August 26, 2002


The Secular Society Gets Religion (FELICIA R. LEE, August 24, 2002, NY Times)
From the recent Supreme Court decision supporting vouchers for religious schools to a lower court objection to the phrase "one nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance to wrangling over cloning, stem-cell research, euthanasia and genetic engineering, religion has been re-entering the public arena in complex and unforeseen ways.

The flirtation between the secular and the sacred has traditionally set off alarm bells among American academics, who have often regarded any intrusion of religion into politics as dangerous. In the last century, intellectual giants like John Dewey and Sigmund Freud dismissed religion as infantile and predicted an increasingly secular modern society. In his book "Human Nature and Conduct" (Henry Holt, 1922), Dewey said of religion, "It has been petrified into a slavery of thought and sentiment, as intolerant superiority on the part of the few and an intolerable burden on the part of the many."

But lately a growing number of social scientists, philosophers, historians and other scholars are trying to account for the energetic re-entry of religion into the public sphere, and some are viewing it with as much delight as distress. [...]

When it comes to the American public, both liberals and conservatives have often displayed deeply contradictory attitudes about the relationship between religion and politics, Professor Heclo pointed out, and many are skeptical about the sincerity of politicians' religious statements.

A Gallup Poll last year, for instance, showed that 82 percent of Americans thought of themselves as Christians, 10 percent belonged to other faiths and 8 percent were atheists or agnostics, Professor Heclo said. But they also said no dogma, religious creed or denominational commitment guided their beliefs. On the other hand, while majorities were willing to support a black, Jewish, female or gay presidential candidate, only 48 percent said they would vote for an atheist.

Sort of the 800 pound gorilla that's been sitting around the room post-9/11 is that the events of the day had a quite salutary effect in getting folks to reexamine their lives, however temporarily. The evidence is necessarily anecdotal, but it suggests that many people, when they did so, found a hollowness at the center of the lives they'd created for themselves. It comes as little surprise then that folks would turn to spiritual matters, traditions, and rituals to try and give their lives a depth and a heft they were lacking, to reknit their connections to the past, to one another, and to God. Hard to imagine how this can be other than a good thing. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 26, 2002 9:13 PM
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