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Caitlyn Jenner and the American Religion

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I’ve seen a few people quoting this Will Wilkinson essaylet on Caitlyn/Bruce and American Christianity, and it deserves to be quoted:

One of the enduring puzzles of America is why it has remained so robustly religious while its European cousins have secularised with startling rapidity. One stock answer is that America, colonised by religious dissenters and lacking an officially sanctioned creed, has always been a cauldron of religious competition and, therefore, innovation. The path to success in a competitive religious marketplace is the same as the path to success in business: give the people what they want.

Americans tend to want a version of Americanism, and they get it. Americanism is a frontier creed of freedom, of the inviolability of individual conscience and salvation as self-realisation. The American religion does Protestantism one better. Not only are we, each of us, qualified to interpret scripture, but also we each have a direct line to God. You can just feel Jesus. In my own American faith tradition, a minority version of Mormonism, the Holy Spirit—one of the guises of God—is a ubiquitous, pervasive presence. Like radio waves, you’ve just got to tune it in.

In a magisterial study, “The American Religion”, Harold Bloom maintains that the core of the inchoate American faith is the idea of a “Real Me” that is neither soul nor body, but an aspect of the divinity itself, a “spark of God”. To find God, then, is to burrow inward and excavate the true self from beneath the layers of convention and indoctrination. Crucially, this personal essence cannot fall under the jurisdiction of the “natural law” of God’s creation. Just as God stands outside His creation, so does the authentic self, which just is a piece of God. “[T]he American self is not the Adam of Genesis,” Mr Bloom writes, “but is a more primordial Adam, a Man before there were men or women.” … From the perspective of the American religion, as Mr Bloom explains it, a moral code based on something as debased as “nature” offensively denies our inherent divinity. “No American concedes that she is part of nature,” Mr Bloom says. Ms Jenner certainly has not conceded it.


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