Chesterton said that when people stop believing in God they do not believe in nothing, they believe in everything. That dictum is well illustrated in postsecular America. "Flying saucers have become big again," Ehud Sperling, president of Inner Traditions, told Publishers Weekly (June 14). "There is renewed interest in psychedelics.
Sidney E. Mead died this summer at age 94. With Sidney Ahlstrom he dominated the study of American religious history a generation or two ago. When Mead, along with Jerald Brauer, invited me to study at the University of Chicago, I was 26 years old and had not spent an hour on what became my own teaching field for 35 years, American religion.
Protestants used to joke about denominational differences. They don't anymore, maybe because most don't know what makes the denominations different from one another, and thus can't provide fodder for jokes. Catholics used to joke about religious orders.
In his influential Theory of Justice John Rawls speaks of a "difference principle," a way of legitimizing social differences. He imagines people in "an original position" in which they do not know their ultimate social positions.
Question: who are Crombie Taylor, Lyndon Lyon, Paul Sacher, John Tigrett, Waldo Semon, Ed Peterson and James Blades? Do you recognize any of their names? Let's look around us. On almost everyone's list of the ten greatest architectural achievements in America is Chicago's Auditorium Theatre. Louis Sullivan designed it.
The Ten Commandments may soon, by decree, be posted on public school walls. Burnt into wood or graven as images in stone, or merely inked, they will contribute to American moral security. Soft-headed liberals react by pointing out how many Americans are left out by such government endorsements of a particular faith. Many schools have Muslim majorities.
Knowledge of the finer points of theology is neither irrelevant nor a luxury. Lack of that knowledge can entail great risk and expense. A case in point: Suppose you are a woman capable of conceiving a child. Suppose you read that an insurance company will insure you against "immaculate conception." You fill out the forms and send in the money.
Daniel Klaidman made a naïve comment about special prosecutor Kenneth Starr in Newsweek (April 12). I assure you this is not a column about Starr; I don't do politics on this page. It's about Klaidman's assumptions, evident in this comment: "Starr would like to return to the comforts of a prestigious law firm or the tranquillity of academia."
Institutions, like individuals, go through passages and need rites for them. We do not often talk about the inner life of the Christian Century, but when we have an editorial change, it seems right to observe the passage.
Our dictionaries are too small. We do not have nearly enough words to name the realities around us. My 12-volume Oxford English Dictionary and two supplements are too spare. We have to keep recombining words to express what we find in God's rich world.
The Rev. Seminarian Chad Foster wrote a letter to U.S. News & World Report (April 5) and reverently signed it as just described. The usage was new to me. Have you ever seen a seminarian "reverendized"? The designation set me to doing some research.
It was a major event in American Protestantism when, in 1933, Douglas Horton translated Karl Barth's The Word of God and the Word of Man, just as it was when Walter Marshall Horton, formerly a liberal, wrote his own Realistic Theology." Hang on to that sentence from my Righteous Empire (Dial, 1970). I have to prove that I can tell the Hortons apart.
Nothing's sacred. Those of us who look for continuity in culture have always known that we could count on certain trademarks and products. Coca-Cola was there for the ages, as unchanging as the Catholic Church seemed prior to Vatican II. But Catholicism changed and so did Coca-Cola.
Among the church bulletin misprints you readers have sent us recently was one from a church in Livonia, Michigan, which had this "Question for Godparents": "Do you promise to support and encourage the parents in their convenient vows?" (That might be good for grown-ups in both parties in Washington, D.C.)
Every Month I look forward to reading "St. Paul Journey," the newsletter of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. I turn first to Peter W. Marty's "Pastor's Column," of course. Last month the columnist alerted readers to something I had not known about before and believe will help my readers.
Decades ago I heard someone from IBM project computer size. In the 1950s, he said, it took a whole building to house one that punched holes in cards. In the 1960s, a computer would fit into a single room, duly air-conditioned. By the 1970s the reductions would continue, and a computer would fit on a desk.