The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away From Us

Book - 2007
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Random House, Inc.
Charisma has come to be understood today as a special gift or talent that celebrities–artistic performers, athletes, movie stars, or political leaders–possess, a quality that makes their lives exemplary and transforms them into objects of universal appeal or attraction.

In Charisma, Philip Rieff explores the emergence and evolution of this mysterious and compelling concept within Judeo-Christian culture. Its first expression was in the idea of the covenant between God and the Israelites: Charisma–religious grace and authority–was transferred through divine inspiration to the Old Testament prophets; it was embodied by Jesus of Nazareth, the first true charismatic hero. Rieff shows how St. Paul transformed charisma into a form of social organization, how it was reworked by Martin Luther and by nineteenth-century Protestant theologians, and, finally, how Max Weber redefined charisma as a secular political concept. By emptying charisma of its religious meaning, Weber opened the door to the modern perception of it as little more than a form of celebrity, stripped of moral considerations.

Rieff rejects Weber’s definition, insisting that Weber misunderstood the relation between charisma and faith. He argues that without morality, the gift of grace becomes indistinguishable from the gift of evil, and it devolves into a license to destroy and kill in the name of faith or ideology. Offering brilliant interpretations of Kierkegaard, Weber, Kafka, Nietzsche, and Freud, Rieff shows how certain thinkers attacked the very possibility of faith and genuine charisma and helped prepare the way for the emergence of a therapeutic culture in which it is impossible to recognize that which is sacred. Rieff’s analysis of charisma is an analysis of the deepest level of crisis in our culture.

Baker & Taylor
An original, thoughtful assessment of the human concept of charisma ranges from biblical accounts in which charisma meant a gift of grace and the mark of true authority, to its evolution from a theological concept into a political one, and to a modern-day fascination with the celebrity phenomenon. 12,500 first printing.

Book News
The world is full of people who look like charismatics and try to act the part, says retired sociologist Rieff, but they are all surface and no depth: we are all mirrors, but mirrors of the mundane world around us rather than of any internal or transcendent spirit. He looks at the charismatic foundations of culture, the therapeutic foundations of anti-culture, and the triumph of the therapeutic over the charismatic. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, c2007
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780375424526
Characteristics: x, 271 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


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