Monday, June 29, 2009

A Week in "Secular America" -- Sightings

This has been an interesting week in "secular America," so says Martin Marty. The headlines range from the WSJ coverage of sex in America to its essay on the demise of the Sunday School -- caused in large part by divorce and soccer Sundays -- to Mark Sanford's trysts and decision to cover himself with a little bit of Scripture (remember that David had his trysts too). Then there's the near idolatry that has gone on with Michael Jackson's death -- what Marty calls America's real religion (idolization of celebrity). Oh, and we've had another suggestion that science proves God's "non-existence," and an Assemblies of God celebrated the two foundations of America -- God and Guns! Amen, Praise God and Pass the Ammunition!!

What a week it was -- and Marty, with all of his wit and insight, offers his analysis!


Sightings 6/29/09

A Week in “Secular” America
-- Martin E. Marty

Internet print-outs overload my “in-bucket” of items about the public face of religion in America on a daily basis. Regular subscribers, however, know that the week comes to its climax as we scan the two national dailies, the Friday Wall Street Journal and New York Times, issuing from putatively secular Washington and New York.

What a week it was. Saturday’s WSJ crowned its front page with the banner words “Deadly Sins,” and gave the whole front page of the Weekend Journal to “Sex Americana.” Gerard Baker deduces there that citizens are increasingly tolerant when public officials “fall” to sexual infidelities—now known as “my mistakes”—but grow more intolerant of hypocrisy when those who preach against sexual sin “do it.”

Back to Friday, June 26: Most talked-about was the NYT cover story about an Assemblies of God minister, Ken Pagano of Louisville, who insisted that members bring exposed firearms into the sanctuary to celebrate “God and guns,” the co-founders of our country. The once anti-gambling Assemblies must notice, on the national level, that this local church is raffling off a handgun, but Pastor Pagano wants to celebrate and defend assault weapons. Critics charge that giving sanctuary to such weapons and carriers and blending them with the gospel is incompatible. Pagano says, “Baloney!” “The issue now is the gospel. So in a sense, it does become a crusade. Now the Gospel is at stake.” Some na├»ve folks were shocked, not having noticed that for millions, such theology is the real religion.

For weekend balance, the WSJ provides a sophisticated and, yes, balanced editorial-review by Marc Arkin of Peter J. Thueson’s Predestination: the American Career of a Contentious Doctrine. Thueson revisits the verbally violent history of pro- and con- arguers over whether God predestines most of God’s creatures to spend eternity in hell. The review ends with comment that Thuesen “manages to capture the significance of their enterprise. It is nothing less than an unflinching commitment to living always mindful of the eye of eternity,” paying “noble tribute to that sense of awe before the divine that theology captures only through a glass darkly.”

Lawrence W. Krauss in a long editorial “proves” to himself that “God and Science Don’t Mix,” and tells of a debate which, framed the way he frames it, he could not lose. It’s a rather un-nuanced boast which offers nothing new. Science wins? God is dead?

Charlotte Hays in her “Houses of Worship” column reports on the decline in Sunday School attendance and the number of Sunday Schools nationally. Is this because God is dead? No— while boring experiences contribute, social factors are bigger. Parental divorces unsettle Sunday arrangements for the children’s schedules, and soccer wins out over Jesus almost always. Sunday sports and public celebrations are thus other phenomena which show that there are other sanctuaries for the “real religion” of millions

Any phenomenologist looking in on the idol-worship upon the death of icon Michael Jackson would say that in this celebrity-adulation she has located our real religion. And we have only a line or four left for the most religiously-covered event of the week: the confessions of Governor Mark Sanford, who came back from one of history’s most publicized trysts to apologize for his “mistake” and to announce that he’s been rereading the Bible. He’s used the Bible for years in his political efforts to smash everyone who reads it differently than he does. Now it’s a more personal issue: He calls in King David, to identify with that lecher-of-old. What a week!—in “secular” America.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at


In this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum essay, anthropologist and legal scholar Mateo Taussig-Rubbo examines “how the destruction of property and life seems to [generate] a new form of value,” a value frequently identified as that of the “sacred.” Focusing on the wreckage from and sites of the September 11 attacks, Taussig-Rubbo considers issues of property law and conceptions of sacrifice in an attempt to understand how this concept of sacrality comes to be, and what meanings it holds within American culture. Invited responses will follow from Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Kathryn Lofton, Jeremy Biles, and Kristen Tobey.


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


George said...

Oh, and we've had another suggestion that science proves [an activist] God's "non-existence."

About half-way into the WSJ article, Krauss did indicate he was referring to an "activist god," which, apparently, is the only god he and others in that camp are willing to consider.

I can see why fundamentalist Christians would have a problem with this, but not progressive, liberal Christians.

Isn't this one of the areas Clayton addresses in his book, Adventures in the Spirit: how can God be an agent for change in the physical world without running afoul of the laws of natural science?

Anonymous said...

There was a time when the laws of science didn’t apply maybe?
Before we had the laws, they didn’t need to be obeyed- maybe a wild-west quantum uncertainty thing.

David Mc

George said...

That would be a tough sell to someone like me.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't sell you a joke.
David Mc