The author describes himself as "an unbelieving Jew of strong Gnostic tendencies, ... a literacy critic by profession" (p. 30), "a Gnostic without hope" (p. 257). The American Religion is his twentieth book.
In this book Bloom argues "that the American Religion . . . masks itself as Protestant Christianity, yet has ceased to be Christian" (p. 32) and is pervasively Gnostic (p. 26), that "the American Christ is more American than he is Christ" (p. 25); yet he sees American society as "religion-soaked, even religion-mad" (p. 35, also p. 22)--a society in which "we think we are Christian, but we are not" (p. 37). We are actually "post-Protestant, ... [living] a persuasive redefinition of Christianity" (p. 45). The current situation in America, according to Bloom, brings to the individual "the immense difficulty of becoming a [true] Christian in any society ostensibly Christian" (p. 23).
In chapter-by-chapter treatment of what he considers to be the authentic American religion, Bloom focuses on five indigenous sects that he sees as "indelible strands of the American Religion: Mormonism, Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostalism" (p. 31). He also devotes three chapters to the Southern Baptist Convention. Many members of these groups and many outside observers will take exception to Bloom's treatment. Nevertheless, what he says as a specialist in comparative religion and as a keen analyst of modern American society must be recognized, since this book will be widely read and will strongly influence the attitudes of a large number of people.
Bloom is deeply fascinated by Mormonism and devotes three chapters to its treatment. "The two crucial branches of the American Religion, in ... [his] judgment, are the Mormons and the Southern Baptists, violent opponents of one another, yet each American to the core and neither [?] having anything accurately in common with what historically has been considered Christianity" (p. 81).
Less controversial than this categorization of Southern Baptists is Bloom's observation that "Catholics and Protestants alike joined the rabbinical sages in offering definitive interpretations that displaced Scripture" (p. 81). He predicts that Mormonism will become the dominant religion in the western United States (p. 263), as the consequence of its emphasis on family values, hard work, church discipline, evangelism, and a high birth rate (pp.93, 113,118).
Regarding the Seventh-day Adventist church, Bloom believes that "little of the earlier Adventism survives today" (p. 149) and that "doctors [are exalted] beyond ministers in the Adventist hierarchy" (p. 152). "It is an American religion of health, crossed with the postapocalyptic dream of an end-time never to be" (p. 154), and is "in danger of becoming just another Protestant denomination, or just another shade or variety of Fundamentalism" (p. 148), principally distinguished as a cult emphasizing health (pp. 151, 157).
In the three chapters on Southern Baptists, Fundamentalists are described as having an "almost lunatic resentment of mind" (p. 195), conducting "a drive against thought itself (p. 197), having "a restrictive interpretation . . . [which has] not the slightest relation to the Bible's actual text" (p. 221), and promoting "a frightening and degrading betrayal of the seventeenth-century Baptist dream of human dignity and freedom in fellowship with Jesus" (pp. 221, 222).
In his final chapter Bloom makes a significant statement: "Large unconscious assumptions have far more to do with be lief than do overt doctrinal teachings" (p. 267). The author concludes that in America "politics and religion increasingly refuse separation from one another" (p. 247), and predicts "the twenty-first century will mark a full-scale return to wars of religion" (p. 265).