Off Topic – Prompted by Jonathan’s Remarks

Jonathan’s post reminded me of my daughter’s remarks this afternoon about her acquaintances and our musings about an increasingly polarized student body – the religious and the anti-religious. In the sixties, we weren’t religious but valued it. Today, students are either fervently anti-religious or, more often, quite religious. This may be place – the Midwest isn’t Texas – but I suspect it’s temporal as well.

A more conservative version of Judaism attracts some of our friends. My daughter says the Missouri Synod attracts more Lutherans in her Lutheran city; here the Westminster Presbyterian grows and PCUSA loses ground.

This summer, a family member, newly graduated from the Presbyterian seminar, married in Louisville. Her husband was Jewish; both were Chicago alums. That weekend PCUSA voted for divestment from Israel. His family seemed quite happy with wedding & bride – as was the bride’s with the groom; the church welcomed both. By any standards, they were extraordinary – sweet, good even, well educated, attractive, in love. Perhaps her political and theological choices (strongly pro-Obama, strongly pro-gay marriage – which also triumphed at that week’s general assembly) will enliven the moribund church she is prepared to serve. I have my doubts.

Still, around me is energy – Hillel is enlarging. Catholics & Baptists marched & prayed & finally Planned Parenthood closed. The guys renting the house across the street politely informed us they were hosting a religious musical event; as they promised, it quieted at 10 & the cars parked for blocks slowly pulled out. My students (jr college, open admissions) read without being required Marsden’s biography of Edwards for their papers – they are hungry for that meat. And many want to talk of C. S. Lewis. The college speaker last spring was Mary Eberstadt. Her book could be more charming, but its validity is obvious in the young and fecund marriages of evangelicals and fervent Catholics.

The splits aren’t just political; this split may be as meaningful as any other. I’m pretty much an observer. Still and all, as I listen to one of my friends who protests she doesn’t believe and one whose beliefs are central to every moment of her life, I find their ideas merge – both respect the human spirit, the exceptional nature of American experience, the importance of love and the nuclear family, self-reliance. Both cherish grandchildren and capitalism, free markets and free speech.

If we begin there, in terms of public policy if not theology, the differences can be bridged – they did it in the 1770’s. But if these differences become hardened and disrespectful – the country will be endangered. That divide could be greater – more disastrous – than the political or economic. We see disrespect today. But I don’t in these two. The core beliefs of our history (& the sects that defined that history) was the priority of the individual spirit and individual interpretation. That respect continues to build the necessary bridges.

10 thoughts on “Off Topic – Prompted by Jonathan’s Remarks”

  1. I hope you are right Ginny. A lot of churches in the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches are deciding to split and of course the issue is money. Who owns the grounds – the people from the church who built it or the central office.

    How were th4e churches split during the 1770s? Tory vs Patriot? If that was the only schism it isn’t as deep as the current split, which is doctrinal.

    Each side thinks the other side is nuts.

  2. When I went to visit my (very German) grandparents in northern Wisconsin over the summers, we attended their Lutheran (ELCA) church – which was quite the culture shock for a young boy who was raised as a Baptist. As I got older I started asking why they preferred that particular “branch” of Lutheranism over Missouri or Wisconsin synod. They replied that “we attend this church because it is the only one in town”. For some reason I always remembered that and thought it funny.

  3. Time to remember the “Black Robed Regiments” of the Revolution. Preachers knew the essential truths of individual liberty having come from places with state religion and actively promoted revolution. How would the global warming, liberal piety types of todays Congregational Churches handle real crisis?

  4. I’m guessing that by “Eberstadt” you mean Mary Eberstadt, but I am not sure which book of hers you are referring to. “How the West . . “? “Adam and Eve . . “? Or some other?

    Fixing the link would help, but I am hoping you will say a sentence or two more about the book, and why you see it as importatnt.

  5. “How would the global warming, liberal piety types of todays Congregational Churches handle real crisis?”

    After some reflection I have decided that they’ll fight.

    The radical New England zealots were indeed the vanguard of the War of Independence, but it was the
    Dutch Congregationalists, engaging in guerrilla war in New Jersey where Loyalists and roving Hessians alike made passivity and retreat reasonable options, who provided much of the war effort’s commitment, dynamism, and endurance while fighting in the contested middle ground.

    They too were prosperous and settled, and there was much doubt from the organized Continental Army whether they were capable of doing anything or who their allegiances were really with. The asymmetric nature of the effort made going backwards and sideways in order to go forward essential. It was fought by people who walked amongst and served the enemy by day, and then ambushed them by night. And after the initial Forage War of 1877, the British returned to New York and the enemy were increasingly Loyalists. For the remainder of the war, New Jersey was the site of essentially a guerrilla civil war.

    The British also doubted the staid Jersey Dutchmen would continue to fight, and they counted on a reconciliation. Like most subsequent adversaries, they never grasped the true nature of middle Americans occupying neutral ground. While they prefer commonality and crave familiarity, they will never accept submission – to tyranny or crisis – and will always rally, one way or the other, to defeat it.

  6. Jim, Yes and sorry I’m so rusty on linkage. It seems to me that “How the West. . .” was given to strange structures and a kind of hectoring argument style (perhaps it reminded me too much of the products of Creighton Jesuits who argued with me in my youth). Anyway, if a reader wasn’t too put off by the tone, she seemed right – that the desire to reproduce and faith are wrapped together in a mutually supportive way. and not having children was as likely to damage church attendance as not attending church was likely to damage procreation.

    Beneath it all also seemed to me a natural law argument for having children and the role of the traditional marriage. Reading it last summer, I could see why church membership was down in some churches and why some resisted gay marriage – it undercuts that powerful connection with nature.

    Yes, I’ve seen gay relationships that have a strength few heterosexual ones have and that have outlasted heterosexual ones by decades – I recognize this as a good thing. And that society as a whole should support such commitments. But, on the other hand, if we see marriage as merely an expression of romantic love we are pretty much dooming it. And with it some of the great strengths that Lex writes of and Morgan sees in the first generations and Murray sees as bringing productivity and happiness centuries later.

  7. Religious Liberty is only one of the things we’ll lose if we don’t first fight then win.

    But they’ll be no religious peace of Liberty that will last without separation of school and State. Once the Yankees won the Revolution completely in 1865 [yes] the Yankee Schoolhouse spread across the land. That it was very generic mainstream consensus Protestantism does not change it was and remains religion. That the consensus was smashed 50 years ago is why we are arguing about everything, including and especially religion.

    Without separation of school and state we’ll have no religious peace, for indeed Progressivism remains Protestant [even if it’s not your Protestant] and is in conflict with other faiths. What we have now is Constitutional and legal Religious Liberty in non-violent [so far] Holy War with the State and it’s new, militant atheism at every point of contact.

    To those that say no religion in the public square, point out they acknowledge nor practice any limits on the public spaces. It’s quite all theirs as far as they concerned, and they’ll be no Christianity with Christ in it as far as they’re concerned.

  8. As far as Tyranny and fighting, it’s not likely they’ll challenge the entire nation to a gunfight. In particular when justification for “downsizing” and the mechanisms to do it are quite legally at hand.

    That’s what the horrible debt is for.

    Understand your death warrant will be an eviction and seizure of property for bad debts, not some lurid Gestapo or Gulag fantasy, with you and your neighbors fighting as partisans.

    They don’t want the People. They’ve made this very clear in word, print and above all policy.

    They want the resources. Guerrilla warfare will work as well for Americans as it did for the Indians, it didn’t at all once the East Coast decided to get rid of all of them.

  9. Ginny – Thanks much. (The missing link is a mistake I make about once every two weeks, so I’m not critical of others who do the same.)

    And I appreciate your description of the book, which sounds interesting, though perhaps not interesting enough to make it into my enormous to-read-some-time pile. I’ll have to see if I can find an article by her that makes the same points, at less length

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