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American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America Paperback – March 31, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (March 31, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586177575
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586177577
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Rita B. on April 28, 2013
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"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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Format: Paperback
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 By Stephanie A. Mann on 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 amazon.com 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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