Wolfe, a Jew who teaches at a Jesuit university and wrote an Atlantic cover story about evangelical Christians last year, caught attention with his 1998 book, One Nation, After All, in which he chronicled the moral attitudes of the American middle class.
Wolfe's books owe a lot to the 1985 book Habits of the Heart, by Robert Bellah, William Sullivan, and Steven Tipton. Like Habits, Wolfe's books are a pleasure to read, larded with anecdotes and quotes that bring the reader face to face with the people behind the statistical trends. Christian readers will sense the warmth and respect with which Wolfe treats his religiously and morally conservative subjects.
Habits of the Heart introduced its readers to Sheila Larson, a young California nurse who unabashedly constructed her own religion. "It's Sheilaism. Just my own little voice," she said. But where Habits raised a sense of alarm about such self-reverence, Moral Freedom seems to welcome it.
"Pessimists think that as a result of the '60s anything goes," Wolfe told Publishers Weekly. "I'm saying that I trust Americans more than that. The old rules in many ways are out, but that does not mean we're without any rules at all."
But what are those new rules? Wolfe asked his subjects about loyalty, self-discipline, honesty, and forgiveness. In the responses, it becomes clear that some of these virtues have undergone a metamorphosis that makes them nearly unrecognizable.
Take loyalty: Patriotism and other inherited loyalties are out. Wolfe believes that "the emphasis ...1