Steven Waldman is editor-in-chief of Beliefnet, and is working on a book on religion and the American founders. He writes:
Contemporary religious conservatives can certainly find quotes from Founding Fathers to support their claims that government should aggressively support religion. They’ll have a harder time finding quotes from 18th-century evangelicals. Falwell and company are free to chart a different course from earlier Christians, but they should do so with the knowledge that some very pious evangelical leaders believed this was a dangerous path. When the Rev. Falwell meets his maker, he may well get a pat on the back from Patrick Henry, but he’s sure to get a tongue lashing, and a sermon, from the Rev. John Leland.
Well, yes and no. Anyone who thinks Jerry Falwell is the key to understanding the insurgency of religiously-grounded morality in our public life has been skipping a lot of classes. Figures such as Falwell and Pat Robertson are not unimportant, but they are kept in the public eye largely because they are convenient objects of contempt employed by those raising hysterical alarums about a threatening theocracy. I came across one pundit the other day who was frightening his readers by referring to Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition. Remember Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition?
To find out what the Founders believed, we are not lacking in resources. An extremely helpful overview and analysis is Michael Novak’s book of a couple of years ago, On Two Wings . Of course Mr. Waldman and others are right in saying that the founders were not Bible-thumping fundamentalists of sweated born-againism along the lines of their caricature of Falwell and Robertson. The point is that people such as John Adams, Washington, Madison, and even Jefferson simply assumed the solidity of biblical (meaning Judeo-Christian) morality and its pertinence to the public order. Jefferson’s scissors-and-paste job on the teachings of Jesus only underscored what he took to be the self-evident truth of the Christian moral tradition.
As some seem not to have noticed, or disingenuously deny, is that that moral tradition has been under attack for a very long time. When the “religious right” first gained public attention in the late 1970s, some of us described it as an “aggressive defense.” It was and is an assertive movement to defend what people thought, with ample reason, was under attack. A quarter of a century later, a large part of the commentariat is still refusing to engage the moral arguments. It is easier to claim that, because they are informed by an identifiably religious tradition, they are not arguments at all, or to depict those who make such arguments as the enemies of the democratic deliberation that they are, in fact, seeking to renew.
But this, too, is changing. The increasingly hysterical and hollow alarums about a threatening theocracy are evidence of a reaction that is running out of steam. At some point these people will recognize the futility of refusing to engage their fellow-citizens in a civil deliberation of what everyone from Aristotle to the American founders recognized as the inescapably moral question of how we ought to order our life together. At least we must hope so.
It is an understatement to say that the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci is controversial. In The Force of Reason, The Rage and the Pride , and other books, she exuberantly smashes the china in the shop of political correctness. Although a fierce free-thinker, she thinks the Catholic Church is the last, best hope in preventing Europe from becoming beyond retrieval the Eurabia that it largely is.
In three decades, Europe has become the home, so to speak, of 20 million Muslims. They have already rearranged the furniture and now are setting the rules for how the other residents must behave, as was evident in, among many other things, Europeans caving to Muslim outrage over those Danish cartoons. In things big and little, the newcomers make no secret of their determination to take over. It may seem a little thing, for instance, that the most popular name for a baby boy in Brussels, of all places, is Mohammed.
Fallaci reminds us of this: "In 1974 [Algerian President] Boumedienne, the man who ousted Ben Bella three years after Algerian independence, spoke before the General Assembly of the United Nations. And without circumlocutions he said: ‘One day millions of men will leave the southern hemisphere of this planet to burst into the northern one. But not as friends. Because they will burst in to conquer, and they will conquer by populating it with their children. Victory will come to us from the wombs of our women.’ "
I came across a commentary the other day saying that Europe and America are alike in being obsessed with the problem of immigration. It is not the same problem at all. Europe has within its borders millions of declared enemies of almost everything that has historically, culturally, and religiously defined Europe. We have millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, who, with few exceptions, want nothing more than to be participants in what they and we understand to be the American way of life. That is a very big difference.
Beyond the boundaries of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, there were few who ever heard of Pastor Andrew Schulze, but within that world this mild-mannered man was a figure of historic consequence. Now Kathryn Galchutt has published Andrew Schulze: Lutherans and Race in the Civil Rights Era (Mercer University Press).
Schulze, who died in 1968, was the founder of the Lutheran Human Relations Association (LHRA) and a man way ahead of his time in opposing racial segregation in church and society. In the 1960s, I was head of LHRA here in New York and pastor of a mainly black parish in Brooklyn. It is hard for anyone born in the last thirty or forty years to credit the degree to which racial bias was entrenched in almost all the churches of the time.
Of course, few people associate Lutheranism with blacks in America, but the Missouri Synod, beginning in the early 20th century, had a rather active mission among blacks, especially in the South. At St. John the Evangelist in Brooklyn, a pillar of the parish was “Mitch” Mitchell, a black man who had long worked on the Brooklyn waterfront (when it looked very much like it does in the classic movie On the Waterfront ) and as a child in New Orleans had memorized Luther’s Small Catechism—in German.
“Separate but equal” was very much the maxim in relationships between white and black Lutheran parishes in those days. When I was installed as pastor in 1961, The Lutheran Witness thought it noteworthy that whites and people of color communed at the same altar at St. John’s. What won’t they be up to next?
Andrew Schulze and the LHRA warrant little space in the larger story of the civil rights movement. Kathryn Galchutt is telling a somewhat parochial story. But then “parochial” is etymologically related to “the house next door,” and most of life as it is really lived is parochial. There are parallels to the Schulze story in most of the other churches in America. Stories of quiet, unpretentious, but determined people who just couldn’t stop pointing out that wrong is wrong, and directing us to what St. Paul called “a more excellent way.”
In addition to which :
In the April issue of F IRST T HINGS , Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna responds to both critics and supporters of his critique of neo-Darwinism as a philosophy in his earlier essay, “The Designs of Science.” There is, for instance, this: “Darwinism provides no easy answers for theology, unless one incorporates evolutionary thinking into theology, using Darwinistic and heterodox ‘process theology’ to absolve God from the responsibilities of His all-encompassing providence . . . As with so many mysteries, orthodox Christianity must accept completely and unequivocally two truths—in this case, that God is all good and all powerful—and humbly shoulder the difficult burden of fitting those two truths together without diluting either of them.” Isn’t it time for you to become a subscriber to F IRST T HINGS ?
Avery Cardinal Dulles says of Catholic Matters :
"It would be difficult to find a guide so knowledgeable, so theologically astute, and so engaging as a writer. Father Neuhaus presents the ‘high adventure’ of a Catholic orthodoxy that stands firmly against the winds of adversity and confusion."
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