Mon, 06 Apr 2009 15:36:30 +0000 – Newsweek magazine is at it again: making a killing off religion, while biting the hand that feeds it. This week's cover story -- "The End of Christian America" -- is emblematic of the magazine's penchant for reporting on things sacred with an unmasked bias against America's traditional religious beliefs and in favor of a socially impotent "secular theology" in line with the convictions of its self-described Episcopalian editor, Jon Meacham.
It's a penchant that forms a pattern, a narrative. Meacham -- a talented writer and editor, but untrained in theology -- pooh-poohed the film "The Passion of the Christ" as theologically inaccurate and unimportant (until it became a spectacular box office success, at which time, the magazine shifted its focus to the mysterious phenomenon of so many people being positively moved by what film critics and liberal theologians so despised).
Newsweek seems bent on redefining America as a nation of disbelief -- or of secular belief (made in one's own image and likeness) -- while hoping earnestly America will retain its moral character.Mother Teresa Christopher Hitchens
But none of these examples is as important for understanding Newsweek's faith-based secular agenda as this week's article about the "decline and fall of Christian America". Editor Jon Meacham wrote the article himself, and timed it perfectly for the Christian celebration of Easter, even though the data the article presents from the American Religious Identification Survey was available many weeks earlier.
Meacham does a fine job of regurgitating these statistics. He points out that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen ten points in the past two decades and that, in the same period, the number of Americans who describe themselves as atheists has increased from 1 million to about 3.6million. But while Meacham's general tone appears at first to be sympathetic to the Christian reader who would see these numbers as a negative trend, and his summary of the history of belief and doubt in America is interesting, if not always accurate. Meacham all too quickly reveals his hand, by following up the data with his own opinion -- a rather secular one -- rather than with journalistic analysis:
"...our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago. I think this is a good thing -- good for our political culture, which, as the American Founders saw, is complex and charged enough without attempting to compel or coerce religious belief or observance."
Whether or not it's true (no evidence was provided) that our politics and culture are less influenced today by Christian belief than even five years ago, is less important than Meacham's fallacy of concluding that arguments of an explicitly Christian character ("we should feed the poor because the Bible tells us so," for example) are equivalent to compelling or coercing religious belief or observance. Meacham's logic fails because he has bought into a heretical view of our Founding Fathers' understanding of a proper separation of church and state. In Meacham's secularist view, religious convictions about the ordering of society toward the common good must be either rejected as irrational or kept silent.
For a more open-minded, inclusive view of how religious conviction should influence society, Meacham and his editors would do well to read atheistauthor, Austin Dacey. His book, "Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life" posits that secular humanists (and I would add at least one Episcopalian too) have made the great mistake of arguing that"matters of conscience -- religion, ethics, and values -- are private matters."Dacey acknowledges his fellow secularists have done so with the hope of "preventing believers from introducing sectarian beliefs into politics,"but according to Dacey, this strategy has failed because in a free society "freedoms of belief means believers are free to speak their minds in public."
Having recognized the failure by secularists to keep belief out of public life, Dacey begins to think out of the box of American liberalism. He proposes a refreshing alternative that allows both believers and secularists a place at the table in determining what good policy for the country is.
"A policy can be justified when it is favored by a convergence of citizens' varying reasons, without there being any consensus on those reasons themselves. And there is no reason why the claims of conscience can't be a part of such convergence. For example, you might favor the creation of a federal wildlife preserve because you believe it will be good for the tourist economy, while I might favor it because I believe God made people stewards of the environment. So long as our reasons converge, the decision is justified to each of us and the ideal of legitimacy is preserved. There is nothing necessarily illegitimate about conscience."
Ironically, Dacey the Atheist is more open to faith influencing public life than is Meacham the Believer. Newsweek seems bent on redefining America as a nation of disbelief -- or of secular belief (made in one's own image and likeness) -- while hoping earnestly America will retain its moral character. This is how Jon Meacham put it in November 2007 when he accepted an award for his journalistic work on behalf of protecting church-state separation:
"I do believe in the tradition of which I am part," (referring to his Episcopalian faith). "I also firmly believe that faith coerced is not faith -- it is tyranny. And I would much rather live in a nation of people who behave in a Judeo-Christian way, than who pretend as though we live in a Judeo-Christian, or Christian nation,".
At least he's consistent. Unfortunately, the hope of living in a nation of people behaving in a Judeo-Christian way, while journalists like himself work consistently to supplant the religious convictions that have taught us what a Judeo-Christian way of life might look like, is a pipedream.
If Newsweek continues to bite the hand that feeds it, its editors won't be able to blame the financial crisis when it is forced to shut down its print operation -- there will be no more religion to report on.
Father Jonathan Morris, who joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in May 2005, currently serves as a contributor and also writes for FoxNews.com.