Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I’ve read a couple of interesting articles on religion the last couple of days. Newsweek regularly features a column by George Will. Everyone always tells you that personal attacks dilute your message, but to hell with it! I think George Will fashions himself as the great, conservative intellectual crusading against the depravity of modern liberalism. Personally, I think he’s a nitwit. It amazes me that people pay so much attention to an incredibly partisan (and partisanship being inimical to intellectualism), faux intellectual.

In his latest column (3/15/04 – not online, I think), he argues, in the face of facts, that despite being portrayed as a conservative, evangelical Christian, George W. Bush is actually promoting a profound civil, secular religion of democracy. Will says, “Bush is presenting America to the world – and, inescapably, to itself – not defined as a Judeo-Christian nation but as an examplar and exporter of universal good.” What nonsense! Bush is the most openly religious president I can remember and has done more to advance the conservative Christian agenda of any president in recent history. Will is living in a fantasy if he believes that George Bush has no interest in promoting fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity for all Americans. Will further argues that Bush is actually severing ties between Christianity and democracy. This is in the face of a president who has sought federal funding for religious charities and pushed for a constitutional amendment to ban marriage, primarily at the call of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. Are we talking about the same George Bush?

Will goes on to argue that mainline protestant churches have little to contribute to political life because their “God-talk is thin, homogenized gruel.” He argues that they have become ultra-relativist cesspools of hedonism and are drowning in pools of their own sin. (I’m taking a little creative license here in paraphrasing his argument.) He is basing this on one book written by some Canadian kook (not that all Canadians are kooks, I’ve only run into this one). This particular kook is Clifford Orwin. His book, “The Unraveling of Christianity in America,” argues that mainline protestant churches have responded to “secularism by capitulating to it and the discourse of psychotherapy and personal fulfillment.”

It seems to me that the intellectual response is to realize that modern mainline churches are facing the reality that society is changing and advances in science, technology, psychology, and studies of human development are forcing everyone to reexamine how they view the world. Mainline churches are struggling with the same issues as society. Look at the recent controversy in the Episcopal Church over the ordination of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop. They’ve received less media attention, but the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church USA have also struggled with ordination of homosexuals. To paint mainline churches with a broad brush and label them as moral relativists falling from Christian teaching is to fundamentally misunderstand the discussions taking place in the church. Perhaps George Will should try visiting one before he criticizes it.

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