I have only had a chance to skim through a new book titled Holy Abortion? (Wipf and Stock, 2003), but from that skimming I would like to commend it to you. It has two subtitles, the first "A theological critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights" and the second "Why Christians and Christian Churches should reconsider the issue of abortion."
The book is written by Michael Gorman and Ann Loar Brooks. Gorman, a Methodist, is a professor St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, Brooks, an Episcopalian, a writer with a master's degree from St. Mary's Ecumenical Institute of Theology, of which Dr. Gorman is dean. Gorman wrote Abortion and the Early Church, the definitive study of the subject.
Holy Abortion? comes with recommendations from a diverse group, including Frederica Mathewes-Green, Richard John Neuhaus, Stanley Hauerwas, Donald Bloesch, and Christine Pohl.
One reason I commend the book is that the authors seem to have read everything the RCRR has produced and read it carefully, and have produced for the rest of us a careful and extremely helpful description of the pro-abortion mind and rhetoric. You will find it all the introduction to that mind you will need.
MORE ON DAVID JONES:
For those interested in modern, and in modern Christian poetry, two more links to articles on the great Welsh poet David Jones:
- "Poetry's invisible genius" by Michael Symmons Roberts; and
- "Poet of the ever-present past" by Noel Malcolm.
Both of these lengths are taken from the article on Jones by A. N. Wilson, described yesterday in my blog "Wilson on Jones (which turned out mostly to be about Helen Gurley Brown, but I forgot to change the title).
THE LAWRENCE CASE:
A friend just wrote me a fairly pessimistic letter about the Lawrence case decided last week by the Supreme Court, in which the liberal and the "centrist" (O'Connor and Kennedy) justices overturned a Texas law outlawing homosexual sodomy.
I think the law imperfect - if sodomy should be outlawed why single out the homosexuality varieties? - but nevertheless at least the tribute that vice pays to virtue, upon which societies depend. It said that some "private" activities harm the public good, and that acts in which men mistake the organ of defecation for the organ of generation (to use J. Budziszewksi's phrase) are one of them. It is the sort of law a society might have on its books as a statement of the matter without enforcing it unless it has to.
My pessimistic friend wrote (I've put his quotation from the Lawrence decision between << and >>):
Here is an excerpt from the majority opinion in the Lawrence case. The justices wrote:
<< [Quoting from Planned Parenthood v. Casey] "These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State."
Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do. The decision in Bowers would deny them this right. >>
It seems to me that the Supreme Court has now written into Constitutional law the anthropological/philosophical belief that homosexuality is not something you do, but something you are.
I think it's worse than that. The problem was created in PP vs. Casey. The Court isn't just protecting what you are, about which some objective arguments might still be made, but what you think you are, about which no objective arguments can be made at all. This case only explicitly extended that decision's protections to people whose "concept of existence etc." included sodomy - without giving any reason to include them and not, say, 12-year-old boys convinced they want to have sex with an older man, flashers, income tax resisters, jaywalkers, and people who want to trade a kidney for a Porsche.
This leaves us with a Court that extends a special status to certain favored groups and not others, on grounds it nowhere made clear and therefore properly legal. We know that certain people have its blessing on their attempts to act out their concept of existence, and certain people don't, but you cannot find from the Court's own words how it tells the difference between the two groups. One can intuit the grounds with confidence, of course, but this does not change the essentially arbitrary nature of the Court's decision and the uncertainty it introduces into public life.
The decision also leaves no grounds for opposing homosexual "marriage," which is its most worrisome feature.
My friend continued:
If I'm reading this correctly, conservatives have lost the culture war over homosexuality.
No more than we have lost the culture war over abortion. That a thing may be legally enshrined does not mean the culture has accepted it, or has accepted it in a way that precludes its eventually rejecting it. The ship has taken a torpedo at the waterline but it has a chance of getting back to port for repairs.
That said, I tend to be pessimistic about both abortion and homosexuality because I think their acceptance necessary to the sort of sexualized and "materialized" society we have. PP vs. Casey only articulated the average American's definition of the good life and the end of man. (Which he holds, I hasten to say, mixed with convictions about duty and vocation that, fortunately for him and everyone else, prevent him from completely living out his idea of the good life.)
Sometimes I feel that certain events, like the Roe and Lawrence cases even coming before the Supreme Court, are signs that things have broken down too much to be rebuilt. Something has gone seriously wrong with a culture when homosexual sodomy is so accepted that such a case could even be brought before the Supreme Court, but then this has been true in previous cultures in relation to contraception, for which the old word was . . . sodomy. One feels things are spinning downward.
But then I think, as I wrote in June's editorial, "American Reservists", that (had I known what I do now) I would have thought the same at almost every point in American history, and some things I would have seen as fatal steps downhill have changed for the better, and thus I must admit that my native pessimism does not see things entirely rightly. We are part of too mixed a story to choose without great thought either the pessimistic or the optimistic options.
It is very hard to discern the signs of the times, though I still think pessimism the safer bet.
INGHAM ON TOUCHSTONE:
Bishop Ingham of Vancouver (He of the homosexual marriage blessing) has (indirectly) commented on Touchstone in today's New York Times.
"Conservative Protestants and evangelicals who have vilified the pope for years have now found themselves in alliance with a conservative pope on issues of sexual morality," he said. "What you are seeing across the world is a realignment of global religion where the forces of conservatism are finding more cause with each other across religious boundaries than within their own religious traditions."
Ingram is not a Christian in the usual sense of the word. He sees it as a purely human construct, like other religions.
I would understand the Scripture as the human record of the people of God struggling to understand the direction of God in their world
His experiences in India led to the writing of a book published in 1997, "Mansions of the Spirit," in which he described his conversations with gurus and his participation in séances. In it, he came to a conclusion that some conservative Christians find profane. "God is active among spiritual traditions outside Christianity," he wrote. "We have no reason to suppose that any one religion is truer than the others."
Like the Pharisees, he does not see the distinction between the ceremonial and moral precepts of the Law, the first temporary, designed to keep Israel separate from the pagan nations, the second eternal, designed to be a light for all nations through Christ.
"Conservatives say you cannot pick and choose, but that's exactly what they do because the same texts that condemn homosexuality condemn the eating of shellfish," he said. "I haven't heard any conservative churchman campaign against shellfish in the last few years.
Why the Vatican continues talks with the Episcopal church is hard to understand. Perhaps there are some Episcopal theologians who still know how to talk like Christians, but the episcopacy has moved beyond apostasy into insanity.
I don't expect any schism. Episcopalians, ever dwindling in number, have shown they can assimilate any change: the acceptance of contraception, divorce and remarriage, women priests; I do not see why homosexual marriage should be the last straw.
WILSON ON JONES, BROWN ON HERSELF:
Two more things, of possible interest, from The Daily Telegraph's website:
First, the edifying article of the two: a profile of the great Welsh poet David Jones by A. N. Wilson. It begins:
The great poets have nearly all been conservatives, even if, like Wordsworth, they took a little time to recognise the fact. It is not surprising. Their task, since the composition of The Iliad, has been to encapsulate emotions, stories and myths as they fade from consciousness: an essentially conservative exercise.
Second, the revealing if not exactly edifying of the two: a profile of the founder of Cosmopolitan, Helen Gurley Brown, now 81. She is wearing, this 81-year-old:
Black fishnet stockings, three-inch stilettos, black mini skirt and pink silk shirt unbuttoned to reveal more than a flash of lacy cream bra. A gold cobra bracelet snakes around her wrist and her lips are daubed in fuchsia lipstick.
And she says, this 81-year-old, speaking of her early sixties best-seller Sex and the Single Girl:
"All the suggestions about pleasing men are as viable as ever," she says in her soft, papery voice, perhaps the only indication of her age. "Whatever age you are, you should be flattering to a man about the way he looks, telling him how attractive he is. And you should be very flattering to his penis. You should tell him how beautiful it is, how attractive, how irresistible."
And yes, despite saying this sort of thing,
Now the tide is turning and she is once again being recognised as the prototype feminist, a status of which she is very proud. "I was there before Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique. I was there saying, 'You're your own person, go out there and be somebody . . .' You don't have to get your identity from being somebody's appendage. . .".
Reading the rest of the profile, which describes her ardent, or desperate, and either way clearly doomed, pursuit of good looks, I can only ask, "What good is being a feminist if it makes you into Helen Gurley Brown?" Far better to be a tubby lesbian in overalls digging in a garden out in the New England countryside. Oh, infinitely better.
MYSTERY HEADS UP:
For mystery fans, a preview of the new P. D. James' mystery, The Murder Room, which I don't think has been published in this country. It is set in a museum and stars Inspector Dalgleish.
WHY COMMUNISM (AND ITS PEERS) ENDURES:
In "Why the reds flagged", published in the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the writer Anne Applebaum notes that Communism has been "profoundly multicultural" whose creation was attempted in "Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, in Christian, Buddhist, Confucian and animist societies." In all of which it has failed to produce the Paradise it promised, which explains why Communist governments killed 100 million people.
The book she is reviewing, Robert Harvey's new book Comrades: the Rise and Fall of World Communism, explains why Communism came to power in so many different societies.
To be successful, he contends, communist revolutions had to combine at least four critical ingredients. They had to offer a quasi-religious creed, powerful enough to replace indigenous religions. They had to take place in newly industrialised, newly mobile societies. They had to take place at a time of popular discontent. Finally, they had to be flexible enough to absorb old nationalist and feudalist authoritarian traditions into a synthesis that seemed both new and familiar to a given society.
Like fascism, Harvey argues, communism was a reaction to economic modernisation, and to the globalisation of capitalism that began in earnest at the beginning of the 20th century. Invariably, communism succeeded wherever there was a large population of recently displaced peasants, who had been yanked out of their traditional villages, and thrust into a bewildering and apparently valueless industrial world.
Communist ideology thrived on the sense of disorientation that people experienced when deprived of older belief systems. At least for a time, it successfully explained the world to people who found it inexplicable.
Nothing new here, but a good short summary. Applebaum praises the book as "a good first-draft history of the rise and fall of international communism," while noting that it (annoyingly) does not come with footnotes and the author has not kept up with all the current discoveries.
If I may extrapolate from Harvey's explanation of the success of Communist movements in seizing power: the idea that such ideologies appeal to disoriented, displaced people who find the world inexplicable explains the success of other movements as well, including religious liberalism and the pantheistic and dualistic forms of popular spirituality. Since modernity is a social condition that inevitably disorients and displaces people, and because even "postmodern" people want some explanation of their life - even "it's all meaningless" is a meaningful explanation - all these movements and movements yet unborn will be flourishing for a long, long time.
All these movements, from Communism to Liberalism to pop spirituality, offer 1) a simple explanation for your problems; 2) the assurance that your problems are not your fault; 3) the promise that you can do something about them; and 4) the promise that you can defeat, vanquish, and even punish those whose fault your problems are. These, you may have noticed, all imitate and distort a Christian insight, offering simpler ideas than Christianity offers and reversing Christianity's assignment of guilt to the self by assigning it to others.
If I am right about this, the alternatives have the advantage in the religious market. One can sell a simple idea much more easily than a complicated one, and one can sell a flattering product infinitely more easily than a truthful one. Men are lazy and vain.
Fallen men will buy almost anything that tells them that they are already what they want to be. Just think of the paunchy pasty-skinned fifty-year-olds you see at the beach who have stuffed themselves into tiny speedo bathing suits, and then spend exhausting days sucking in their stomachs and puffing out their chests when the girls in bikinis walk by.
This is why I am not so optimistic about Communism's death as Harvey seems to be. He argues (in Applebaum's summary):
that communism has very little future, given that it does not, like most religions, promise happiness in an afterlife. Instead, it promises happiness, and material well-being, in this life. Because communism failed, spectacularly, to deliver on that promise, it's hard to understand why anyone would ever believe in it again.
This might be true, if men were not fallen. We don't always believe things because they work or stop believing them when they fail. Think of all the hopeless romances you've known. The Communist myth promised much that we all devoutly wish were true and asked of us only such lives as we would be willing to live.
Communism is not as dead as Harvey and Applebaum would have it. The forms in which it may appear will probably differ from those of the past, as the libertine ideas of the sixties are now promoted by people in oxford cloth and tweed rather than bell bottomed pants and chunky bead necklaces. Its partisans will speak of its "excesses" and call themselves socialists, while hoping to create another totalitarian state.
Communism, Liberalism, popular spirituality, and the like shall never disappear, because they follow a pattern that is a perennial temptation for fallen men. They are what fallen man falls into, whenever he seeks an easier answer than Christianity offers him.
For those of you who don't often check the main page, we have posted two articles from the new (July/August) issue:
Philip Johnson's "Uncle Tom's Victory", and
Roberto Rivera's "The Cross and the Swastika".
Both provoke and stimulate. Also now posted are several articles from the previous issue, all of which I commend (of course).
Another interesting article from our contributing editor, Peter Toon.
Is Jesus "The Son of the Carpenter & Mary", or is he " The Carpenter, the Son of Mary"?
The Gospel in the Common Lectionary for next Sunday (Trinity III) in the Church of England is Mark 6:1-13. In Mark 6:3 there is an important question from the crowd in Nazareth, but in different manuscripts of the Gospel it occurs in two forms:
The form which could cause offence is: "Is not this the carpenter the son of Mary?" And the form which causes no particular offence is: "Is not this the son of the carpenter and of Mary?"
Most English translations follow the first of these possibilities as being used by the more important collection of manuscripts. However, the well known Church Father, Origen, in his treatise Against Celsus VI.36, strongly asserts that in none of the Gospels is Jesus called a carpenter. Thus the copies of the Gospels which he had contained only the second of the possibilities, that Jesus is the son of a Carpenter and also of Mary.
The parallel text of Matthew 13:55 provides the question in this form: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary?." Here there is neither an assertion or denial that Jesus was a carpenter; and significantly Jesus is not called "son of Mary."
To call Jesus "son of Mary" is very strange in a Jewish context where a boy was said to be the son of his father. It is possible that the designation as "son of Mary" is an indication that there was rumour or knowledge in Nazareth that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. In other words this is an indirect reference to the virginal conception of Jesus by Mary.
Further, in the ancient world to describe someone as a carpenter, a manual worker, was to confine them to the lower orders of society, from where great teachers, prophets and leaders did not arise. To be the son of and to rise above the station of manual worker was fine, but to be a manual work was not fine.
It seems highly probable that what Mark originally wrote was "carpenter, son of Mary" for this was the truth of the matter. Jesus did have a manual trade and he did not have a biological human father. It also seems that Matthew - aware of the feelings in Judaism and the Gentile world - softened the original Marcan words to make them more palatable. Further, it seems that some copyists of Mark's Gospel adjusted the original Marcan words to conform to what was in Matthew.
To assert that Jesus had not been trained in the rabbinic schools but had worked as a carpenter is to take him off the map of respectability! To assert that he had no biological human father is to raise all kinds of suspicions about his identity!
But if it be true that Jesus was a manual worker and that he had no biological father, these facts must be asserted as part of the doctrine of the Incarnation, wherein the Son of God not only took human nature but also became a servant, for us and for our salvation.
You can find other of Peter's writings at the websites of The Prayer Book Society (American); Anglican Marketplace; and his parish, Christ Church, Biddulph Moor.
SAD FEMINIST SEX:
From Mike S. Adams, a sane professor at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, an article provocatively titled"How I lost my virginity". (The article and this blog contain "sexual references," as the website puts it.)
He was sitting in a bookshop reading when he overheard two young women talking about the "Women in Literature" class they were taking at the university,
when one turned to the other and said the following: "I just finished the assigned book for our class. I thought it was just so poignant. I agreed with our professor when she talked about the humiliation you feel after a man finishes ejaculating."
Specifically, they were talking about a book by one of his colleagues (I think the teacher of the course) titled Intimate Reading: A Contemporary Womens' Memoir, in which she describes losing her virginity at sixteen, finding herself pregnant, having the baby because her parents would not take her away to have an abortion (for which she continues to blame them), giving up the baby for adoption, and her multiple marriages (at least five) since then.
The article summarizes well this genre, the feminist confession. For example: the unnecessarily intimate detail; the parading of failure without any apparent sense of regret or shame; the blaming of others for what failures the writer does admit; and the absence of any sense of reconciliation or resignation such as we expect of the old, who have come to terms with their lives and made of them what they could.
And, as part of the last, the inevitable missing of the real lessons of the writer's experience. As Adams notes:
the memoir does end on a positive note when the author finally meets the daughter she was prevented from illegally aborting by her conservative parents. She also meets the grandchild her daughter had given her.
There are numerous conservative lessons in this feminist memoir that seem completely lost upon its author. That one can reap priceless rewards by choosing adoption over abortion; that one must take responsibility for one's conduct at all times; and that one should avoid sexual intercourse until they [sic] understand its consequences are among them.
I commend the article, and would add one thought. The two girls' conversation suggests how much this sort of feminism has taken the sexiness out of sex. These are people who speak unabashedly about their sexual lives, who look to sex for pleasure and thrills, who believe themselves free to enjoy the most expansive sexual lives because they reject traditional morality, sex roles, and the like, but who write of sex as if it were shameful, and even a bore.
This is a subject over which the married writer will draw a veil, because anything he would say of it, even the most theoretical, would reflect on things that are the concern only of him and his wife. But let me ask: would any women in a proper marriage say what those poor girls said? Wouldn't she say the opposite? Isn't the effect of traditional morality to make sex sexier, not least because it prevents women from living the life this poor writer lived and teaches them to trust the man they're with (and will be with till they die)?
MORE ON PRO-LIFE WOMEN:
The survey I described in "Pro-life good news can be found at the website of the Center for the Advancement of Women, the feminist lobby that sponsored it.
According to a report in The Washington Times (I don't have the web address),
"It's a broader issue now than mere reproductive rights," said Mrs. Wattleton, adding that changing administrations shouldn't seesaw on what she considers an inalienable right. "I've always felt it struck at the status of women in society."
I think her "the status of women in society" suggests the place abortion has in the feminist ideology, and helps to explain why some feminists demand it so passionately. (Mrs. Wattleton, the head of the Center, ran the abortion profiteer Planned Parenthood for fourteen years.)
Legal abortion is not just a last choice for women with "crisis pregnancies," the argument pro-choice propaganda tends to stress - remember Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare" - but part of the foundation of an entire and coherent vision of man and of the good life. It is a vision that requires a certain "status" that requires sexual freedom without consequences, or without children, which is the only consequence of sex some people recognize. This helps explain why its proponents propose it so energetically and relentlessly.
Prohibit it and you change the way they insist on living. They need it to achieve the status, the place in the world, the power and the glory, they want.
HUMAN LIFE REVIEWED AND DEFENDED:
The latest issue of the invaluable Human Life Review includes an article by our senior editor James Hitchcock titled "Catholic liberals and abortion." In it he examines the dismal record of the National Catholic Reporter and the intent and effect of the "seamless garment" argument. Some articles from the recent issue appear on the website but not this one.
Other articles in the issue include an exchange on abortion between Robert Bork and Norman Schlueter on the Constitution's understanding of "person"; an appraisal of feminist bioethics by Christine Rosen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; and A physicians' crusade, a history of physicians' pro-life work since the early 19th century.
It also includes, as does every issue, a selection of articles on the subject from other journals. Among the writers featured in this issue are Fred Barnes, Peggy Noonan, and Mark Steyn.
To order a subscription, which I highly recommend, click here.
An article in The Evening Standard I picked up in England a couple of weeks ago "dispels the myth that only trainee priests take degrees in theology," according to the little teaser line above the headline. (I'm afraid I forgot to write the date when I tore out the article.) In "any sizeable theology faculty" in England,
you will find a large proportion of open-minded, even skeptical students professing to no particular religion.
The regius professor of divinity at Oxford says that most theology students there "are not particularly religious" and the director of undergradate students at Edinburgh says that most of their 90-some students in their School of Divinity, "the majority do not have a strong faith position." A student at Heythrop College of the University of London says that half the students there do not believe in God.
The people quoted in the issue all describe religion as an interesting subject and a good subject through which to explore important questions. And it's practical too:
Far from equipping students only for a career in the church, the intellectual demands of a theology degree - engaging in abstract argument, researching, analyzing, evaluating - make theology graduates popular in a host of careers, from law, accountancy and marketing, to the Civil Service, according to Dr. McDade [a Jesuit who runs the program at Heythrop College].
because applicants tend to overlook this subject, theology may, in some cases, be an easier subject through which to enter one of the more prestigious universities.
DOYLE'S 9 1/2 THESES
The Religion and Ethics Newsweekly has a long interview with Father Thomas Doyle. He has worked with sexual abuse victims and helped write a 1985 report which tried to alert bishops to the gravity of the situation. Doyle has been genuinely sympathetic to victims, but the interview reveals an attitude which may explain why the bishops didn't think him a reliable analyst.
People are making the distinction between their belief and trust in a higher power and their trust in a church system. They're saying, "We don't believe in bishops or pope at all -- we don't need to. We communicate and believe in a higher power. We don't need them to believe in God." God does a lot of wonderful, good things through other people. It doesn't necessarily filter through this hierarchical system. That's the way a lot of people are looking at this.
I've noticed countless survivors and victims who have completely rejected institutionalized religion. And in many instances some of the benefits that come from that -- a place to help you grieve, a place to celebrate highlights in your life, baptisms, weddings, and so on -- that's been taken away from them, and many feel that this has been ripped away. But as they grow, as their own spirituality starts to mature, they realize that spiritual strength is something we have with each other. It's among us. I don't need to go into a church building, I don't need to have a priest or bishop tell me I'm okay, I don't need to ask one of them to pray for me. I'll take care of it myself. There's really a maturing; it's a return, I think, in many ways to what primitive early Christianity was all about.
Doyle has become a Protestant, a good Protestant, but nonetheless a Protestant. The rejection of the priesthood and authority of the Roman Catholic Church was central to the Reformation, and Doyle has the same attitude, for similar reasons. It is hardly surprising that Roman Catholic bishop were disinclined to pay attention to Doyle (although they should have, just as they should have paid attention to Luther before the final break).
A PROTESTANT PROTEST:
A reply to my "For Dreher"and to the letter relayed in "A pope for pseudo-intellectuals?", from one of our regular readers, E. R. Brett of Vancouver, British Columbia:
I find it curious - and not a little disconcerting - that I, a protestant, am willing to give this Pope a greater benefit of the doubt than some American Catholics. With due respect to Mr. Dreher, I would suggest that the Pope is blessed with a priceless gift unavailable to American Catholics: distance. Distance from American media, distance from panic, distance from outrage, and distance from the poison that seems to have slid through American seminaries and into parishes.
While Mr. Dreher seems to view this distance as a contributing factor in the ongoing "crisis", it could alternatively be viewed as a subtle and timely reminder that the crisis is one of many that the Church has faced (and faced down). Where some blame the Pope for mismanagement, it may be (as Mark Shea has suggested) that the Pope is actually modelling excellent leadership: he's allowing his American Bishops to clean up the mess they've created. Where some look for crisis management and the North American press look for a fatal vulnerability, the Pope simply and clearly calls for fidelity. Some call for action: the Pope calls for prayer.
The American press calls for public, gratuitous displays of sympathy: the Pope calls for responsibility. Some say "do something now", and the Pope - that foolish, out-of-touch man! - tells the youth of the world in Toronto to "hope."
This is not to lightly dismiss the particular heinousness of pedophilia. I'm merely suggesting that the Catholic church is - to this outsider - bigger than the peculiar obsessions of disobedient priests and ill-disposed journalists. "This too shall pass." This Pope models that; many of his critics don't. (Memo to Mr. D'Hippolito: there are other things happening in the world.)
I've no doubt that American Catholics - clergy and laymen - are hurting right now. As a Christian I hurt with them (and, as a sometime Anglican, I can trump Mr. D'Hippolito's sense of outrage with ease). But the Pope has made clear his views on morality, celibacy, and responsibility. I don't understand the tendency to view such statements as intellectual dilettantism. His words mean something: they're an encouragement, a call to repentance and a plan, all rolled into one. Now it's up to Bishops and Priests - and justifiably angry laymen - to listen.
PUT NOT THY TRUST IN PRINCES:
In one of Terry Mattingly's recent religion columns, "Glad Tidings for Secularists", he noted that polls asking people what is their religion tend to find low levels of secularism, because most people don't like to answer the question with "none." (You can sign up to get his columns as they're written at the Mattingly website.)
But researchers at the City University of New York made a subtle change in 2001 when updating their portrait of U.S. religious identities. They asked: "What religion do you identify with, if any?"
A stunning 14 percent said, "no religion" - nearly 30 million Americans. Another question asked if respondents were religious or secular and 16 percent chose "secular."
"Those two words - Ģif any' - made a big difference," said Fred Edwords [sic], editorial director of the American Humanist Association. "Those two little words signaled that it was acceptable for people to say that they didn't believe in God or at least didn't practice any particular religion."
This doesn't surprise me at all. In fact I'm surprised the percentage isn't higher, as I would have guessed at least 20 percent would have described themselves as having no religion. But maybe I think that because I grew up in a New England college town and tend to be surprised that anyone believes in God.
More significant, I think, are two other figures:
According to the National Election Studies, the percentage of Americans who say they attend weekly religious services fell from 38 to 25 percent between 1972 and 2000. Meanwhile, those that never attend services rose from 11 to 33 percent.
If 14% admit having no religion, 19% of Americans do not consider themselves secular but nevertheless never go to church. Never attending a religious service is a good definition of the effective secularist, someone whose life and mind are not formed by religion. It is hard to believe that religion plays any formative role in these peoples' lives even if they think they have a religion.
Going to church weekly seems to me a minimum standard for thinking someone seriously religious, someone whose life, and one hopes mind, is to some extent shaped by his religion. This is not to say that they vote or choose their entertainment or shop or do anything else under the guidance of their religion. But at least they get out of bed every Sunday, hear some bits and pieces of Scripture, hear a sermon which may be worth hearing, and sometimes receive a sacrament. Something must rub off.
That means that 33%, that is one full third, of Americans are secular (open or effective) compared to only 25%, that is only one quarter, of Americans who meet the minimum standard for being religious.
With these figures, America looks a lot like Europe, or at least like a society that is beginning to look a lot like Europe. I think this ought to change the way culturally conservative Christians think about their task.
When deciding what to do about secularists and the institutional advance of secularism, they have long relied on America's being "a Christian country," as marked by (among other things) its reported levels of church attendance. When frustrated by decisions of the Supreme Court, they have tended to comfort themselves by asserting that the justices did not represent the country, because the county is religious, and eventually a country of religious people will elect a religious president who will appoint better justices who will overturn the previous justices' bad decisions.
I do not think they should do this anymore. A president who would appoint more Scalias and Thomases is to be prayed and worked for, but not expected. O'Connor (usually a loss), Kennedy (more often a loss), Souter (a complete loss), and Stevens (a complete loss) were all Republican appointments - appointed by presidents whose supporters urged Christians to vote for them because they would appoint Supreme Court justices.
If I were scoring them on a scale of ten, I'd give O'Connor a 4, Kennedy a 3, and Souter and Stevens 0, for an average of 1.75 per justice. A Democratic president would have done worse, but not much worse.
Mattingly goes on to mention the five questions Clinton's advisors developed in 1996 to find out which candidate people would choose (presumably without asking them out right). The five were:
Is homosexuality morally wrong? Do you every look at pornography? Would you look down on a married person who had an affair? Is sex before marriage morally wrong? Is religion very important in your life?
If voters chose "liberal" answers on three out of five, reported Atlantic Monthly, the odds where 2-1 they would pick Clinton. The odds soared if they leaned left on four out of five. Those giving "conservative" answers went Republican, by precisely the same odds.
This continues to fascinate me. Notice that all the questions - the questions that best predicted for whom a voter would vote - ask for the voter's moral views, not his political or economic views. Among other things, this suggests that the politicians' mantra, "It's the economy, stupid," though obviously to a great degree accurate, ignores the fundamental and formative effect of morality.
Which suggests, in turn, that the political change culturally conservative Christians seek may best be achieved by a moral revival - which is to say, by doing their specifically religious job better than they (we) are doing it now.
One of those stories beyond parody: "Campolo: Opposition to women preachers evidence of demonic influence". As reported by the BP (Baptist Press) News, Compolo, an Evangelical biggie and professor at Eastern University, said of the Southern Baptist statement that women cannot serve as pastors that it
as "about as evil a statement as one can make."
"It's one thing to be wrong, but that isn't wrong, that's sinful. The Bible says, 'neglect not the gift that is in you,' and when women are gifted with the gift of preaching, anybody who frustrates that gift is an instrument of the devil," Campolo said.
. . . Campolo encouraged the CBF [Cooperative Baptist Fellowship] to continue combating the sexism of those whom he said, "change the Bible to fit their theology."
Speaking to the CBF, which seems to have been formed by dissident or disgruntled Southern Baptists, he included an ambiguous statement on homosexuality.
also said that the other group, still anonymous, had an improper attitude about homosexuals. Any doubt that Campolo was targeting the Southern Baptist Convention dissolved when he said that some have "drawn the line" and said they would "fight out" the issue of homosexuality.
. . . Campolo said that he and his wife have different opinions about gay and lesbian marriages. She favors them, but he does not and refers to himself as a "conservative" on the issue.
"Both of us are committed to justice for gays and lesbians regardless of what we may in fact say theologically," he said. "When in fact we live in a society that makes life hell for gays and lesbians, this community has got to stand up and say, 'We're on your side as you struggle for dignity,' and, 'Yes, we will defy anybody who says otherwise, even if we have to go to Disneyland to prove it'."
Compolo also offered with equal spirit the usual political positions. The article includes dignified responses from several Southern Baptist leaders, including Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a speaker at the last Touchstone conference. (The paper he gave and my response will appear in the July/August issue.)