Monday I was down in Washington, having joined a working study group for an ambitious new project on “Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy.” This is a joint endeavor of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
Under the leadership of Luis Lugo, Pew has had a long-term interest in religion. In fact, the family of Joseph and Mary Pew who endowed the Pew Charitable Trusts with their billions were chiefly concerned with religion. As is evident in the Forum on Religion & Public Life, the Trusts have not entirely betrayed the trust of the founders.
For the Council on Foreign Relations, addressing the relationship between religion and U.S. foreign policy is something new. It is an encouraging development, albeit one made almost unavoidable by the new awareness of “the religion factor” in American public life.
When in 1984 we established what became the Institute on Religion and Public Life, the publisher of FIRST THINGS, there were two similar institutions in the country. The same year saw the publication of The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America . A scholar who follows these things tells me that there are now close to 200 institutes, think tanks, and academic departments or study centers operating under the generic title of “religion and public life.” Please note that I do not suggest a cause-effect relationship between our initiative and the burgeoning interest in these questions. A lot of things have happened in these twenty years.
The Pew-CFR Working Group includes a number of people from whom I have learned and expect to learn again. For instance, Peter Berger, Jean Elshtain, Francis Fukuyama, William Galston, Adam Garfinkle, and Father J. Bryan Hehir. The co-directors of the project are Walter Russell Mead of CFR and Timothy Shah of Pew.
Of course, anything touched by the Council on Foreign Relations is suspected by some of having been co-opted by the CFR-Trilateral Commission conspiracy. You can be sure I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for hints of nefarious doings.
An essay in the current New Yorker by Adam Gopnick, “Prisoner of Narnia,” is occasioned by Alan Jacobs’ new book The Narnian and the coming release of the Narnia movie. Gopnick doesn’t like the Jacobs book at all, claiming it is an exercise in hagiography that fudges the seamier side of the life of C.S. Lewis. In the forthcoming issue of FIRST THINGS, I say why I think the book is a considerable achievement.
Gopnick makes much of Lewis’ lifelong longing for “joy” and the coincidence that, says he, joy is discovered in his relationship with Joy toward the end of life. This brings to Gopnick’s mind Bertrand Russell’s statement that he gave up serious philosophy when he discovered the pleasures of fornication. That is criticism of a very low order.
Gopnick wraps up with this:
“The religious believer finds consolation, and relief, too, in the world of magic exactly because it is at odds with the necessarily straitened and punitive morality of organized worship, even if the believer is, like Lewis, reluctant to admit it. The irrational images¯the street lamp in the snow and the silver chair and the speaking horse¯are as much an escape for the Christian imagination as for the rationalist, and we sense a deeper joy in Lewis’s prose as it escapes from the demands of Christian belief into the darker realm of magic. As for faith, well, a handful of images is as good as an armful of arguments, as the old apostles always knew.”
I don’t know what “old apostles” Gopnick has in mind, but a closer reading of Lewis makes it clear that he was keenly aware of the charge of escapism with respect to myth and what Gopnick calls magic. The big difference, not explored by Gopnick, is Lewis’ discovery that the Christian myth is a “true myth.” It actually happened in the world of which we are part, and is therefore the truth about, not an escape from, the world of which we are part.
Gopnick is no doubt right in saying that Lewis’ boyhood resulted in a psychological and sexual development that was odd and, if one insists upon the term, twisted. There is nothing in Alan Jacobs’ book that denies that. Gopnick’s essay, however, is a case study in willfulness that focuses on speculative motives in order to avoid hard questions of truth. His consoling (to him) conclusion is that, whether we are atheists or Christians, we all need a little magic in our lives. Screwtape would be pleased with how well his minion’s wiles are working with Mr. Gopnick.
Back in April when John Paul the Great was dying, enthusiastic young Catholics were conducting a Eucharistic pilgrimage from church to church throughout Manhattan. This was filmed by a talented young man named Joe Campo who has established Grass Roots Films and has been commissioned by the bishops’ conference to do a film, “Fishers of Men,” aimed at inviting young men to consider the priesthood. The April film, “God in the Streets of Manhattan,” while very short, is also being used for that purpose. It is really very much worth watching and you can find out more about it from http://www.grassrootsfilms.com .