A narrow and blinkered secularism confines scholarship within prominently marked boundaries; Roberts encourages scholars to wade into the waters, so to speak, of religion.
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By Tyler Roberts Encountering Religion: Columbia University Press, For permissions, please e-mail: You do not currently have access to this article. You could not be signed in. Sign In Forgot password? This young senator just going there-it was an act of boldness; like when he went and spoke to the Texas delegation in the convention.
It had its religious component, to be sure, but it was also an act of political theater that he stood up. I just happened to look up-because I have this computer here-Stevenson got 37 percent of the Protestant vote; Kennedy got 38 percent. For people who care, if I can plug a friend, Shaun Casey at the Wesley Theological Seminary is completing a book on Catholicism and the campaign. So he might be somebody to talk to. I would like to hear you elaborate a little bit on your critique of the Kennedy speech, given that you just read it again recently, from the perspective of the separation of church and state, and also as it pertains to Romney, and what you would advise him based on your-.
I think it was probably exactly what needed to be done at the time. That is one difference between now and then. We feel that we have the right to ask candidates whether they wear boxers or briefs, or diamonds or pearls, or whatever. There is an invasion of their personal life that is obviously not entirely a good thing. Get off my back. Were there hints in the Kennedy speech as it pertains to separation of church and state that you found objectionable?
Just to show up is pretty impressive. There were debates about whether he was going too much in a secular direction. They were willing to let him do whatever was necessary. You said just now that Romney will have to say something about this faith. What does he have to say about his faith? But let me approach it this way. The antagonism between Protestants and Catholics is such a powerful theme in American history. I find my students are completely uncomprehending of this, so much has the world changed. But in 19th century American history, it is one of the greatest themes, again and again and again interjecting itself into everything.
How did all of that change? They were not incomprehensibly different: They were regular folks, and they had certain views that Protestants regarded as odd, just as vice versa, but a social comfortableness-and I mean social in a larger sense, not just belonging to a club together or something like that, but a general, cultural comfortableness-in the coexistence of Protestants and Catholics led to the theological differences being bracketable and not really that important anymore. I think something like this could, conceivably, be done with Mormonism.
What would be a very big mistake-as it would have been for Kennedy-is to play up the history of oppression. Certainly Mormons have a story to tell there, too, very much so. With Romney, you do feel there are times-you all follow him more closely than I do- but there are times when you feel a certain anger in him that may reflect some of that sense of having been victimized in the past, of Mormons having been marginalized or otherwise dissed in American life. I think it would be a big mistake for him to go down that road. Let me just interject here, if I could.
Anybody here from Boston? How did he do this as governor? When he ran against Ted Kennedy, this was something that Joe Kennedy raised as an issue, the Mormonism issue. I happened to be living in Massachusetts when he ran against Teddy Kennedy for the Senate, and the Mormon card was played.
But Michael, to use a Romney word, it was unbecoming to bring that up in that context. It was unseemly to worry or to ask about it. Inaudible, off mike — he and I both having grown up at the same time in the same place were marked indelibly by that, more by that than by any other factor in our lives. I have a relevant comment, and I am looking at Michael Barone because I have a feeling he may have something to say about this. But I know nothing about the extent to which Mormonism came up when George Romney was running for office.
My recollection, as a resident of Michigan at that time, or a voter there, was that it played almost no role at all. That was when the church had not yet allowed full membership to blacks. That came in the s. I had a student who wrote a brilliant paper on this very subject. He went back and looked at a lot of stuff, and it was not an issue at all. Interestingly, George Romney also refused to use Mormon networks to fundraise. In other words, George Romney was an arch-separationist himself, which probably helped. Katty is going to be seeing Governor Romney tomorrow.
Please tell him we have a lot of people with advice for him. I think that case could be made. This is one case where I think maybe staying away from the doctrine, staying away from the social separation of Mormons, and concentrating on a fundamental ethos would serve him best. I was struck by your description of a successful reconciliation between modernity and religion in America. My understanding of a force that has so changed American politics in the last 30 years-the rise of the religious right, the Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals getting into politics in a big way, which is something of a departure for them, at least in the 20th century-is that that is, in fact, a rejection of the status quo and a rejection of the balance between the sacred and the secular in this country and a reaction against the fact that religion has been pushed so much to the periphery of the public square.
They are, in fact, assuming that you can take certain features of modernity and put them to work for the sake of traditional core values that they see as being fundamental. It would help me if I knew who you were thinking of. Again, it depends on what you mean by secular.
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If you mean this sort of secularism that views religion, as Christopher Hitchens would say, as a poison, as something that needs to be if not stamped out, at least relegated to strictly private status that has no bearing on public life-Antagonism is not only characteristic of the religious right.
I think you see [it] in issues arising out of the Christmas celebrations and that sort of thing. These are widely resented by many Americans who otherwise would not be seen as members of the religious right. There is an overweening quality to the legal strategies designed to denude the public square of all religious symbols. But those were not things that had wide popularity, even among people who would see themselves as antagonistic to secularism in the strict sense.
Does this have any parallel in U. In thinking not so much about the books, but the debates that are held all over the country, the fascinating thing about those, and forgive me to those of you who were sitting with me at lunch since I already said this, is that these are almost always being sponsored by Christian organizations. They are very interested in this kind of thing. They are very interested in engaging in debates. So I see it as all positive; I think the books are positive.
Ross debated him in Nantucket, and he has wonderful stories to tell us about that, right? One of the unhealthy things about our religious culture is its evasiveness, the degree to which so many Americans think that religious questions can essentially be put off to another time: It both demeans religion and irreligion. Kennedy was perhaps the richest Catholic in the world and let the church know it. He used to bring his girlfriends to dinner with Cardinal Cushing to show who was the top dog in the relationship.
But I wanted to change the subject here and raise a question with you, which perhaps will show my ignorance as I did this morning. You say most reform impulses paid respect to religion. It seems to me that the progressive reformers of the early 20th century- Herbert Croly , Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson-. We battle for the Lord. But a lot of the impulse of putting experts in charge of things and taking things out of the hands of-in effect, they moved voter turnout down to expert commissions.
You can certainly find examples beyond the Armageddon speech of some respect toward religion. There was a Catholic left-wing tradition that was arguably part of this and sparked, I guess, by the Rerum Novarum of the s and other things. You mentioned John Dewey paying a certain obeisance to religion, but it seems to me that if we want to put reform movements on a spectrum from heavily influenced by religion to very lightly influenced by religion, that would be the one I would see as on the secular end of that spectrum.
I think there were certainly progressives who were more or less religious in character, although even Croly-his father was a Comptean , and he was brought up in the religion of humanity-ends The Promise of American Life , a great, foundational, liberal tract, with the invocation of Saint Francis. Because if the churches, overall, take a position one way or other on that issue, then that will go a long way to deciding whether gay marriage can be institutionalized.
What about the early 20th century labor movement, which was more socialist in some areas? Well, I did qualify it. What I said is, the successful reform movements. Yes, they are in decline now, but at one point 50 years ago, they were a major force in this country. There certainly are Christian commonwealth elements in the labor movement.
The Knights of Labor were heavily Christian-socialist in their rhetoric and in their organizing principles. The AF of L set the pattern much more for what American labor became than the Knights of Labor, but that certainly was an element. People like Edward Bellamy , who was much more of an important figure in the 19th century than we remember him now, operated in a quasi-Christian solidaritist tradition that was more religious than secular in character.
But by and large, the big ones, the ones that have really had a lasting effect had to, as I put it, past muster with the prevailing religious sensibilities. You see almost all of the Protestant denominations have ordination of women now, and women are very much empowered. They are not in Catholic churches, but I think by and large in Protestant churches, you see it. The Seneca Falls meeting was held in a holiness church, which is a piece of history that is forgotten-. But Elizabeth Cady Stanton was something of a free thinker, at most.
Anthony , on the other hand, was a strong believer. This is a different topic, from very early in your remarks. I think you said you see the face of evangelicals in lots of places, including Roman Catholicism. The feel of many Catholic masses is a lot like the feel of seeker-sensitive Protestant churches.
One of the effects of Vatican II, which I think perhaps was unforeseen, is in emphasizing the horizontal dimension of worship, that it was not just a vertical transaction expressed through the sacraments, but an experience of community; this effect has made Roman Catholic worship more like what you would see in an evangelical church. I know many Catholics who insist this is a distinctive feature of Catholicism, not aware of the extent to which it is Catholicism capitulating to American individualism and consumerism and voluntarism and all of these other forces.
Most of the really powerful justifications for the difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism end up going back to questions of authority and structure, which very rarely do you see actually being implemented in practice in the American church. I wanted to ask you about two books that have come out recently that seem to address this question of separation. He seems to trace some of the ideas of separation back long before the American founding.
The render-under-Caesar thing is a little different. Romans 13 spells all of this out: God gives this power to the magistrate.
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She knows more about Christianity than most Christians. But he goes back to the wars of religion as a really important starting place for all of that. Again, this is something where it seems to me Islam has a real problem, that there are these mediating factors in Christianity that are absent in Islam. Even the whole question of the ontological character of the scriptures; this is a fascinating subject that various people have written about. In Judaism and Christianity, but Christianity has articulated it the most clearly, the scriptures are God-breathed; they were inspired, which means that, in some mysterious way, the authors of each of the books have a role.
This is part of being an incarnational theology, that somehow the divine will is working, not only through the inspiration, but through the agent that puts the inspiration down on paper. I wondered if you could speak to the possibility-and you may dispute the premise of this question-that while American religious life overall has ebbed and flowed, and you have periods of awakening and periods of declining belief, that there seems to be, maybe beginning in the 19th century, maybe beginning in the earlier midth century, a steady secularization of American intellectual life that I think may play a profound role in the shape of religious life in America going forward.
I almost wish I had brought this up in the first discussion because I think it does relate, as well, to the decline of religious literacy, that the people who you would expect to be the custodians of religious literacy, the intellectual classes, are less and less interested in religion. Even among religious intellectuals, if you compare the religious intellectuals of the s to the prominent religious intellectuals of today, with some exceptions, I think you are much more likely to have your well-known religious intellectuals today being dissenters from the orthodoxy of their own religious tradition.
If not, what does it mean? I think it reflects the larger currents of Western intellectual history over that period of time. A couple of observations. These are quite remarkable developments, the rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Jews, particularly evangelical Christians and Jews.
These are testimony to the perceived power of an ascendant and dominant intellectual secularism. We may see developments in the years ahead in which we see a post-secular-people have begun to use that term-reemergence of religion that has, in effect, passed through the Enlightenment, passed through the acids of modernity and is still intact, not necessarily in the same form. Just as older religious traditions and commitments were found wanting in certain respects because of the interrogation they received at the hands of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment, so the Enlightenment project, as Alasdair MacIntyre and others like to say, is going through its own rolfing, and I think we will emerge at the other end of that with a different view of religion.
It will take a long time for these kinds of things to have ramifications in institutional form. And yet, the institutions just roll on in the same form with the same departments and the same structure and the same criteria. The fact that those are old and familiar words may indicate this could go on for a long time. Go back to Benedict for a second. It seems to me that one reason his Regensburg lecture was so important, the one that got the Muslims all angry because he made references to-. Yes, a Byzantine emperor, thank you. Using this as an example of what was wrong with the operation of faith detached from reason, and what he called the de-hellenization of faith.
But he was equally concerned about the other problem, not just the detachment of reason from faith, but also the detachment of faith from reason. As a religious person who sometimes pretends to be an intellectual, I would like very much for that to be true. But when I look at the American scene now, it seems like the opposite is happening, that the absence of intellectuals in religious communities makes those religious communities increasingly anti-intellectual, which, in turn, makes would-be intellectuals ever less likely to be religious.
Encountering Religion: Responsibility and Criticism After Secularism by Tyler Roberts
And so, the divide widens. Particularly you see it in my own Catholic faith; you definitely see it in the mega-church Protestantism we were discussing before.
I forget how they got it and compared it to now. Can I comment on that? I generally lecture there two or even three times a year. The students over there are much better than students I get otherwise. The title of that book again, Naomi, is? God on the Quad. God on the Quad by Naomi Schaefer Riley. Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right. It quotes Bill McClay and all kinds of other people, maybe many people at this table. I was just wondering if you had a CD of old Sam and Dave cuts on it.
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I just want to say two things very quickly: Now, there was a context, but you did say those words. I have two questions. You can skip one. The Whigs were amazing because they were evangelicals, and they were modernizers. We were talking at the break. I do think the rise of fundamentalism itself is a relatively recent phenomenon in the American sense. The Fundamentals were published in what? The other question, which you can skip if you want-I love your two secularisms essay. Clearly, we are one end of that; the French are another.
Where do you put Germany, Italy and Britain, which are not really secular in either sense and yet have societies that are more secular than ours? They have a state religion. The Germans finance religious institutions with tax money and so on. That is a complicated issue. Certainly, religion lacks vibrancy in the British, the Scandinavian, and, to a lesser extent, the German situations. The last 30 years seem an aberration and if the Whigs are really important in this story-.
We were talking about this in the break. They all had a strongly progressive element of challenging the status quo. What evangelicalism has never been-At its core, it is not a faith of complacency, though I think, to some extent, it has become one. You become adoptive children of God and take yourself out of that biological chain. It might not be one entirely to your liking or my liking, but they are going to return to a more questioning relationship with the mainstream culture. Do you have 30 seconds on the Whigs whom I think were really integral in this?
From a certain point of view, they should be seen, much more than Jackson was, as a precursor of the New Deal. The Whig notion was of an activist government and a national conception of America, not organized by states or regions, but a strong sense of nationality, and of the national government as being an active agent in the change of infrastructure. They had a strong sense of the need for roads and canals as ways of building the nation.
They were evangelical, and at least the northern Whigs were anti-slavery. Conservatism tried, I think, unsuccessfully, to appropriate that Whig notion. Bill, I want to ask more about biblical sources of this distinctive American pattern of vibrant religion, but also strong modernities and lots of secularism. You mentioned render unto Caesar and the two cities. I think it depends on how the Bible is read. One of the things about both the 17th century New England Puritans and a group as different from them as African-American slaves is their way of reading the Bible saw the great stories as templates for their own experience.
In both cases, the crossing of the Red Sea, the exodus, is taken as being emblematic of the great migration to North America or the prospect of emancipation. Specifically on the matter of comfort with being surrounded by secularism or modernity. The thing that really is at the foundation of a great community is a powerful narrative. When you have that strong sense of a narrative, you have a strong sense of peoplehood. He did a pretty good job of portraying the intellectual divide because of the secularism in academia. I wonder to what degree you see the secularism in the media and in academia as responsible for contributing to, at least, the political divide that we have today.
I also have a follow-up on Romney, which was my original question. You mainly want me to comment about the media, I assume, right? But those sins are more functions of unreflectiveness than of conscious bias; [they are] reflections of a way of approaching a subject that naturally flows out of the milieu you operate in.
But at the same time, it seems to me a very, very hard ideal, particularly with the complexity of the issues you have to wrestle with. This was after what Katty had asked. As Stephen had said, this may be the case of the more we know, the less tolerant we as a nation will become, coming out of whatever Romney says. Do you think that would be the case, depending on how far he goes into theology? How do you think that will play out? It depends on what you know and what things are important to be able to trust in. Here, again, I come back to what I said before: Stephen had suspected it may go badly, and I was just curious if you had the same kind of-.
For one reason or another, this is a subject he has not wanted to deal with. I think it would have been very easy to put all of this behind him quite some time ago. My question picks up along these lines that Romney is in a different position from JFK. Romney is running as the candidate of the people that are most suspicious of him, so it puts him in a different position. He has to talk about how his faith influences his politics.
The second question I have gets to the idea of specifics and how much he should talk about the particularities of the Mormon faith. How can he walk that line?
And secondly, should he address specifically the whole idea of taking direction from the president of the church?