According to David Bentley Hart, American religion is a “poltergeist”, a force
capable of moving material realities about, often unpredictably and even alarmingly, and yet possessing no proper, stable material form of its own. American religion lacks the imposing structures of culture, law, and public worship the Christendom evolved over the centuries, but its energy is almost impossible to contain. It has no particular social place, yet it is everywhere.
While there is some advantage in the absence of strong institutional organization, at least in certain circumstances, and despite the fact that “faith often thrives best when it is largely unaccommodated, roaming on its own in wild places,” the formlessness of American religious life, according to Hart, does greatly degenerate its aesthetic influence:
[T]here is no American equivalent of Sacré-Cœur [pictured above]: some consecrated space haunted by the glories and failures of a deep past, ennobled and burdened by antique hopes and fantasies, emblematic of an ancient people’s whole spiritual story, but also eloquent of spiritual disappointment and the waning of faith. There are places of local memory, especially in the South, but their scope is rather severely circumscribed. America’s churches, when they are not merely serviceable clapboard meeting-houses or tents of steel and glass, are mostly just imitations of European originals: imported, transplanted, always somewhat out of place. They tell us practically nothing about America itself, and even less about whatever numerous presences might be hovering overhead. … American religion is…a style of faith remarkably lacking in material forms. … It has a spirituality that…makes very little contribution to the aesthetic surface of American life. American religion does almost nothing to create a shared high culture, to enrich the lives of ordinary persons with the loveliness of sacred public spaces, to erect a few durable bulwarks against the cretinous barbarity of late modern popular culture, or to enliven the physical order with intimations of transcendent beauty. With its nearly absolute separation between inward conviction and outward form, it is largely content to surrender the surrounding world to utilitarian austerity.
Suffice it to say according to Hart it remains an open, albeit age-old question the kind of impact a largely formless American religious economy can have over American aesthetic life write large.