PBS Watchers

The Truth about Conservative Christians

What They Think and What They Believe

Andrew M. Greeley and Michael Hout

University of Chicago Press, $22.50, 216 pp.

The thesis of the book, bluntly, is that the basic human religious needs and the basic religious functions have not changed very notably since the ice age,” writes Andrew M. Greeley. The changes that have occurred “make religious questions more critical rather than less critical in the contemporary world....There is no reason to think that enthusiastic religious commitment is any more unfashionable today than it was among neolithic men.”

Those words would seem to echo the prevailing view about the growing role of religion in American society and around the world. But they are not from Greeley’s important new work with Michael Hout on conservative Christians. They appeared in Greeley’s Unsecular Man, a book published in 1972-a time when such thoughts were highly controversial. Thirty-four years ago, Greeley challenged the reigning belief that we were all happily headed down the road of secularization.

The gleefully combative Greeley could not resist opening Unsecular Man this way: “Let us be clear from the beginning: this is a volume of dissent. It rejects the conventional wisdom about the contemporary situation.”

Fr. Greeley is a national treasure and a gift to his church because of his stubborn adherence to three overlapping notions that feed his frequent dissents. He believes that arguments should proceed from a careful analysis of the available data. He believes that religious people are worthy...

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About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).