In the 2010 book American Grace, political scientists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell presented the Faith Matters weather report, which was generally sunny and mild. Jews, Catholics, and mainline Protestants received the highest thermometer scores from non-members (i.e., from non-Jews, non-Catholics, and non—mainline Protestants respectively), coming in at 58 to 59 points. Muslims, Buddhists, and Mormons received the coldest ratings, at 44, 46, and 47 points. Evangelical Protestants came in at the middle, at 52 points, just above the nonreligious, who were at 51 points. (The Faith Matters survey also found that evangelical Protestants rate their own group at a “colder” level than do members of any other religion. Somehow we’ve become the low self-esteem religious tradition.)
Mark Galli’s beautiful reflection on John Stott’s importance to evangelicalism is necessary reading for any evangelical:
I sit in a unique position in our subculture. I hear about more crazy stunts by our leaders than you care to imagine in your darkest nightmare. I hear the silliest things said in the name of our Lord. I can’t believe the number of shallow evangelical books that come across my desk. I daily shake my head at the narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy, and pride I see in our movement.
But when we at the office discover that some group is ministering to the poor in a garbage dump in Cairo, or rescuing girls from sexual slavery in Thailand, or sharing the gospel with Muslims in a country where conversion is a capital crime, or languishing in a prison for simply practicing their faith under a totalitarian regime, well, we usually discover that they are either Catholics or evangelicals.
Stott’s passing provided an opportunity for me to reflect on the one time I met the fellow who friends called “Uncle John.” It was in St. Aldate’s Church in Oxford and we both happened to be visiting on the same day. He sat behind me, sang beautifully, and offered a firm handshake with a brilliant twinkle in his eye as we passed the peace to each other. We said nothing more, but I will never forget it.
In other news, Douthat explains the polarization of today’s political arena:
The dream of realignment has become the enemy of such compromises. It inspires politicians to claim sweeping mandates from highly contingent victories: think of Dick Cheney insisting on another round of deficit-financed tax cuts in 2003 because “we won the midterm elections” and “this is our due,” or the near-identical rebukes that President Obama delivered to Eric Cantor (“Elections have consequences — and Eric, I won”) and to John McCain (“the election’s over”) during the debates over the stimulus and health care.
The losers, meanwhile, wax intransigent, while hoping for a realignment of their own. After all, why cut a deal today if tomorrow you might overthrow your rivals permanently? Better to just say “no” flat out, as the Bush-era Democrats did with Social Security reform and the Republicans did with health care, and hope that the next election will deliver you the once-in-a-generation victory.
James Wood reflects on secularism’s prospects and limits:
Sometimes one feels that the center might be a little too serene. The emphasis on “joy” and “fullness” inevitably asks secularism to provide what Bruce Robbins calls an improvement story—to bring the good news about the consolations of secularism. Yet Lily Briscoe’s (or Terrence Malick’s, or my philosopher friend’s) tormented metaphysical questions remain, and cannot be answered by secularism any more effectively than by religion.
Upon hearing such statements, one begins to understand why progressives so often resort to the vocabulary of “consumerism” to frame their arguments against capitalism. Through this narrow view, humans simply take,take, take; there’s no make, make, make, and thus, transforming free enterprise into a mere battle over “consumption” is only reasonable. It adequately debases the human person to fit the basic moral vision.
Finally, there’s some excellent writing in this defense of book reviews that includes this reminder:
I was once having dinner with an international group, and an American was complaining about the price of books in France. “Yes,” said a Frenchman. “We have this silly theory in France that our authors should be able to eat.” We don’t know what the future of publishing is, but we know that the future for every writer requires food. And we know that one way to help writers eat is to encourage people to buy good books.
Is it too presumptuous to add a hint?