While science renews itself by refuting and replacing pictures of how the world is, religion derives its longevity from the ability to create images of how the world ought to be. In this view, religions arise as legitimate protests against prevailing ways of life--that is, as forms of critique. Robert Ackermann here explores this idea, considering the manner in which six major religion systems (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Marxism, Hinduism, and Buddhism) articulate critique.
This approach differs markedly from most contemporary philosophy of religion, which the author believes has grown sterile by seeing its task as the logical analysis of religions viewed as collections of dogmata. He proposes instead that one see the major religions as both dead ands alive, "dead in their orthodoxy, but alive in providing a source of critical ideas for evaluating surrounding society."
After indicating the latent possibilities for social critique in such issues as environmental concerns, war, and the status of women, Ackermann turns to the history of Christianity in the United States. He utilizes the grid/group analysis of Mary Douglas and ideas from Thomas Luckmann, Robert Bellah, and John Cuddihy to trace Christianity's evolution from confrontation to quiet accommodation. Ackermann demonstrates that currently privatized versions of Christianity have lost out to a largely unnoticed civil religion whose critical resources are too impoverished to provide more than short-term social steering. In this situation, Christianity's critical potential is unlikely to be noticed, particularly by those who turn to other religious traditions for critical perspectives on contemporary society.