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Daniel Love Glazer

  • 2013-06-13 11:07 AM | Daniel
    When I was growing up in the 1950’s, in Akron Ohio, the paperback book revolution was in full bloom. You could buy quality paperbacks for what now seems like a pittance. Here is an edition of Machiavelli’s The Prince that I bought back then. How much do you think I paid for it?_____It cost me 35 cents!

    Once a week or so, my best friend Beaner and I would ride our bikes the six blocks to a book store that sold nothing but paperbacks. We would leave our bikes outside the store—no need for locks—and spend an hour or so browsing the shelves. Several times I bought a book by my favorite philosopher, Bertrand Russell. Indeed, I read so much Bertrand Russell that friends called me “Bert.”

    I particularly remember Russell’s book Why I Am Not a Christian. In that book, Russell asks, “If Jesus was as powerful and merciful as Christians believe, why, instead of simply healing a few lepers, did he not banish disease from the face of the earth?” To me, that seemed a knockdown argument.

    Russell’s philosophy purported to base everything on logic and nothing on metaphysical assumptions. In one passage, he wrote:

    " [Man’s] origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand."

    And, of course, Russell is not the only prominent thinker to embrace materialism. In our day, there has arisen a movement called “The New Atheists,” whose partisans loudly reject God and  consider religion to be a poison. Perhaps the most prominent of this group is Richard Dawkins, a professor of biology at the University of Oxford. Consider what Dawkins says in his book The God Delusion: “There is almost certainly no God.” Belief in God, says Dawkins, is infantile, like faith in the Tooth Fairy or in Santa Claus, and can be described as a “virus of the mind.”  Dawkins insists that the universe has no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.  So it is not surprising that he maintains that “bringing up children within a religious tradition is a form of child abuse.”

    Well then, shall we all just go home and resolve to stop abusing our children by raising them as Christians? What response can we give to the materialists? What justifies our faith?

    We cannot prove that God exists by scientific experiment or by the pure reason of logical deduction. No, God can be realized only in the realms of human experience. Against Russell and the New Atheists, we believers maintain that God created mankind in his own image.[i] Does this mean that we are like God in form and physique? No, rather, it means that we are indwelt by the divine spirit. Yes, we have physical bodies subject to material laws. But as the Apostle Paul says, “Your body is the temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Spirit is God’s gift to you.”[ii] We have something from God himself that actually dwells within us.

    Jesus taught that “The Kingdom of God is within you.” It is possible to ignore or obscure this indwelling Spirit that is the deepest, truest part of us. But when we search for God with all our being, we discover the indwelling Spirit that is part and parcel of the divine. It is this Spirit that is the source of our faith. The wholehearted search for God ultimately leads the seeker to recognize that to doubt God’s existence or his goodness would be to deny the deepest and most real part of himself—the divine spirit within.

    The prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God, said “When you call me and come and pray to me, I will give heed to you. You will search for me and find me, if only you seek me wholeheartedly.”[iii]

    I know the reality of Jeremiah’s declaration from my personal experience. I was born into a Jewish family and was bar mitzvahed. In high school, under the influence of Bertrand Russell, I became an agnostic. Some years later, I discovered yoga, which presented a vision of spirituality and a spiritual path that appealed to me. I devoted myself to yoga and almost became a swami. But after several years, I came to realize that the yoga goal of attaining enlightenment by losing your individuality in the Absolute ocean of Being was an illusion. I left the yoga path and for several years did not think about ultimate things.

    But in time, I became reawakened to the idea that, beneath the surface, there was a spiritual reality. I resolved to devote myself heart and soul to realizing this spiritual truth. When I did so, the Spirit within answered me. It gave me the assurance that my passion for seeking the truth and following it wherever it led had earned God’s favor. And shortly thereafter, the Spirit made Jesus known to my hungry soul.

    Do we realize what a gift this Spirit is? It is nothing less than the will of God abroad in the universe. By aligning our will with God’s will, we can achieve the sublime and dynamic peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes from our confidence that our career in time and eternity is wholly in the hands of an infinitely wise, powerful, and loving God. We can become like Paul who said, “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else shall be able to separate us from the love of God.”[iv]

    It is the divine presence within that enabled the Roman centurion to have such faith in Jesus.

    This Spirit is also the inspiration for our aspirations to discern truth, experience beauty, and recognize and achieve goodness. God is not the psychological projection of our yearning for truth, beauty, and goodness. Rather God is the very source of the yearning for these supreme values.

    Paul, in his letter to the Romans, tells us that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God….When we cry, ‘Abba, Father,’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are God’s children….If we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”[v] We can share Christ’s service. We can share his love. We can share his joy. And we can share his sonship with God the Father.

    In the scripture passage from John, Jesus tells Nicodemus and us that if we are reborn of the Spirit, we will have eternal life. In John 20:17, the risen Jesus says, I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.

    So, my brothers and sisters, let us rejoice! We have been reborn, reborn by the spirit into eternal life! The Spirit has told us that we are God’s children, the children of the everlasting Father who loves each of us with an infinite love.

    If we are reborn of the Spirit, we know with certainty that, of all facts, God is the most real; of all truths, God is the most alive; of all friends, God is the most loving; and of all values, God is the most Divine.

  • 2013-05-30 11:03 AM | Daniel

    This morning I tumbled down a rabbit hole of divinely inspired social media. I always knew that I could connect with friends and acquaintances through Facebook and Twitter, but I hadn’t considered using those platforms to strengthen my connection to God. As it turns out the Internet offers ample opportunities to reach the divine.

    For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, Facebook and Twitter are different genres. They’re both social media, but each has its own emphasis. Facebook helps you keep up with friends, while Twitter is the place for pithy commentary on the world. God obviously knows the difference between the two.

    You can follow multiple Twitter accounts that claim to speak for God, and most of them tend to be fairly snarky. God attempts to tweet ironically, but unfortunately he’s not very funny. TheTweetOfGod tends to be a little cleverer and a lot angrier. He also seems to be very concerned with selling his snarky book. I’m not sure that TheTweetOfGod actually believes in himself. More than 500,000 people follow Jesus on Twitter, but I can’t figure out why. Though he attempts to be witty, his tweets don’t even make sense half the time.

    Facebook’s divine presences tend to be kinder, gentler deities. The Gods of Facebook like posting cute pictures. GodQuotes doesn’t really post very many quotations from God, but he does upload numerous pictures of landscapes. Nothing says “God” like light breaking through the clouds. Sometimes he mixes it up and gives us a picture of a cute child or a puppy. Don’t just settle for “liking” GodQuotes because you won’t want to miss out on God’s official page. This Facebook page specializes in scary pictures of Jesus coupled with inspirational sayings. Speaking of Jesus, don’t forget to check out Jesus Daily. This page delivers just the right mix of sentimentality, humor, and guilt.

    The Gods of Facebook tend to be a needy bunch. They shamelessly beg you to “like” all their kitsch. If you don’t “like” this picture then you’re not thanking God for love. Shame on you. But these Facebook pages are about more than liking to be liked. They also offer valuable opportunities. God’s Official Page and Jesus Daily both want you to get an online degree from Liberty University. Jesus Daily also hopes that you might pay for a program to get out of debt. Just to be clear, these aren’t Facebook ads; these are status updates containing affiliate links. Not that there’s anything wrong with affiliate links, but I’m just surprised that God needs the cash.

    After looking at all this divine social media, I have a suspicion that God isn’t actually running these accounts. Why don’t the Gods of social media sound like the God of the Bible? The Gods of Twitter are flippant, ironic, and snarky, and their counterparts on Facebook are earnest, heartfelt, and saccharine. Their messages either conform to contemporary culture or exhibit empty emotivity. Might it be that we tend to make God in our own image? It seems that these accounts tell us nothing about the Lord our God, but they tell us a great deal about what our culture wishes he were like.

  • 2013-05-10 11:00 AM | Daniel

    Elizabeth Prodromou, a former Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, has some harsh words for the commission’s annual report, issued last month. Prodromou sharply criticizes USCIRF and the entire US foreign policy team for ignoring human rights violations endured by Orthodox Christians in the Middle East.

    For example, Prodromou complains that neither the US Administration nor USCIRF (an independent agency) has issued a statement about the kidnapping in Syria last month, most likely by Islamists in the opposition, of two Orthodox bishops. The kidnapping of two bishops sends an ominous message to Syria’s Christians, and Prodromou is outraged that the US did not see fit to introduce a Security Council resolution condemning the kidnapping. Russia, she notes, did introduce such a resolution.

    I share Prodromou’s outrage about what is happening to Christians in Syria, most of whom are Orthodox, and her frustration at the West’s lack of attention to the problem. (This lack of attention is nothing new; the last US administration seemed more or less indifferent to the plight of Iraq’s Christians). But I’m not sure that official American statements would help the situation. Perversely, official expressions of concern from the outside often increase the danger for Christians in the Middle East. When Pope Benedict spoke about the obvious mistreatment of Copts a while ago, for example, Egypt withdrew its Vatican ambassador in protest. Things have not improved for the Copts since.

    Moreover, it’s not plain how much credibility US government statements have in Syria at the moment. The US has worked itself into a situation in which neither of the major players in the conflict, neither Assad nor the Islamists who dominate the opposition, have an incentive to listen to what the US says. I’m not suggesting the US and the West should ignore the plight of Syria’s Christians and leave them to their fate; not at all. I mean only that official statements, without the wherewithal to back them up, do little, and often backfire.

    Prodromou is on firmer ground when she criticizes the USCIRF report’s about-face on Turkey. Last year’s USCIRF report declared Turkey a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, a designation that signified that Turkey had an especially problematic record on religious freedom. This year’s report upgrades Turkey’s status from a CPC to a country that merely warrants monitoring. But, Prodromou notes, there hasn’t been any appreciable improvement of the situation for Orthodox Christians (and other religious minorities) in Turkey over the last year:

    By the USCIRF’s own report in 2013, Halki [a famous Greek Orthodox seminary] remains shuttered 42 years after its closing and 10-plus years into the Erdogan era; there has been no overhaul of the property rights regime used to economically disenfranchise the country’s Orthodox Christian citizens and strip Orthodox foundations of their lands, so that the USCIRF characterized random returns of property, as in the case of forest lands around Halki returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as “commendable” but “not codified by law.”  The 2013 USCIRF report also cited rising fear amongst Armenian Orthodox citizens of Turkey, because of hate crimes committed against members of their community, the most grotesquely emblematic case being that of an 84-year-old Armenian woman who was murdered in her Istanbul home with a cross carved into her chest.  The Commission obliquely commented that the “Turkish local police promptly launched investigations into three cases, but it is not known if any arrests have been made connected to any of these incidents.”

    It does seem very strange that a country could go from being a “country of particular concern” to one merely “worth watching” in the space of a year, especially a country with Turkey’s spotty religious-freedom record. In fact, four commissioners dissented from USCIRF’s decision, including current Vice Chair Mary Ann Glendon and Commissioner Robert P. George, both of whom are affiliated with First Things. USCIRF shouldn’t have named Turkey as a CPC in the first place, the dissenters wrote, but, having made that decision, USCIRF is now making the opposite mistake. “We believe that Turkey has not shown nearly enough improvement in addressing religious freedom violations over the past year to justify its promotion to the status of a country that is merely being monitored,” they explained. The dissenters would have placed Turkey in an intermediate category–among “Tier 2″ religious freedom violators, in the parlance of USCIRF.

    You can read Prodromou’s entire post at

  • 2013-05-10 10:59 AM | Daniel
    I once lost my car. I was living in Washington DC in an apartment. I had a car, but no garage or regular parking place, so I had to find parking on the street in a crowded neighborhood. There was no telling where I would find a space, and, of course, the location changed every day. As a rule, I was pretty good about remembering where I had parked, but one day, I did not see my car where I thought I had parked it.

     I walked up and down the block, on both sides. I walked around the block and looked in all the places I usually parked, but no car. Finally, I gave up. I decided the car must have been stolen. So I walked to the nearest police station, about eight blocks away, to report a stolen car. And--guess what?—while walking to the police station, I stumbled upon my car! You can imagine how happy I was. I was sure that it was lost, but now it was found!

    Today’s Gospel reading is the 15th chapter from Luke. At the beginning of the chapter, we are told that tax collectors and sinners are drawn to Jesus. And Jesus ate with these sinners, thus incurring the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes. The religion of the Pharisees and scribes sought to avoid contact with those they deemed sinners in order that they not be defiled. But, as Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” [Luke 19:10] God is even “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” [Luke 6:35]

     In response to the criticism of the Pharisees and the scribes, Jesus tells three parables about lostness. In the first parable, he tells of a shepherd who is missing one sheep from his flock of 100. The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in their pen and goes searching for the one lost sheep. And he finds it! When he does, “he takes it joyfully on his shoulders and goes home to call his friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me! I have found my lost sheep! In the same way, I tell you, there will be greater joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent.”

     This parable teaches that God goes in search of those who are lost. The fact that we are lost only stimulates God’s desire to find and save us.

     How many of you are shepherds? None? I thought so. But how many of you have had children?  Ah, most of you. If you went to the mall one day with your children and somehow one got separated from you, would you say, “Oh, well, I still have my other children” or would you go searching for the missing child? Of course, you would search for the missing child. Every one of your children is precious and you will not let any be lost.

     Then Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin. A woman who has 10 silver coins loses one, so she sweeps out the house and searches every nook and cranny—and she finds the missing coin. “And when she does, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says ‘rejoice with me! I have found the coin I lost.’” Jesus comments that “There is joy among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This story teaches that God searches diligently for those who are lost and rejoices when they are found.

     In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd goes in search of a sheep who has accidentally gotten lost. In the next parable, the parable of the lost or prodigal son, the son deliberately separates himself from his father’s family, goes off to a far land, and wastes the inheritance that he asked the father for in advance.

     But when the son comes to his senses and repents, he returns home in humility to ask that his father treat him like a hired servant. And what does he find? “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him. He ran to meet him, flung his arms around him and kissed him.” The father does not condemn or rebuke the son for his misdeeds, but simply rejoices that he has returned home. The father doesn’t even seem interested in his son’s confession—he cuts it off. Without any scolding, the father exults in the son’s return, clothing him in the finest robe and sandals, and putting a ring on his finger. He calls for a feast with the fatted calf and with joyous dancing.

     But when the older son returns from his day working in the field and finds out what is happening, he becomes angry and refuses to go inside. And, note: the father pleads, yes pleads with him to come join the party. But the son refuses. He complains that he has always been a good, obedient son, yet the father never threw a feast so that he could celebrate with his friends. The elder son is stubborn and full of pride. He has trouble accepting his father’s answer, “My boy you are always with me and everything I have is yours. How could we fail to celebrate this happy day? Your brother here was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and has been found.”

     The father in this parable is like the Father in heaven that Jesus revealed to us. At the center of Jesus’ gospel is the Father in heaven, who loves each of us with an infinite love. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” [Luke 12-32] Also, “Your heavenly Father knows what you need” [Matthew 6:32] and “The Father himself loves you.” [John 16:27] In the Gospel of John, after Jesus’ resurrection, he appears to Mary Magdalene and says, “Go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” [John 20:17] So God the Father is not only the Father of Jesus, but he is the loving Father of each one of us. This is the Good News that Jesus proclaims, and, by faith, we can realize this saving truth. Thanks be to God!

  • 2013-05-09 9:29 AM | Daniel
    Religion and Public Life

    in America

    R. R. Reno

    Editor, First Things

    The following is adapted from a speech delivered on

    February 20, 2013, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership

    Seminar in Bonita Springs, Florida.


    Religious Liberty is being redefined in America, or at least many would like it to be. Our secular establishment wants to reduce the autonomy of religious institutions and limit the influence of faith in the public square. The reason is not hard to grasp. In America, “religion” largely means Christianity, and today our secular culture views orthodox Christian churches as troublesome, retrograde, and reactionary forces. They’re seen as anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-women—which is to say anti-progress as the Left defines progress. Not surprisingly, then, the Left believes society will be best served if Christians are limited in their influence on public life. And in the short run this view is likely to succeed. There will be many arguments urging Christians to keep their religion strictly religious rather than “political.” And there won’t just be arguments; there will be laws as well. We’re in the midst of climate change—one that’s getting colder and colder toward religion.

    Recent court cases and controversies suggest trends unfriendly to religion in public life. In 2005, a former teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Michigan, filed an employment lawsuit claiming discrimination based on disability. The school fired her for violating St. Paul’s teaching that Christians should not bring their disputes before secular judges. The subsequent lawsuit revolved around the question of whether a religious school could invoke a religious principle to justify firing an employee. The school said it could, drawing on a legal doctrine known as the ministerial exception, which allows religious institutions wide latitude in hiring and firing their religious leaders. It’s in the nature of legal arguments to be complex and multi-layered, but in this case the Obama administration’s lawyers made a shockingly blunt argument: Their brief claimed that there should be no ministerial exception.

    The Supreme Court rejected this argument in a unanimous 9-0 vote. But it’s telling nonetheless that lawyers in the Justice Department wanted to eliminate this exception. Their argument was straightforward: Government needs to have broad powers to address the problem of discrimination—in this case disability—as well as other injustices. Conceding too much to religious institutions limits those powers. Why should the theological doctrines of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, or of any other church, trump the legal doctrines of the United States when the important principle of nondiscrimination is at stake? It is an arresting question, to say the least—especially when we remember that the Left is currently pushing to add gay marriage to the list of civil rights.

    Concerns about the autonomy of religious institutions are also at work in the Obama administration’s tussle with the Catholic Church and her religious allies over the mandate to provide free contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. After the initial public outcry, the administration announced a supposed compromise, which has been recently revised and re-proposed. The Obama administration allows that churches and organizations directly under the control of those churches are religious employers and can opt out of the morally controversial coverage. But religious colleges and charities are not and cannot. To them, the administration offers a so-called accommodation.

    The details are complex, but a recent statement issued by Cardinal Dolan of New York identifies the key issue: Who counts as a religious employer? It’s a question closely related to the issue in the Hosanna-Tabor case, which asks who counts as a religious employee. Once again the Obama administration seeks a narrow definition, “accommodating” others in an act of lèse majesté, as it were. The Catholic Church and her allies want a broad definition that includes Catholic health care, Catholic universities, and Catholic charities. The Church knows that it cannot count on accommodations—after all, when various states such as Illinois passed laws allowing gay adoptions, they did not “accommodate” Catholic charities, but instead demanded compliance with principles of non-discrimination, forcing the Church to shut down her adoption agencies in those jurisdictions.

    Cardinal Dolan’s statement went still further. For-profit companies are not religious in the way that Notre Dame University is religious. Nonetheless, the religious beliefs of those who own and run businesses in America should be accorded some protection. This idea the Obama administration flatly rejects. By their progressive way of thinking, economic life should be under the full and unlimited control of the federal government.

    Religious liberty is undermined in a third and different way as well. For a long time, political theorists like John Rawls have argued that our laws must be based on so-called public reason, which is in fact an ambiguous, ill-defined concept that gives privileged status to liberalism. In 2010, Federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8—the ballot measure that reversed the California Supreme Court’s 2006 decision that homosexuals have a right to marry—citing the lack of a rational basis for thinking that only men and women can marry. “The evidence shows conclusively,” he wrote, “that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.” He continues by observing that many supporters of Proposition 8 were motivated by their religious convictions, which—following Rawls—he presumes should not be allowed to govern public law.

    This line of thinking is not unique to Judge Walker. The influence of Rawls has been extensive, leading to restrictions on the use of religious reasons or even religiously-influenced reasons in public debate. In striking down Texas sodomy laws, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that moral censure of homosexuality has “been shaped by religious beliefs.” The idea seems to be that moral views historically supported by religion—which of course means all moral views other than modern secular ones—are constitutionally suspect.

    Here we come to the unifying feature of contemporary challenges to religious freedom—the desire to limit the influence of religion over public life. In the world envisioned by Obama administration lawyers, churches will have freedom as “houses of worship,” but unless they accept the secular consensus they can’t inspire their adherents to form institutions to educate and serve society in accordance with the principles of their faith. Under a legal regime influenced by the concept of public reason, religious people are free to speak—but when their voices contradict the secular consensus, they’re not allowed into our legislative chambers or courtrooms.

    Thus our present clashes over religious liberty. The Constitution protects religious liberty in two ways. First, it prohibits laws establishing a religion. This prevents the dominant religion from using the political power of majority rule to privilege its own doctrines to the disadvantage of others. Second, it prohibits laws that limit the free exercise of religion. What we’re seeing today is a secular liberalism that wants to expand the prohibition of establishment to silence articulate religious voices and disenfranchise religiously motivated voters, and at the same time to narrow the scope of free exercise so that the new secular morality can reign over American society unimpeded.

    Rise of the Nones

    This shift in legal thinking on the Left reflects underlying religious trends. As the religious character of our society changes, so do our assumptions about religious freedom. The main change has been the rise of the Nones. In the 1950s, around three percent of Americans checked the “none” box when asked about their religious affiliation. That number has grown, especially in the last decade, to 20 percent of the population. And Nones are heavily represented in elite culture. A great deal of higher education is dominated by Nones, as are important cultural institutions, the media, and Hollywood. They are conscious of their power, and they feel the momentum of their growth.

    At the same time, the number of Americans who say they go to church every week has remained strikingly constant over the last 50 years, at around 35percent. Sociologists of religion think this self-reported number is higher than the actual one, which may be closer to 25 percent. In any event, the social reality is the same. As the Nones have emerged as a significant cohort, the committed core of religious people has not declined and in fact has become unified and increasingly battle tested. Protestants and Catholics alike know they’re up against an often hostile secular culture—and although a far smaller portion of the population, the same holds for Jews and Muslims as well.

    These two trends—the rise of the Nones and the consolidation of the committed core of believers—have led to friction in public life. The Nones and religious Americans collide culturally and politically, not just theologically.

    For a long time, the press has reported on the influence of religious voters, especially Evangelicals. Polling data shows that religiosity has become increasingly reliable as a predictor of political loyalties. But what’s far less commonly reported is that this goes both ways. In their recent book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert Putnam and William Campbell focused on the practice of saying grace before meals as an indication of religious commitment and found a striking correlation. Seventy percent of those who never say grace before meals identify as Democrats, compared to slightly more than 20 percent who identify as Republicans. Nones are extremely ideological. Meanwhile, among those who say grace daily, 40 percent identify as Democrats and 50 percent as Republicans. Religious people are more diverse, but they trend to the political right, and the more religious they are the more likely they are to vote Republican.

    Other data also suggests a growing divide between the irreligious and religious. A recent Pew study confirms that Nones are the single most ideologically committed cohort of white Americans, rivaled only by Evangelical Protestants. They overwhelmingly support abortion and gay marriage. Seventy-five percent of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and they played a decisive role in his victory in 2012. In Ohio, Obama lost the Protestant vote by three percent and the Catholic vote by eleven percent—and both numbers rise if we isolate Protestants and Catholics who say they go to church every week. But he won the Nones, who make up 12 percent of the electorate in Ohio, by an astounding 47 percent.

    I think it’s fair to say that Obama ran a values campaign last fall that gambled that the Nones would cast the decisive votes. For the first time in American political history, the winning party deliberately attacked religion. Its national convention famously struck God from the platform, only to have it restored by anxious party leaders in a comical session characterized by the kind of frivolity that comes when people recognize that it doesn’t really matter. Democratic talking points included the “war on women” and other well-crafted slogans that rallied their base, the Nones, who at 24 percent of all Democrat and Democratic-leaning voters have become the single largest identifiable cohort in the liberal coalition.

    This presents the deepest threat to religious liberty today. It’s not good when the most numerous and powerful constituency in the Democratic Party has no time for religion. This is all the more true when its ideology has the effect of encouraging the rest of the party to view religion—especially Christianity—as the enemy; and when law professors provide reasons why the Constitution doesn’t protect religious people.

    Religious Liberty Under the Gun

    From the end of the Civil War until the 1960s, the wealthiest, best educated, and most powerful Americans remained largely loyal to Christianity. That’s changed. There were warning signs. William F. Buckley, Jr. chronicled how Yale in the early ’50s could no longer support even the bland religiosity of liberal Protestantism. Today, Yale and other elite institutions can be relied upon to provide anti-Christian propaganda. Stephen Pinker and Stephen Greenblatt at Harvard publish books

    that show how Christianity pretty much ruins everything, as Christopher Hitchens put it so bluntly. The major presses publish book after book by scholars like Elaine Pagels at Princeton, who argues that Christianity is for the most part an invention of power hungry bishops who suppressed the genuine diversity and spiritual richness of early followers of Jesus.


    One can dispute the accuracy of the books, articles, and lectures of these and other authors. This is necessary, but unlikely to be effective. Experts savaged Greenblatt’s book on Lucretius, The Swerve, but it won the National Book Award for non-fiction. That’s not an accident. Greenblatt and others at elite universities are serving an important ideological purpose by using their academic authority to discredit Christianity, whose adherents are obstacles not only to abortion and gay

    rights, but to medical research unrestricted by moral concerns about the use of fetal tissue, to new reproductive technologies, to doctor-assisted suicide, and in general to liquefying traditional moral limits so that they can be reconstructed according to the desires of the Nones. Books by these elite academics reassure the Nones and their fellow travelers that they are not opposed to anything good or even respectable, but rather to historic forms of oppression, ignorance, and prejudice.

    I cannot overstate the importance of these ideological attacks on Christianity. Our Constitution accords us rights, and the courts cannot void these rights willy-nilly. But history shows that the Constitution is a plastic document. When our elite culture thinks something is bad for society as a whole, judges find ways to suppress it. The First Amendment offered no protection to Bob Jones University, which lost its tax-exempt status because of a policy that prohibited inter-racial dating. As the Supreme Court majority in 1983 wrote in that case: “Government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education . . . which substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on [the University’s] exercise of their religious beliefs.”

    In recent years the Supreme Court has been largely solicitous of religious freedom, sensing perhaps that our cultural conflicts over religion and morality need to be kept within bounds. But the law professors are preparing the way for changes. Martha Nussbaum, who teaches at the University of Chicago Law School, has opined that the colleges and universities run by Catholic religious orders that require their presidents or other leaders to be members of the order should lose their tax exempt status, because they discriminate against women. She allows that current interpretations of the First Amendment don’t support her view, but that’s not much comfort. All Nussbaum is doing is applying the logic of the Bob Jones case to the feminist project of eradicating discrimination based on sex.

    Former Georgetown law professor Chai Feldblum—who is also a current Obama appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—has written about the coming conflicts between gay rights and religious liberty. With an admirable frankness she admits, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.” Again, the Bob Jones case is in the background, as are other aspects of civil rights law designed to stamp out racial discrimination. For someone like Feldblum, when religious individuals and institutions don’t conform to the new consensus about sexual morality, their freedoms should be limited.

    It is precisely the possibilities evoked by Nussbaum and Feldblum that now motivate the Obama administration’s intransigence about allowing places like Notre Dame to be classified as religious employers. In the Bob Jones case, the justices were very careful to stipulate that “churches or other purely religious institutions” remain protected by the First Amendment’s principle of free exercise. By “accommodating” rather than counting Notre Dame and other educational and charitable organizations as religious employers, secular liberalism can target them in the future, as they have done to Catholic adoption agencies that won’t place children with homosexual couples. A recent book by University of Chicago professor of philosophy and law Brian Leiter outlines what I believe will become the theoretical consensus that does away with religious liberty in spirit if not in letter. “There is no principled reason,” he writes, “for legal or constitutional regimes to single out religion for protection.” Leiter describes religious belief as a uniquely bad combination of moral fervor and mental blindness, serving no public good that justifies special protection. More significantly—and this is Leiter’s main thesis—it is patently unfair to afford religion such protection. Why should a Catholic or a Baptist have a special right while Peter Singer, a committed utilitarian, does not? Evoking the principle of fairness, Leiter argues that everybody’s conscience should be accorded the same legal protections. Thus he proposes to replace religious liberty with a plenary “liberty of conscience.”

    Leiter’s argument is libertarian. He wants to get the government out of the business of deciding whose conscience is worth protecting. This mentality seems to expand freedom, but that’s an illusion. In practice it will lead to diminished freedom, as is always the case with any thoroughgoing libertarianism.

    Let me give an example. The urban high school my son attended strictly prohibits hats and headgear. It does so in order to keep gang-related symbols and regalia out of the school. However, the school recognizes a special right of religious freedom, and my son, whose mother is Jewish and who was raised as a Jew, was permitted to wear a yarmulke. Leiter’s argument prohibits this special right, but his alternative is unworkable. The gang members could claim that their deep commitments of loyalty to each other create a conscientious duty to wear gang regalia. If everybody’s conscience must be respected, then nobody’s will be, for order and safety must be preserved.

    * * *

    The Arabic word dhimmi means non-Muslim. Under Muslim rule, non-Muslims were allowed to survive only insofar as they accepted Muslim dominance. Our times are not those times, and the secularism of the Nones is not Islam. Nevertheless, I think many powerful forces in America would like to impose a soft but real dhimmitude. The liberal and Libertarian Nones will quarrel, as do the the Shi’a and Sunni, but they will, I think, largely unify against the public influence of religion.

     What can be done to prevent them from succeeding?

    First and most obvious—defend religious liberty in the courts. Although I have depicted deep cultural pressures that work against religious liberty, we live in a society governed by the rule of law. Precedent matters, and good lawyering can make a substantive difference.

    Second—fight against the emerging legal theories that threaten to undermine religious liberty. This is a battle to be carried out in the law schools and among political theorists. For decades, legal activists on the Left have been subsidized by legal clinics and special programs run in law schools. Defenders of religious liberty need to push back.

    Third—fight the cultural battle. Legal theory flexes and bends in accord with the dominant consensus. This Brian Leiter knows, which is why he does not much worry about the current state of constitutional law. He goes directly to the underlying issues, which concern the role of religion in public life.

    We must meet the challenge by showing that religion is indeed special. Religious people are the most likely Americans to be involved in civic life, and the most generous in their charitable contributions. This needs to be highlighted again and again. Moreover, we need to draw a contrast with the Nones, who tend to outsource their civic responsibilities and charitable obligations to government in the form of expanded government programs and higher taxes.

    There is another, deeper argument that must be made in defense of religion: It is the most secure guarantee of freedom. America’s Founders, some of them Christian and others not, agreed as a matter of principle that the law of God trumps the law of men. This has obvious political implications: The Declaration of Independence appeals to the unalienable rights given by our Creator that cannot be overridden or taken away. In this sense, religion is especially beneficial. As Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both emphasized, it gives transcendent substance to the rights of man that limit government. Put somewhat differently, religion gives us a place to

    stand outside politics, and without it we’re vulnerable to a system in which the state defines everything, which is the essence of tyranny. This is why gay marriage, which is sold as an expansion of freedom, is in fact a profound threat to liberty.

    Finally, we must not accept a mentality of dhimmitude. The church, synagogue, and mosque have a tremendous solidity born of a communion of wills fused together in obedience to God. This gives people of faith the ability to fight with white fury for what they perceive to be a divine cause, which is of course a great force for righteousness—but also a dangerous threat to social peace, as early modern Europe knew only too well.

    In conclusion, I want to focus not on fury but on the remarkable capacity for communities of faith to endure. My wife’s ancestors lived for generations in the contested borderlands of Poland and Russia. As Jews they were tremendously vulnerable, and yet through their children and their children’s children they endured in spite of discrimination, violence, and attempted genocide. Where now, I ask, are the Russian and Polish aristocrats who dominated them for centuries? Where now is the Thousand Year Reich? Where now is the Soviet worker’s paradise? They have gone to dust. The Torah is still read in the synagogue.

    The same holds for Christianity. The Church did not need constitutional protections in order to take root in a hostile pagan culture two thousand years ago.

     Right now the Nones seem to have the upper hand in America. But what seems powerful is not always so. If I had to bet on Harvard or the Catholic Church, Yale or the Mennonites in Goshen, Indiana, the New York Times or yeshivas in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t hesitate. Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.

  • 2013-03-31 9:27 AM | Daniel

    These books are collections of sermons from early and late in the career of possibly the most influential liberal churchman in American history. Histories of religious thought in America often speak of a decline in the influence of liberal theology following World War I and/or following the Great Depression, but this preacher had a radio program that was heard nationwide for decades during and after the Depression.

    Fosdick was a Baptist who happened to be hired by New York’s First Presbyterian Church and became well known as a preacher and writer there, from 1918 to 1924. He is credited with having coined the term “fundamentalism,” and waged a very public battle with it in the 1920s (The Living of These Days: An Autobiography [Harper, 1956] 144&ndasndash;76). Asked by the Presbyterian General Assembly to pledge his acceptance of Presbyterian creed, he resigned his post, writing that such “creedal subscription” was “dangerous” to individual integrity (Living, 172). He went on to an even more prominent position at the non-denominational Riverside Church in Manhattan, where he preached until 1946. He also taught at Union Theological Seminary. His books were read by millions, but he was most well-known for his program on NBC radio for 19 years.

    The sermons collected in these books are persuasive, accessible, and moving. Fosdick brings out essential aspects of the gospel without being pedantic, and speaks of Christian character without becoming moralistic. If “liberal” means an emphasis on growth, experience, and the responsible use of freedom, then Fosdick’s liberalism is clear from beginning to end. The first sermon, “Adventurous Religion,” identifies the gospel as a way of living, not a doctrinal system. “Discipleship was a costly spiritual exploit [that] required insight and bravery” (Adventurous, 2). Over time, faith “was increasingly drained of its vital elements” and turned into creeds and institutions “awaiting only the credence of the faithful” (3-4). Removal of creativity from the spiritual life is fatal, and a reformation is needed every time it happens. The religion of Jesus is not about passive acceptance.

    “Moral Autonomy or Downfall” affirms the values of inward thoughtfulness and responsibility. Our problem, in America, is not our lack of science, technology, or external structures, but a lack of good inner direction and self-control. This problem is made worse by a materialism that tells us we are mere collections of atoms, “mechanically determined” (27). Fosdick could be speaking to our own generation when he says that churches need to counter this depressing belief with “the internal world, with its possibilities of goodness, truth, and beauty,” and take seriously “the vital needs of their generation” (28-29).

    The essay “I Believe in Man” effectively makes the point that what got Jesus in trouble was not his belief in God (his enemies had that) but his belief in humanity, his “seeing people in terms of their possibilities” (34). Fosdick takes this to a new level, arguing that “this attitude of Jesus . . . is one of the major springs of Western democracy,” as it affirms the potential of ordinary people (35). Such connections are not argued systematically, but this is a book of sermons, not an academic work, and it works here. Fosdick assumes an intelligent reader who can follow his occasional leaps.

    Science and religion is the subject of several sermons. Fosdick’s father had no difficulty believing in evolution (107), and Fosdick refuses to believe that “evolution crowds out God” (123). God may work through “slow gradation” (126). The advances of science do not replace religion’s uniqueness, its “warm confidence that something abides forever, grows and bears fruit” (182).

    Liberalism and modernism are the themes of the last third of the book. Religious liberalism will only thrive through a “deepening of the spiritual life” and by clarifying what it affirms, not what it denies (240). Modernism arose as a critique, but to abide “it must pass through protest to production” (273–74). The last two sermons are on modern religious leadership and reformation. “The Master’s spirit has not divided Christians” though theories about him have (326).

    The later book affirms the same values, but deals with complexities more deeply. “A Religion That Really Gets Us” returns to the dichotomy of creedalism and lived religion, but this time he gives creeds and institutions their due. They provide “some steady truth” in “a chaotic society” (What Is Vital, 56). Further, conservative religion affirms transcendent realities and can speak against those who would reduce man to a thing, as did the Bishop of Berlin against the “terrible creed” of Nazism (58). Fosdick argues that the battle against tyranny is also a battle against mechanistic philosophy, to which Christianity answers “man is the child of the Eternal Spirit,” and so “love is the law of life” (63). There is such a thing as objective religious truth, and it does not imprison the mind, any more than does scientific truth (64).

    The next two sermons stress that honesty of character is essential; belief is not enough; “only the pure in heart can see God” (70). Even honest doubt and inquiry are valuable: “the sturdiest faith has always come out of the struggle with doubt” (91).

    “Conservative and Liberal Temperaments in Religion” brilliantly uses the ark of the covenant as an illustration of the tendency to over-value symbols. Joshua thought God dwelt in the ark of the covenant, but Jeremiah was more advanced when he said we no longer need the ark nor even its memory (75). Differing views of the ark simply cannot be “iron[ed] out to one level” (77). There is such a thing as progress in religion. We all have an ark, a “special doctrine [or] ritual, some special theory of the Atonement” that acts like a fetish for us (83). This is not despicable, since genuine faith is involved. The symbols are like trellises around which our faith has grown. Liberalism makes a big mistake when it wants to smash all arks, because it will also be smashing the faith that has grown up around them. Some liberalism would cleanse religion with an acid that eats away religion itself, but we need a cleanser that does not destroy (84).

    Fosdick remains liberal in the 1955 collection (progress is still necessary), but he has come to respect conservative instincts. He notices that “we Christians are separated by our creeds and rituals but are united by our prayers and hymns” (86), and gives examples from Unitarian, Catholic, and Quaker hymns.

    The intriguing title “The Danger of Going to Church” pays off with an indictment of mind-numbing types of religion. Worship may give needed peace, but “it is not a lullaby. . . . I want some ethical consequences from our worship” (138). Instead, we often get a focus on appearances, adoration of popular preachers, or sectarian snobbery (135). It is religious people in Nazareth who are ready to kill Jesus after he speaks of God’s grace toward “Syrians and Sidonians” (134), and it is the religious who hurry by without helping the wounded, in the Good Samaritan story.

    In “A Religion to Support Democracy” Fosdick returns to an earlier theme, but with a sobered awareness that “democracy stands now in critical peril” (199). Democracy depends upon the continuous renewal of certain spiritual factors; its enemy is not external, but an internal loss of certain “ideas and qualities,” the loss of “a religion that dignifies personality” (200). Democracy “trusts people with freedom to think,” and utters the revolutionary view “that the state exists primarily for the sake of persons,” not vice versa, but Jesus had first established the principle that “it is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish” (201). Jesus is one of our essential sources for the valuation of persons: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”; Fosdick says “our democracy has sprung from two main sources: early Greek experiments with popular government and Christ’s emphasis on the worth of persons” (202). Democracy is not simply the rule of the majority, which can also happen in a dictatorship, but is rather the respect for minorities, which one does not see in communist or fascist states (204). But democracy is in danger when character and public-spiritedness are in decline (209).

    The next sermon states that the mature are those who begin to build—and are able to finish (215). But this can then lead to “The Temptations of Maturity”—complacency and pride (216). On the other side there is the temptation of sad bitterness (218). What is the secret of staying power, of sustained dignity?—“Creative faith” (219).

    Finally, in “Faith and Immortality.” Fosdick argues that immortality is an inseparable part of the gospel. “Many cannot believe it” because they do not accept the Christian philosophy itself (222–24), which asserts that life is about always finding more truth, more goodness, and especially more love; we do not have a “God of unfinished business” (229–30). “Without faith in immortality, a closed door is the ultimate symbol of this universe” (231).

    This review may seem, to some readers, to be too full of quotes, but surely a good sermon inspires thought as well as faith, and this was the best way to show that these sermons do both. Whether first uttered 55 or 85 years ago, these sermons still possess that power. Stimulated by their logic and their passion, I found myself imagining my own ways of elaborating these truths.

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