Sunday, May 15, 2005
Last week's must-read religion articles.
Trying to understand what's happening in the American religious landscape these days? You must read these three articles:
- "A Hard Faith: Pope Benedict XVI Confronts America," Peter J. Boyer, New Yorker 5.16.05 [not online]
- "The Power of the Mustard-Seed: Why Strict Churches Are Strong," Judith Shulevitz, Slate 5.12.05
- "Church Meets State," Mark Lilla, New York Times Book Review 5.15.05, reg req'd
Lilla remarks on the tragedy of theological liberalism:
What distinguished thinkers like David Hume and John Adams from their French counterparts was not their ultimate aims; it was their understanding of religious psychology. The British and Americans made two wagers. The first was that religious sects, if they were guaranteed liberty, would grow attached to liberal democracy and obey its norms. The second was that entering the public square would liberalize them doctrinally, that they would become less credulous and dogmatic, more sober and rational.
That doesn't sound tragic, does it? It sounds exactly like the Unitarian kingdom of heaven! Unfortunately, the second wager — which looked so promising throughout the nineteenth century — didn't fare so well in the twentieth century:
But theological liberalism collapsed suddenly and dramatically in early 20th-century Germany, for reasons Americans would do well to ponder. The crisis was essentially spiritual but had wide political reverberations. Thinkers and ordinary believers began yearning for a more dynamic and critical faith, one that would stand in judgment over the modern world, not lend it support. They sought an authentic experience with the divine, genuine spiritual solace and a clear understanding of the one path to salvation. And what did liberal Protestantism teach? In the words of H. Richard Niebuhr, that ''a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.'' And if that was the case, why be a Christian at all?
There's hardly a word of comfort in any of these articles for religious liberals. Lilla concludes: "If there is anything David Hume and John Adams understood, it is that you cannot sustain liberal democracy without cultivating liberal habits of mind among religious believers. That remains true today, both in Baghdad and in Baton Rouge." The crucial issue facing theological liberals is not that Democrats have a "God problem"; it's that many churches and many religious people are embracing illiberalism. That problem is, more than anything, a religious and theological problem — and one that can't be addressed by a MoveOn petition, an ad campaign, or a Rockridge Institute conference.
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 15 May 2005 at 5:14 PM