people are the way they are without understanding Church history. I am old enough to remember the 50s. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Judith A. Watson
5.0 out of 5 stars right on the mark. the very end sets the tone for the confrontation of...
this book lays out the causes and effects of the churches' condition why it & the world are in desperate shape now!! a must read for all believer and non believer. Read more
Published 11 months ago by thomas j power
4.0 out of 5 stars Good diagnosis, but what is the cure?
I thought Mr. Shaw did a good job tracing the difficulties the Catholic Church is having in the West and particularly in the US, but I didn't feel he offered enough suggestions on... Read more
Published 15 months ago by A. Muldoon
Worth the price just for the numbers of Christian churches and trends toward growth and demise. Written by a Catholic-friendly man and his bias is that of the church - clerical... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Louis H Milotte Jr
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