It is a distinct honor when someone as lettered as Leon Wieseltier takes one on in public, as he does in “Dumbing Religion Down in the New York Times,” published October 24 in The New Republic. He does seem to have written this essay in one of his grumpier moods. He accused me of proselytizing for religion (or, to capture the tenor of the critique, of turning The New York Times into a Pentecostal tent revival, as one of my own readers, Jon Bialecki, pointed out). That’s not my understanding of the intent of my columns or of my work. I see myself as pointing out that an activity which makes many readers of The New York Times spit nails—or at least shake their heads in bafflement—has something to recommend it. I mostly ignore the politics because, while there is much to say about the political swing of many evangelicals, sharp writers like those who appear in The New Republic and The New York Times already say it well. But there is nothing inherently right-wing about evangelical religion and there are a lot of left-wing evangelicals to prove it. My goal, instead, is to follow the lead of one of the great founders of anthropology, Emile Durkheim, who said that we could not understand religion if we began with the premise that religion was founded on a lie. He did not mean that God was real (he was a devout atheist). He meant that if we wanted to understand why religion is so palpably important to so many people, we need not to begin with the assumption that they are idiots.
Posts Tagged ‘faith’
In his new publication, The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable, Robert Wuthnow conducted more than two hundred interviews with people of various faiths in order to analyze how middle class Americans juggle the relationship between faith and reason.
Faith in the Five Boroughs is a documentary film project that focuses on the religious lives of New York City immigrants.
Recently, Religion News Service reported that President Obama had appointed the first Mormon member to his faith-based advisory council.
The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the Center on Philanthropy, Indiana University, is currently fielding applications for the 2012 Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.
On September 17, protesters heeded the call to occupy Wall Street and set up camp in a semi-public park in downtown Manhattan’s Financial District that is once again known as Liberty Plaza. In the roughly three weeks since the Occupy Wall Street protests began, several commentators have begun reflecting on the place of faith in the movement. The meditation area on Liberty Plaza is only the most overt of the influences of faith or spirituality on the protest movement.
It was difficult all along to conceive of religion (its ritual practices, mystical unions, or attractions and immersions of any other kind) without at the same time postulating or affirming a distancing—reflective or speculative, in case hypothetico-skeptical—stance vis-à-vis the world and life-world in all its worldly aspects. Religion, throughout the text of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, meant “engagement” and “disengagement” in theoretical, practical, and, more broadly, existential matters at once. To the very heart of religious belief there belongs not only an affirmation, but also a suspension of belief in the cosmic, social, or subjective matrices and fabrics of which we are made up. Our being-in-the world, qua believers, is, after all, if not exactly other-worldly, not-quite-of-or-out-of-this-world. [...]
Justin Neuman’s stimulating last post encouraged me to reread the debate asking “Is Critique Secular?”from the beginning, and in doing so I began to wonder what would happen to the discussion if we added to it the notion of “resistance”. By resistance I simply mean the refusal to accept the social system in which one lives. I am partly inspired by Robert Bellah’s wonderful post, which makes the case that elements within several axial religions share a single impulse with Western theoria, namely renunciation thought precisely as (a practical and/or conceptual) departure from one’s inherited social condition. For Bellah, renunciation typically becomes institutionalized and then carries out critique from a relatively autonomous social space, in a routinizing extension which, somewhat in Charles Taylor’s spirit, he thinks contains “explosive potentialities for good and for evil.”