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.