Understanding Americans Today : Religious Typology

8 September 2018

Traditionally, many U.S. Americans describe themselves as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Mormon, or Muslim, etc. Others describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religious affiliation.

A new Pew Research Center analysis, however, looks at U.S. Americans’ beliefs that cut across many denominations: traits that either unite people of different faiths, or divide them. The result is a new typology of religious belief in American society.

This new classification sorts Americans into seven groups based on their religious beliefs: how they practice their faith and the value they place on it.

The seven classifications are:

(1) Sunday Stalwarts

The “Sunday Stalwarts” are the most religiously active group. They are largely Protestant, but also include Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others. They actively practice their faith, and are deeply involved in their religious congregations: 82% attend weekly religious services. They hold many traditional beliefs and tilt toward the right on social and political issues. Republicans make up a majority of “Sunday Stalwarts,” who are the more likely than any group to see immigrants as a threat. A third of the “Sunday Stalwarts” are 65 or older.

(2) God and Country Believers

Closely aligned with the “Sunday Stalwarts” are the “God and Country Believers,” but only 27% of them actually attend weekly religious services. They are strongly nationalistic with 58% approving Donald Trump’s job performance

(3) Diversely Devout

Racial and ethnic minorities make up a large part of the “Diversely Devout.” They include fewer Protestants and more unaffiliated people, often called “nones.” (“Nones” is a category composed of people who identify, religiously, as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”) Only 12% of the “Diversely Devout” attend any kind of weekly religious services. The majority are non white, and more than 50% are between the ages 37 and 32. I find it noteworthy that the “Diversely Devout” and the “God-and-Country Believers” have the lowest levels of educational attainment. About six-in-ten, in each group, have a high school degree or less.

(4) Relaxed Religious

Seven-in-ten “Relaxed Religious” say they believe in the God of the Bible; but relatively few attend religious services or read scripture. They almost unanimously say it is not necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. More than 50% are between the ages 31 and 25.

(5) Spiritually Awake

“Spiritually Awake” Americans hold at least some New Age beliefs (views rejected by most of the “Relaxed Religious”) and believe in God or some higher power. Institutional religion is not important for them; but some kind of “spirituality” is a personal value. Many do not believe in the biblical God and relatively few ever attend religious services on a weekly basis. Close to 60% are between the ages 33 and 26.

(6) Religion Resisters

“Religion Resisters” generally do believe in some higher power or spiritual force, but not the God of the Bible. Many have some New Age beliefs and consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” They have strongly negative views about organized religion. Overall, they think religion does more harm than good. “Religion Resisters” tend to be liberal and Democratic in their political views. More than 60% are between 40 and 21.

(7) Solidly Secular

The “Solidly Secular” are the least religious of the seven groups. They are relatively affluent, highly educated U.S. adults, mostly white, and male. They tend to describe themselves as “neither religious nor spiritual” and to reject all New Age beliefs as well as belief in the God of the Bible. Their median age is 40.

One can read the entire Pew Center report here: http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2018/08/28163522/Full-Report-08-28-FOR-WEB.pdf


Some personal reflections as a believing Christian observer:

(1) The religious typology groups tend to move from oldest to youngest when going from the most to least religious. Have we forgotten young people? What are they thinking and saying? How can we better listen to them? A bishop friend told me, last year, that we should get all the young people together and “teach them to respect what the church teaches.” I suggested that we get all the bishops together and let young people teach the bishops about their experiences and thoughts about contemporary life…..

(2) “Religion Resisters” and the “Solidly Secular” have the highest levels of education, when compared with the other groups. “Sunday Stalwarts” and the “Spiritually Awake” have slightly lower levels of educational attainment. And the “Diversely Devout” and “God-and-Country Believers” have the least amount of education.

How do we present Christian belief to the “uneducated” as well as the “educated”? This is not an “elitist question,” as one of my friends told me recently. It is the reality. The Gospel is for all; but we don’t need a dumbing-down in the Christian community of faith. Anti-intellectualism is not a Christian virtue. How do we promote good education? Good education is handing on correct information, helping people access information that is not “fake,” and helping people develop critical thinking skills.

(3) The Pew study reports that the most actively engaged religious Americans tend to be the most politically and socially conservative, with strong elements of xenophobia. So what does this mean? Yes, we all need a sense of comfort and security; and yes, my faith is my anchor. Faith, however, is about much more than patting oneself on the back or warm Sunday fuzzies. It is about feeding the hungry and lifting up the oppressed. That, Jesus and our faith says, is where we meet the living God.

(4) Thinking about religion in our contemporary America, the big issue for me remains distinguishing between “religion’” and “faith.” They are not the same. All religions are formally structured interpretations of belief. There are healthy interpretations as well as unhealthy ones. Unhealthy interpretations turn religious structures, rituals, and symbols into idols: objects of idolatry. History shows that idols and idol worshipers use and abuse people. (And of course bishops, cardinals, and priests can become idols, demanding reverence and veneration.)

(5) The Pew Center report tells me as well that we really need to engage in inter-religious dialogue and collaboration. We need to grow in our understanding of all religious traditions. In particular we need to explore SPIRITUALITY. No single religious tradition has God neatly locked up in a tabernacle or temple……How does the belief and wisdom of a particular religious tradition help people in their exploration of the Divine? How does it help people relate to God, who is at the heart of Reality? I know so many young people — and so many older people turned-off by clerical sexual abuse — who are indeed searching for the Divine…..

Next week some thoughts more particularly about Catholicism and what I would call the “Third Millennial Reformation.” It has really just begun but the impact will be, depended on one’s viewpoint, devastating or wonderfully renewing.


What We are About

September 1, 2018

This week end, Catholic conflict continues to swirl around the Vatican and Pope Francis. Clerical sexual abuse is pushed to the back page. As an editorial in August 30th National Catholic Reporter noted: “The enemies of Francis are, without conscience or nuance, seizing this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy. We question their commitment to keep children safe.” Concern for the abused as well as sanity seem to have been thrown to the wind.

What we see today will have a far greater impact on Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, than the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, this past Thursday, captured the drama and reality of what is happening:

“Bella Figura died last Saturday night after a series of illnesses, culminating in a painful bout of full-body cancer. The death was announced at LifeSiteNews in the form of an 11-page dossier authored by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and, we now know, rightwing journalist Marco Tosatti. Funeral arrangements are pending but it is not expected the now bruta body of the deceased will be subjected to an open casket.

“Bella Figura was 1,705 years old at the time of her death. She was born in February, 313, in the city of Milan when the Emperors Constantine and Licinius ended the persecution of the Christian Church, thus denying one of the clear marks of identification between the founder of the church and her members. As the church became embroiled in politics, first in central Italy and later throughout Europe, Bella grew out of genuine concern to keep the church pure, and served usefully as a kind of check on egotistical and irreligious clerics whose only concern was power. Eventually, however, Bella found herself consumed by the cancer of power, and she became instrumental in the creation of a clerical culture that valued appearances more than truth, more than integrity, more than the church’s own children.”

In a week or so, I will have some pointed personal observations. Right now I am observing and thinking. We all need to observe, reflect, and then speak. Too many people today are speaking, with limited observation and without reasoned reflection. Contemporary Catholic intrigue, fierce rhetoric, and in-fighting are very strong. It is ecclesiastical temper-tantrum Trumpism.

Yes, I am upset: I grieve for all who trusted in the church and have been used and abused. Their suffering has not been adequately recognized. I grieve as well for truly good priests and bishops (yes there are many) who suffer discrimination and rejection because of their brothers’ sins and decadence. Lastly, perhaps I don’t grieve for myself; but I am angry. I have spent my entire professional life as a Catholic educator. I have enjoyed that ministry and still do. Like so many of my colleagues, I have also experienced first hand the lying and deceit of “respected” ecclesiastical officials. My consolation comes from seeing my former students grow, mature, and do well as clear-thinking and responsible men and women.

This afternoon I thought again about Ephesians 4:25-27 : “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry….” We are called to live an authentic Christian ethic. We pick up and move ahead. The institution will be reshaped for sure. I suspect we really don’t know what form or forms it will take.

The first concern right now is what form our lives take. With current events churning in my head, my focus this week end returns to the Teacher from Nazareth.

The stores are full of back-to- school supplies and the new school year begins this coming week. My teacher reflection today is about Jesus the Great Teacher.

What strikes me as I re-read the Gospel According to Matthew, is Jesus the Rabbi: the Great Teacher; and I offer my own commentary on Matthew 5:1-10, where Jesus goes up a hill with his disciples and begins to teach what we have come to know as the “Sermon on the Mount” and the “Eight Beatitudes.” That is what we are about:

The Teacher then said….

1.How blessed and fortunate are those people, who are humble in spirit.

The humble in spirit realize that greatness is achieved through service not domination. Power and control over people have no place in the community of faith. We do not sacrifice people nor the truth to preserve the ”good name of the church.” The humble in spirit realize they are not masters of the universe. They understand they cannot survive on their own. They need to collaborate with sisters and brothers. They need to listen to the Spirit and be attentive to the signs of the times.

2.How blessed and fortunate are the gentle.

The gentle are the meek: those people who can make room for someone else, even for the “losers.” They are neither so arrogant nor so self-centered that they see only what they want to see. Arrogant and crude belittling of other people has no place in the behavior of those who claim to be followers of Christ – even when they sit in high political office or wear colorful clerical uniforms. “You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them; and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you.” (Matthew 20:25-26)

3.How blessed and fortunate are those who mourn, because they have compassion.

The compassionate can feel the pain of another. They put an arm around the fearful and the oppressed. They do not simply send their “thoughts and prayers,” and then do nothing. They lift oppressive burdens from the shoulders of the old, the rejected, and the impoverished.

4.How blessed and fortunate are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.

We are fortunate if we have high ideals, strong values, noble goals, and the motivation to build up what is best in others and in ourselves….. But the temptations are strong: to conform, to do what everyone else does, to simply read the news, and then not rock the boat. In the contemporary church we see the results of those not wanting to rock the boat.

5.How blessed and fortunate are those who show mercy to others.

Merciful love is assistance without conditions. Genuine Christians are not fear mongers who scapegoat gays, as Archbishop Viganò is doing, or feminists, as many conservative Catholics are doing, or racial groups, as white supremacists and some militant “Christians” are doing. The Biblical concern for widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor gets lost; and the white cultural values of homogeneity, obedience to authority, and strict gender roles are stressed as Christian values.

6.How blessed and fortunate are the pure of heart.

The pure of heart are honest-hearted. They are not two-faced, with hidden agendas or secret desires to advance themselves by using and abusing other people. They do not brag and joke about the different or unfortunate. The pure of heart honor and search for truth. They do not lie and fabricate “facts.”

7.How blessed and fortunate are those who work for peace.

Those who work for peace do not erect walls. They are bridge builders. They cooperate rather than compete. They struggle to resolve political, social, and religious polarization through tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect. To paraphrase, in contemporary style, Matthew 25:52, “put your guns away, for all who draw their guns will perish by guns.”

8.How blessed and fortunate are those who suffer persecution because they truly live the Gospel.

There are a lot of phony Christians in high places these days. They love to denigrate their critics. They profess love of Christ; but in reality they only love themselves. Matthew’s Jesus is adamant about this. He spoke of religious leaders who wore impressive religious garments and talked God’s values but never lived God’s values. “Do not do what they do,” Jesus said “for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see. (Matthew 23:3-5)

In the old days we said pax vobiscum. These days I would say to all of you very simply: Peace. Be well……


PS For my USA friends: Have a great Labor Day week end! In my Michigan hometown I remember participating, years ago, in many Labor Day parades…. 🙂

Looking for a Trustworthy Guide

August 25, 2018

What does one do when institutional leadership misleads? When some of the “shepherds” are really wolves? Where does one find a trustworthy guide for life? Where does one find inspiration and hope for tomorrow? After so many ecclesiastical disappointments and ongoing revelations, many are turned off or disappointed. The questions abound.

To start, I suggest we need to focus on the church not primarily as a religious institution but a gathering of believers. One of the unfortunate mis-translations in the New Testament concerns the word ecclesia. It is usually translated “church.” In fact it should be more correctly translated as an “assembly” or a “convocation” of those called together under Christ: people of faith, brought together, inspired, and enlivened by the message and spirit of Jesus.

My reflection today is not a bunch of pious old rhetoric. It is a contemporary plea to take Jesus seriously.

Perhaps we need to dismantle and deconstruct some church structures before credibility can be restored.

The lifestyle and teaching of Jesus are indeed our anchor in restless times and our blueprint for personal, group, and institutional regeneration.

Re-reading the Gospels this week, these Jesus virtues challenged me:

HUMILITY: Jesus was a humble man from a humble town: Jesus of Nazareth. People joked about Nazareth. In the Johannine Gospel, we read: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” (John 1:45-46)

In Luke 14 we read “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” When putting on a meal, Jesus said “Don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

We can live humbly with each other. How does one live humbly in an institutional church well known for grandeur, fancy dress, and imperial pretense?

GENDER EQUALITY: Jesus was not an old boys club kind of guy. Among his disciples were men and women. The first disciples to discover and announce that Jesus had been raised from the dead were women. Luke’s Gospel gives us the account of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary. The whole point of the narration is that Mary can be a disciple just like the guys. The New Testament scriptures strongly attest to women disciples, women apostles, and women ministers.

If today we could have an abundance of women ordained ministers and bishops, we would witness a marvelous ecclesiastical transformation.

NOT A PATERNALISTIC PATRIARCH: Jesus was not an authoritarian leader. He did not exercise power OVER people. He empowered people. His virtues were compassion, forgiveness, and challenging people to do better.

In the community of faith we must discover ways to move ahead with honesty, clear judgment, respectful ministry, and dialogue.

FAITH IS MORE THAN RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE: Some of Jesus’ strongest words were criticisms of religious leaders. One finds them throughout the Gospels. Here I recall an account in Matthew 23: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.’”

STRUCTURES SPRING FROM FAITH: The historical Jesus was not an institutional organization man. He did not establish an institutional church, did not ordain anyone. He did not create bishops, dioceses, or a pope. Jesus left structural systems to his followers: to the community of faith.

The community of faith, the assemblies of believers, need to do some re-structuring today.

NOT A WHITE SUPREMACIST: Jesus wasn’t white. He was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jewish fellow. He was neither xenophobic nor racist. His social morality is clearly explained in the narrative about the Good Samaritan.

WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW: Looking at Jesus, there is much we do not know. Things he didn’t talk about. Was he single? Married? Gay? Straight? For the evangelists these were not important questions. Perhaps they are really not important for us either, although some get hung up on just these issues.

GOD WITH US: Jesus is the revelation of God for us. He is the “image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) He is also the revelation of authentic humanity. He is for us “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

Now let us reform, rebuild, and restructure a church worthy of Jesus Christ.


[Photo: Recent research by Joan Taylor (professor at King’s College London) suggests Jesus may have been of average height, with short black hair, brown eyes and olive-brown skin. Credit: Painting by Cathy Fisher, showing shorter clothing and hair for Jesus, in accordance with Taylor’s research.]

Sex in Church

August 17, 2018

“With revelation after revelation, a new wave of sexual abuse scandals is rocking the Roman Catholic Church and presenting Pope Francis with the greatest crisis of his papacy.” — Chico Harlan observation in the Washington Post on August 12, 2018.

Then on August 14, 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released an 884-page report on sexual abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. In often chilling detail, the grand jury report details how the Catholic Church spent decades covering up sexual abuse claims against 300 “predator priests” who abused nearly 1,000 children. The report covers 70 years of clerical misconduct and a negligent church response. One can find the report here:


I have been reluctant to write about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, because so many have been writing about it. It is a major issue. It is clearly not going away. It may very well reduce the Catholic Church to a mostly conservative Christian sect.

A longer reflection this week end, since many readers have been asking me for my thoughts about the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. So, at last, I agreed to offer my own reflections.

Five opening observations:

(1) I am indeed a Catholic theologian. My big concern continues to be: coming to a better understanding of what it means to be a contemporary believer.

(2) Some suggest that I am basically anti-Catholic. Very truthfully I am NOT anti-Catholic. I am committed, however, to seeking evidence, examining reasoning and assumptions, and analyzing basic concepts. I am a critical thinking and critical speaking Catholic, because as an historian I know that it is a dangerous development when institutional leaders say one cannot ask questions or challenge the accuracy or truthfulness of ecclesiastical pronouncements. (The same holds true for political statements and positions; but I am staying clear of politics this week end.)

(3) I have worked for Catholic educational institutions – schools, parishes, and universities — all my professional life — for more than fifty years. For a good twenty-five years I was very actively involved in the education and formation of Catholic seminarians and ordained ministers (priests), and the continuing education of ordained ministers and men and women in lay pastoral ministry.

(4) I have known, and still known, a great many wonderful priests, bishops, and cardinals. They are genuinely fine people who deserve strong affirmation and public support. Over the years I have tried to be particularly supportive of young ordained ministers, who have also suffered from the bad press generated by abusive clergy. I remember well one young priest, one of my former students, who wrote that he never wanted to wear a Roman collar in public. When he did, he said teenagers would pester him and run after him yelling “Hey Father! Having fun? How many kids did you screw today?”

(5) I have also known some bishops who were deceptive and immoral men. Some, for example, were strongly anti-gay in public but privately ran after young men or had live-in boyfriends often disguised as “nephews” or “private secretaries.” A broken clerical culture can only be repaired when church leaders openly confront the truth. Unfortunately, even the Vatican has had a tradition of soft-glove treatment for predatory bishops. The latest example of course is no-longer-cardinal-but-still-archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

I should share a bit of personal history. I was never an ordained minister but came very close. I went to seminary high school and college. Never witnessed any abusive sexual experiences there, but it was a healthy place back then. After college, my bishop then sent me, in 1965, to the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium (his alma mater) for my formal theological education. Louvain (today we say more often LEUVEN) had a big impact on me. My Dad often said “Jack was never the same after Louvain.” Louvain professors encouraged me to think, to question, and to do research using original documentation. I learned the “historical-critical method.” Asking critical questions became a major part of my life outlook. It changed my life as well in big ways.

After three years in Louvain, and just one year before my ordination, I realized I did not want to spend my life as a life-long “celibate” bachelor. And I had some theological issues like the prohibition of artificial contraception and extreme clericalism and misogyny in the church. I realized my “calling” was to become a critical-thinking theologian and teacher, not an ordained minister. I informed my bishop. He was not just disappointed in me but became furiously angry. He told me I had sold my soul to “1960s humanistic sex-craving secularism.”

Some months later, one of the bishop’s key advisors invited me to have a “friendly chat” with him. We met in his rectory. He welcomed me with a Scotch on the rocks and we started talking. Very friendly. Then he became very serious: “You know of course that the bishop is very disappointed in you. The bishop and I want you to come back. Please come back. Forget that marriage nonsense. Most married people are unhappy and the sex is not always that good. We want you to understand that, as a priest, you can always have a boy or a woman whenever you need sexual relief.” That was my introduction, and invitation, to clerical sex abuse. As I sat there, speechless, staring at him, my host started laughing and continued “God loves his priests and will always give his priests cute guys and sexy women for their sexual comfort.” I put my glass on the table and walked out. Never saw the man again.

Clerical sexual abuse springs from a warped and unhealthy understanding of human sexuality; but it is primarily about power over people. It is not about love or intimate affection. It is about using and abusing people, for selfish personal sexual gratification.

Last week, Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former priest who spent much of his life studying the roots of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, died in San Diego. He was 85. I had great respect for him. His research into celibacy and sexuality within the clergy helped establish a foundation for those studying and responding to the ongoing sexual abuse crisis. Sipe estimated that 6 % of all priests were sexual abusers of children and minors, and that, at any given time, only 50 % of priests were celibate.

“Sooner or later” Richard Sipe wrote in a 2016 letter to Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego “it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among, and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children….When men in authority — cardinals, bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors — are having or have had an unacknowledged-secret-active-sex life under the guise of celibacy, an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative.” Well we have now seen that in the revelations about the sexual lifestyle of former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, with seminarians and young priests.

People interested in the complete letter from Richard Sipe to Bishop McElroy can find it here:


In the church and outside the church we need to educate and help people form a healthy understanding and / experience of human sexuality. Human sexuality is not just about genital acts. It is about a way of being: the way people experience and express themselves physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

What are the moral values in human sexual behavior that promote the wholistic growth and development of the human person? I am a theologian not a sexologist; but here — gathered from my own reading and reflection — are some human sexuality values that I believe are a good start. They apply to people in all kinds of relationships, genders, and lifestyles.

(1) Sexual activity should be other-enriching. Healthy human sexuality gives expression to a genuine concern for the well-being of the other person. It is, therefore, sensitive, compassionate, and supportive. It does not use people.

(2) It must be honest. Healthy human sexuality expresses openly and truthfully the depth of the relationship that exists between people.

(3) It must be faithful. A healthy sexual relationship is characterized by a consistent pattern of concern and support. Fidelity promotes stable relationships anchored in mutual respect.

(4) Healthy sexuality is socially responsible. Healthy sexuality is not just about individual responsibilities but acknowledges the responsibilities of individuals for the larger community. A healthy sexual relationship and sexual behavior should promote and help sustain the common good.

(5) Every expression of human sexuality should be life-serving. A healthy relationship that brings life and/or promotes and sustains life.

(6) And finally, healthy human sexuality should be joyous. Human sexual expression is meant to be enjoyed without feelings of guilt or shame.

Here I remember the observations of my old 1960s Louvain professor of moral theology. I was in his class with a group of seminary classmates. Our venerable professor was talking about marriage and sexual intercourse. He smiled and said it was “wonderful, a blending and a union of body, mind, heart, and spirit. Something wonderfully unique, wonderfully human, and a taste of the divine.” One of my classmates leaned over to me and whispered: “If this is true, what are we doing here in the seminary?”

Next week some thoughts about contemporary Christian belief.


Muslims in the USA

11 August 2018

This week end some brief reflections about our USA multicultural and multi-religious society. This reflection is prompted by comments from two young postgraduate university students. One asked me: “Aren’t you afraid that fanatic Muslims will take over the United States?” Before I could respond, the other a young doctoral student replied with a chuckle, “I would be more afraid of fanatic Christians.”

My paternal ancestors were English immigrants. They were Quakers from Chester, England and arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682. When they arrived, what would become the United States of American was already multi-cultural and multi-religious.

People sometimes only look at our history through Christian-tinted glasses. This is not an anti-Christian comment. Just an objective observation. We all wear different kinds of glasses or none at all.

Right from the beginning, the USA was multi-religious: Christian, Muslim. Jewish, and (not to forget) Native American religious in a variety of forms. In general, it was not always easy but we have learned to live together, support one another, and grow in our understanding of Divinity. No single religion controls God. When a religion tries to do that, society slips into idolatry and authoritarian inhumanity. Religious freedom — much talked about today — means the freedom to be and practice your own religious belief.

Not all history books are clear about this; but Muslims arrived in North America long before the founding of the United States. Not just a few, but thousands. Muslims arrived in North America as early as the 17th century, eventually composing 15 to 30 percent of the enslaved West African population of British America. Muslims from the Middle East did not begin to immigrate to the United States as free citizens until the late 19th century. Key USA “Founding Fathers” demonstrated a marked interest in Islam and its practitioners, most notably Thomas Jefferson. A few months after writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson returned to Virginia to draft legislation about religion for his native state. Writing, in his private notes a paraphrase of the English philosopher John Locke’s 1689 “Letter on Toleration,” he noted: “Neither Pagan nor Mahometan (Muslim) nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.”

Later, as President Jefferson, he welcomed to the White House, in 1805, the first Muslim Ambassador to the United States. Because it was then Ramadan, the president moved the state dinner from 3:30 p.m. to be “precisely at sunset,” a recognition of the Tunisian ambassador’s religious beliefs, though not quite the first White House official celebration of Ramadan.

Yes, Islam in America is a tradition with deep roots. An estimated 20 percent of enslaved Africans were Muslims. They were not “citizens” but slaves. Scholars debate the number of Muslim slaves brought to the Americas. The estimates range from 40,000 (in the USA) up to 3 million across North and South America and the Caribbean. [In the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (1525-1866), 12.5 million Africans were “shipped” to the New World.]

Charles Ball, an enslaved African-American from Maryland, best known for his 1837 account as a fugitive slave, The Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, wrote: “I knew several who must have been, from what I have since learned, Mohamedans; though at that time, I had never heard of the religion of Mohamed. There was one man on this plantation… who prayed five times every day, always turning his face to the east, when in the performance of his devotion.” Ball’s grandfather, from a prominent African family, was enslaved and brought to Calvert County, Maryland around 1730.

I suspect very few contemporary U.S. Americans know that many Muslim slaves were educated and literate in Arabic; and that they occupied leadership roles in the jobs that slaves performed on plantations in the American South. Historians researching Muslim slaves, in antebellum America, have discovered that the presence of such slaves stratified slave society, by creating the category of the superior “Moor” over the inferior “Negro.” Nevertheless, conversion to Christianity was the most widespread method by which most African Muslims had to reconfigure their religious practices and beliefs to adapt to their new societal context. Therefore, American-born children of African Muslims did not practice Islam nor did they self-identify as Muslims. Nevertheless, when Islam was fading among communities of slaves and former slaves, millions of new Muslim immigrants began arriving in the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among them, tens of thousands from Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The United States’ first mosque was built in Chicago, in 1893. Frankly it was an “attraction” at the World’s Columbian Exhibition. The second mosque built in the United States was located in Highland Park, Michigan. It was completed in 1921. This time it was built, not as an exotic or foreign cultural attraction, but to witness to an authentic American faith tradition —just like the nearby Christian churches and synagogues. It was built for Muslim worshipers: Muslims who were truly American citizens.

Subsequent to the 1965 “U..S. Immigration and Naturalization Act,” more than 1.1 million new Muslims arrived in the United States, before the end of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the contemporary “Islamophobia industry,” heavily funded and heavily biased with often factually inaccurate information, is working hard to spread the falsehood that Muslim Americans are dangerous, violent, sinister, and un-American. This is racist, xenophobic propaganda, and fake news.

Today Islam is the third largest religion in the United States after Christianity and Judaism; but one must pay close attention to the percentages. Contrary to certain contemporary political rhetoric, neither a Jewish nor an Islamic takeover is imminent. According to the 2017 study by the Public Religion Research Institute, approximately 69% of Americans are Christian; Judaism is the religion of approximately 2%; and Islam represents approximately 1% of the total U.S. population.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2017 survey of U.S. Muslims, Muslim Americans have great optimism and positive feelings about being Muslim and about being American. They are proud to be Americans. They believe that hard work generally brings success. They are satisfied with the way things are going in their own lives – even if they are not satisfied with the direction of the country as a whole.

Especially noteworthy is the Pew finding that American Muslims largely share the general U.S. public’s concerns about religious extremism. In fact U.S. Muslims may be more concerned than non-Muslims about extremism in the name of Islam. They stress, there is little support for extremism within the U.S. Muslim community, and very few say violence against civilians can be justified in pursuit of religious, political, or social causes. Overall, eight-in-ten Muslims (82%) say they are concerned about extremism in the name of Islam around the world. This is similar to the percentage of the U.S. general public that shares these concerns (83%). We do need correct information these days and a balanced perspective on all contemporary Americans not just the narrow-minded ones.

There is a particular urgency for Christians and Jews to become participants in dialogue with Muslims, their brothers and sisters in the Abrahamic tradition. Anti-Muslim prejudices in the United States are very real and damaging. In recent years, Anti-Muslim protesters have broken into mosques, destroyed copies of the Qur’an, spray-painted vulgar language on Muslim buildings, accompanied by threats of other violence, arson attacks, and even murder. (It reminds me of the nineteenth century U.S. “Nativist” prejudice and the burning of churches and convents, and murderous attacks against Catholics.)

Religious, cultural, and political polarization is a contemporary evil. It does not have to be that way……For our survival it MUST NOT be that way. The house divided against itself will not stand….


NPD : A Personal Disorder — Our Moral Challenge

4 August 2018

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) involves a distorted self-image and is a psychological disorder, with moral implications. It affects approximately 1% of the population, with a greater prevalence in men. Historically we have often seen it in men in leadership positions. Their emotions can be unstable and intense; and they display excessive concerns about personal prestige and power, stressing personal “greatness.” They also tend to lack compassion, have an exaggerated sense of superiority, and enjoy bullying people. Nothing Christian in such behavior. The Gospel is good news. Not fake news propaganda.

Below are some of the most common characteristics of people with a narcissistic personality disorder life orientation:

1 They have an insatiable appetite for the attention of others, by claiming to be the smartest, the most popular, and the most loved.

2. They exaggerate, fabricate or simply lie about achievements, talents, and importance.

3. They take advantage of others to achieve a personal goal, without regret or conscience.

4. They create facts or simply re-shape the truth to mislead, confuse, and control people. Their focus is not reality news but propaganda. Any media coverage unfavorable to them is rejected as part of a fake news “hoax” against them. Paranoia prioritized.

5. They lack empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings of others. They disregard, joke about, or demean others’ feelings.

6. They react to criticism by denigrating their critics in racist and xenophobic diatribes.Their toxic rhetoric and propaganda stimulate and support hate groups and racist movements.

7. They use women as playthings and brag about their sexual exploits in immature and adolescent boyish fashion.

8. Whatever they crave or yearn for must be “the best” because they are the best and deserve the best.

9. They clandestinely or openly take advantage of others so they can move forward in life and/or get what they want, with no remorse toward the ones stepped on, used, and abused.

10. Narcissists are toxic people. They are proudly self-obsessed, arrogant, tough-minded bullies, and immature people lacking healthy emotions.

What to do?

People with NPD need help. Psychotherapy. For many, the disorder lasts a lifetime. Nevertheless, they still have moral responsibilities toward other people and within the institutions in which they operate. One cannot excuse their behavior.

People who are victimized by people with NPD, or who are alarmed by the power and negative influence of people with NPD, need to network and collaborate in curtailing their power and influence.

I first encountered an NPD person when he was pastor of a nearby parish. The situation went from annoying to bad then to very bad. Eventually the parish council, with abundant documented evidence about his erratic behavior and psychological disorder, told the local bishop that the pastor was “very unwell” and had to go. Within a few days, a healthy “pastoral change” was made. Change is possible when conscientious and courageous people work together.

I suspect one could make a list of famous people with NPD. Reflecting, as an old historian, on Western European history, I think immediately about people like Henry VIII, Napoleon, Generalissimo Franco, and Hitler of course. In the church I think of men like Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878). “Pio Nono” was pope for more than 31 years. He started out good but then regressed. Loss of papal influence and power, and then the the loss of the Papal States twisted his brain. He could not make the papacy great again. He was the last Pope-King before the Catholic Church’s broad temporal power was swept away. He became the quintessence of ecclesiastical obscurantism and intransigence. He is famous for papal infallibility (personal papal power) and his 1864 “Syllabus of Errors” : a strong condemnation of liberalism, modernism, and separation of church and state. (He also supported President Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy in the US American Civil War.)

In contemporary political life there are also people with NPD. Vladimir Putin is just one key example.

NPD is a pressing contemporary challenge. People who recognize this disorder in political and religious leaders need to deal with the problem constructively and effectively. The clock is ticking.

As the Spanish-born, US American/European philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863 – 1952) said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Pro-Life: Pro-People

July 28, 2018

Considerations about United States Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are again generating heated pro-life/pro-choice/abortion debates.

This week, some personal thoughts about about being pro-life. Friends and associates have encouraged me to write-down my own current understandings and concerns….

The big abortion debate in the United States was launched by Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court decision issued on January 22, 1973, on the constitutionality of laws that criminalized or restricted access to abortions. The Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy, under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The Court therefore deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. Frantic polarization set in back then. I remember it well. I was a high school religion teacher in a Catholic school!

That Supreme Court decision opened a heated national debate; and the debate is just as heated today. A key element in that debate has been clarifying the role of religious and moral views in the political sphere. Who controls morality? Is that an appropriate role for politicians? Should the church control political decision-making and governmental legislation?

I will not pretend to resolve the issue; but I do have some carefully thought-out positions in the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Twelve reflections. I list them in no particular hierarchical order. As always, people are free to disagree; but then the conversation has to be respectful and civil. My thoughts:

(1) One must make a distinction between morality and civil law. Morality and law are not identical. Civil law is ordered to promote the common good and should not legislate all ethical acts; but only those that affect the common good. Civil law is aimed at making it possible for people to live together in community: in justice, peace, and freedom.

(2) A proper understanding of civil law recognizes that respecting the freedom of the individual person is essential; but that does not necessarily mean that one must support everything that a person does with his or her freedom. In a multicultural civil society, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject only to those limitations necessary for public safety, public order, or protection of the rights and freedoms of others. A couple examples: I disagree with the racist xenophobia of an acquaintance; but he has a right to hold and express his opinion — as long as he doesn’t start shooting people at the grocery store. Same-sex marriage is now legal in all fifty US states. A person does not have to agree with it. According to civil law, however, one must respect the rights of same-sex couples to marry and not hinder them.

(3) As theologian Charles Curran once said: “We are pilgrim people living in a pluralistic and imperfect society — and in an imperfect church! In this context, considerations of the freedom of the person, the feasibility of legislation, and the reality of compromise cannot be denied.”

(4) We need to have reasoned and mutually respectful ongoing discussion about appropriate civil laws that promote the common good. We cannot, however, allow ourselves or our country to fall into the trap of having the government legislate moral behavior. That would lead to tyranny, the loss of human freedom, and the threat of inhumane demagoguery. As we see developing in Turkey and other countries today, like fundamentalist Catholic Poland. Again, separation of church (institutional religion) and state is terribly important. Everywhere.

(5) What I miss in just about all anti-abortion debates, is an informed and reasoned conversation about what abortion procedures really do. Is all abortion murder: the taking of a human life? I have known several obstetricians over the years (and some very conservative ones) who strongly say that not all abortion is murder. Some time ago, in an earnest and friendly way, I asked an archbishop, whom I know rather well, if we could discuss this. He got angry, suddenly, and yelled at me: “No! There is no discussion about that!”…. Far too often today people would rather condemn than question and seek to understand. There is so much absolute certainty based on pre-determined ideas and conformity to how the group feels.

(6) I am strongly pro-life. I generally oppose direct abortion. That being said, I can understand indirect abortion, for a proportionate reason, like saving the life of the mother. There will always be situations in which one must give the benefit of the doubt, and respect the pregnant woman’s freedom of conscience. Civil legislation must always respect and support freedom of conscience.

(7) I am strongly pro-life. Not just pro fetal life. I am amazed how many pro-life advocates and demonstrators forget about caring for people AFTER they are born. Pro-life is pro-people, regardless whether they are foreign, black, or white. Regardless whether they are refugees or stalwart citizens. Regardless whether they are gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, men or women. Pro-life is pro-everybody who has dignity, self-worth, and the right to life and liberty. Pro-life is much more than anti-abortion. Our current US president strongly asserts that he is anti-abortion. Many people voted him into office for that very reason. Is he in fact pro-life? So far, under the current president’s US-Mexico border “zero-tolerance” policy, 914 children have been deemed “ineligible” for reunification and 463 children’s parents deported. That makes 1377 displaced children. Lost forever? Not a question of abortion, but a major “pro-life” issue for sure.

(8) Seriously, I am not anti-Catholic; but I have long feared, especially in my Catholic tradition, that a “pro-life” emphasis, that is really just an “anti-abortion” emphasis, gives the church only a single-issue voice and ignores or downplays many other moral issues involving peace, social justice, and opposition to contemporary violence-wielding racist movements and organizations.

(9) One cannot build a genuinely pro-life ethical house if one builds only on ani-abortion sand. One must deal with ALL threats to human life and dignity: racism and discrimination, the death penalty, unjust wars, torture, poverty, health care, and immigration. All of these issues involve serious moral challenges.

(10) Some people, especially in my religious tradition, argue that since abortion is an “intrinsic moral evil,” it differs from all other issues like immigration, the death penalty, human rights, or use of nuclear weapons. Curiously, masturbation, homosexual acts, and contraceptive heterosexual acts are all, according to traditional Catholic moral teaching, intrinsic moral evils. Needless to say, there are Catholic moralists who disagree with this tradition. For today, however, “intrinsic moral evil” involves a discussion we have neither time nor space to get into…. I would suggest however that if one really wants to start making a list of “intrinsic moral evils,” clerical sexual abuse of children and teenagers belongs on top.

(11) One can be anti-abortion; but what about having some compassion, understanding, and support for women who do have abortions? That too is pastoral ministry. The teenager who got pregnant. The woman who was raped? Many other kinds of situations….Traumatic life experiences often bring women to the abortion clinic. Just as I support counseling, psychological, and physical help for women contemplating an abortion, I would also like to see counseling, psychological, and physical help for women after an abortion. I strongly disagree with the president who has said that women should be punished for having an abortion. In April 2018 a lieutenant governor candidate in Idaho even said that, once abortion were declared illegal, women who get an abortion should be punished and that the punishment should include the death penalty. Well, in that case what about the men who impregnated them?

(12) Finally but primary in importance, it is absolutely essential that people have good birth control information, good education and formation about human sexuality, and access to contraceptives. Every study indicates that abortion rates greatly diminish where birth control information and contraceptives are readily available. I find it offensive and inhumane that some governmental and ecclesiastical authorities limit the availability of condoms as protection against AIDS, because they consider birth control intrinsically immoral.

Take care…..


Being Non-Political

July 21, 2018

To begin with: A very brief comment about today’s local holiday. Akin to our USA Fourth of July. The Belgian National Day is a public holiday celebrated on 21 July each year. In 1830, Belgium gained political independence and regained cultural independence from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Up until then, the Belgian area was known as the Southern Netherlands and had been governed by other countries including Spain and France.

Now on to politics but with this advisory: after Helsinki and post-Helsinki developments I will avoid touching directly on DJT.

An acquaintance, who regularly follows my posts, asked me if I would please avoid commenting about politics in the coming months. He hoped I would because in his words “theologians should stay out of politics.”

Well theologians reflect on our faith experiences and the signs of the times. Frankly one cannot really be non-political; and one can and must be politically critical as well as religiously critical.

The signs of the times beckon to all of us. My old friend, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, observed not so long ago: “There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something.”

Today I would like to say something about religion and nationalism. What agitated me this week, aside from an Helsinki headache, was the announcement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a new Israeli Basic Law which proclaims: “The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” So there we have it. Israel is now the Jewish State. Part of the contemporary religion/nationalism trend.

When I was in Moscow for a conference a year ago, a Russian professor friend reminded me that Mother Russia is Russian Orthodox. With some delight he stressed that even President Putin is strongly Orthodox and he and Moscow’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill are mutually supportive. Kirill has backed the expansion of Russian power into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. He is strongly anti-gay; and even has often stressed that “Orthodoxy must defend itself” and fight against the “heresy” of human rights, which “contradicted the Bible.” Hmm

Contemporary Poland is a curious example. There Catholic nationalism is the religion of the far right government. During the former Soviet-backed Communist rule in Poland, the church was a symbol of intellectual freedom and served as a force of resistance against the oppressive regime. Today it is part of the oppressive regime. Rafał Pankowski, co-founder of the anti-racist Never Again Association and professor at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw said that nationalists benefit from the status of religion in Poland, where 94 percent of citizens say they belong to the church. They strongly support a Polish national agenda that is anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic.

Contemporary Catholic Poland reminds me of Catholic Spain under the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco.

But now just two more contemporary examples of religion and nationalism….

In Turkey fifteen years into his rule, President Erdoğan has gradually turned his country away from the secular tradition of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the modern state in 1923. Today he promotes extreme Islamic religion in public life, clamps down on opponents and the media, and moves ever more firmly away from democratic norms. Unhealthy religion and unhealthy nationalism.

Finally a brief comment about contemporary India. (At my university we have a lot of students from India.)

The Bharatiya Janata Party, currently in power, is a right-wing, nationalist group, allied with the position that India should be only a Hindu nation. Anti-Muslim and anti-Christian incidents are on the rise. All for one national religion….

Religion and nationalism always make a volatile mix. I have always thought separation of church and state should be considered a pro-Christian virtue. Perhaps however, one needs to be more alert these days to an underlying problem of nationalism.

Patriotism can be strong and positively humane. Nationalism too often raises red flags.

In 1945, the same year he wrote Animal Farm, George Orwell emphasized the difference between “nationalism” and “patriotism.” Nationalism, Orwell argued, is the belief that one’s own nation should dominate others. It “is inseparable from the desire for power.” A nationalist, Orwell argued, “thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige … his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.” Patriotism, by contrast, involves “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one has no wish to force on other people.”

Orwell’s explanation of patriotism is brief. But his implication is that while nationalism is about the

relationship between one’s country and other countries, patriotism is about the relationship between

one’s country and oneself. It derives from the Latin pater, meaning “father.” Just as devotion to family

requires placing its well-being above one’s own, devotion to country—patriotism—extends that principle to the nation as a whole.

Take care.


Women and Authority in Early Christianity

14 July 2018

My reflection this week end is about a book I strongly recommend to all readers, and especially to men in ecclesiastical leadership and hierarchical positions: CRISPINA AND HER SISTERS: WOMEN AND AUTHORITY IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY by Sister Christine Schenk, CSJ (Fortress Press)

Thanks to Christine Schenk and many other researchers and historical theologians, we have come to a much better understanding of the place and role of women in early Christianity. They were central figures and their stories and lives have been obscured too long by male scriptural scholars and theologians with paternalistic (and often misogynist) barrel vision.

As Laure Brink noted in her recent (July 11, 2018) review in the National Catholic Reporter, “Schenk’s research and writing took three years to accomplish. She explored visual imagery found on burial artifacts of prominent late third- and fourth-century Christian women….Schenk analyzed 2,119 images and descriptors of sarcophagi (stone coffins) and fragments from the third to fifth centuries.” This is no small thing. Women played a very significant institutional role in early Christianity.

Christine Schenk’s observations about her book are very much to the point. Her goal is “allowing men, and especially women, to retrieve the memory of influential women whose witness has for too long been invisible or distorted in Christian memory” with the “hope that drawing attention to these ancient images of early Christian women in iconic authority portrayals may help us reset our preconceived mental models.”

Schenk begins with the socio-cultural context of women in early Christianity (chapter one) and clearly notes that the rapid growth of Christianity was due in no small measure to the ministry and patronage of women who welcomed early Christian missionaries, both male and female, into the complex social network of Greco-Roman households. She then moves on (chapter two) to examine women’s exercise of authority in the first-century Christian churches as reflected in Paul’s letters, Acts, and other early Christian writings. Paul, for example, has an impressive list: Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother, Julia, and Nereus’s sister. Peter Lampe, theologian and Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Heidelberg, deduces that women may have been more active than men in the first-century Christian community in Rome.

Chapter three provides a broad overview of methods used by art historians to analyze early Christian art as well as the interpretive challenges of relating it to the history of early Christian women. Then (chapter four) one has an analysis of the earliest frescos depicting Christian women found at the catacombs of Priscilla. We then embark on a study of late ancient Roman funerary practices (chapter five): a fascinating journey into the history and culture of the late Roman Empire.

In chapter six, Christine Schenk zeroes in on the underlying assumption of her book: that late third- through fifth-century Christian portrait funerary art is an important source of information about early Christian women as persons who exercised religious authority and influence. Chapter seven examines the implications of female iconography.

Chapter eight is titled “Women and Authority in the Fourth Century: Integrating the Literary Evidence.” This concluding chapter explores what can be known from the literary sources about the Christian women who lived during this dramatically transformative time in church and empire.

History educates, confirms, inspires, and motivates…… And this is a very fine historical study.

I conclude with a bit of serendipity. This morning, my wife and I participated in a Belgian, Roman Catholic funeral for the wife of a friend. It was an impressive and memorable service. The presider, dressed in white, speaking and singing in a wonderfully warm and reassuring way was a woman. I couldn’t help thinking, with a gentle knowing smile, about Crispina, her sisters, and author Sister Christine Schenk.


Conservative Dialogue

Saturday 7 July 2018

Not so long ago I had a reunion with an old college friend, who knew my parents quite well. Slapping me on the back, as some old boys like to do, he reprimanded me and asked how it was possible that I became such an “old liberal” when my parents were so “ultra-conservative.” I told him I thought such labels applied to neither my parents nor me. I said drop the labels and talk about the issues, please.

Terms like “liberal” and “conservative” can be very confusing and distorting these days when so much of our language seems increasingly disconnected from reality. My parents valued accuracy, truthfulness, and critical thinking. I as well. In many ways they were traditionalists. I as well, because all genuine theological research and reflection is anchored in tradition, biblical exegesis, and contemporary faith experience. Tradition is not only important but essential.

Tradition gets interpreted, and that is where the discussion/dialogue should start.

An article in today’s International New York Times caught my attention because the author is Roger Scruton, an English philosopher and writer, well-know for his “traditionalist conservative” views. Scruton first came to my attention when I read his 2017 book Conservatism: Ideas in Profile.

Roger Scruton’s New York Times article was titled: “What Trump doesn’t get about conservatism” and I — the “old liberal” — found myself resonating with much of his viewpoint.

Some excerpts:

“I have devoted a substantial part of my intellectual life to defining and defending conservatism, as a social philosophy and a political program,” Scruton writes. “Each time I think I have hit the nail on the head, the nail slips to one side and the hammer blow falls on my fingers…..

In the current president “…. we encounter a politician who uses social media to bypass the realm of ideas entirely, addressing the sentiments of his followers without a filter of educated argument and with only a marginal interest in what anyone with a mind might have said…..

“Institutions, traditions, and allegiances survive by adapting, not by remaining forever in the condition in which a political leader might inherit them. Conservative thinkers have in general understood this. And the principle of adaptability applies not only to law but also to the economy on which all citizens depend…..

“Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage, and the family. Such spheres of social endeavor arise not through buying and selling but through cherishing what cannot be bought and sold: things like love, loyalty, art and knowledge, which are not means to an end but ends in themselves.

“About such things it is fair to say that Mr. Trump has at best only a distorted vision. He is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.”

My point this week end is not so much to critique the current president — worth doing of course — but to stress the importance of evidence-based dialogue. “Conservative” dialogue. “Liberal” dialogue. “Traditionalist” dialogue.

Dialogue with everyone without slipping into the barrel vision of contemporary labels

Ultimately, as history demonstrates, the only alternative to dialogue is war.