• Leonard E. Greenberg, who died Monday at the age of 89, was a native son of Hartford who never lacked the courage of his convictions.

    He walked into Trinity College as one of the local boys – mostly Jews from t […]

  • By Mark Silk

    Everyone interested in the future of the Catholic church is now focused on the Synod of Bishops on the Family – the showdown in Rome between progressive forces seeking to reanimate the spirit o […]

  • By William Winter ’18

    Tight security, careful orchestration, and anticipated criticism kept Pope Francis from indulging his usual penchant for speaking off the cuff and wading into crowds, veteran religion […]

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    On April 6, Mark Silk gave the following talk at a Boston College colloquium titled “Why Libertarianism Isn’t Liberal.”

    Thirty years ago, when I was in the process of transforming (or should I say […]

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    by Mark Silk
    At a lunchtime forum on free speech and blasphemy in the Trinity chapel February 5, a mostly student audience was told there would be a vote to determine whether to display some of the cartoons […]

  • FROM THE EDITOR: Sixteen years ago, we began publishing Religion in the News. Forty issues later, we’re ringing down the curtain. This is partly the result of financial exigency, but there’s more to it than that.
    It was a different world of religion reporting in 1998. Newspapers, shedding circulation but still making money hand over fist, had decided that religion was Important.
    Didn’t more Americans go to church than attend sporting events? Weren’t religious groups playing a big and unexpected role in politics? And hadn’t a lot of folks been convinced that we journalists were hostile to God and traditional values? We needed to let readers know that we felt their faith.
    Across the land, “Faith and Values” sections sprang up like mushrooms, with lots of space for stories and ambitious young reporters who were nothing like the mousy guy in the corner who used to process congregational press releases into briefs for the Saturday page. No self-respecting daily of any size wanted to be caught overlooking the religion beat.
    And big philanthropy took an interest. The Pew Charitable Trusts, whose interest in religion had centered on conservative faith communities, decided to get into the religion-and-public-life game, with special attention to “the media piece.” The Lilly Endowment, too, wanted a piece of the action.
    Trinity College’s new Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, headed by a former newspaperman, was perfectly positioned to lend a hand. We proposed a magazine to help journalists make better sense of the religion stories they were covering, and Religion in the News was born.
    Our first cover story, by David Hackett of the University of Florida, looked at Promise Keepers, the evangelical men’s movement that seemed to be taking America by storm. The problem with the coverage, Hackett wrote, was that it was overly concerned with politics when the movement was really more in the longstanding evangelical tradition of seeking to persuade wayward males to shoulder their domestic duties.
    Providing insights like that was our ambition, and to the extent we could manage it, our stock in trade.
    This golden age of religion reporting wasn’t perfect, journalistically speaking. The Faith and Values sections bore a family resemblance to the Sunday auto sections—products more about appreciating than scrutinizing the object of attention. There was also a sense in the industry that religion in America had become less about institutions and more about the spiritual things people did on their own—a misconception that led to a lot of stories about things reporters weren’t very good at writing about.
    Still, when the biggest religion story in the history of journalism came along, the newspapers were ready. After the Boston Globe began writing about the Archdiocese of Boston’s systematic cover-up of the abuse of minors by priests in January of 2002, it was off to the races.
    This was the institutional religion story par excellence, about the biggest, oldest, richest, and most powerful religious institution in human history. And it reached from every parish in the country all the way to St. Peter’s itself.
    It’s a story that continues to this day, of course, to the Catholic Church’s immense moral and material cost. But the intervening years have seen more by way of journalistic than ecclesiastical implosion. As newspapers downsized and downsized again, the Faith and Values sections disappeared. Before long, a full-time religion reporter became a luxury most papers could ill afford. There was less coverage of the things Religion in the News wrote about, and a lot fewer journalists to read what we wrote.
    Moreover, even as the Internet wreaked havoc on newspapers, it opened the doors to a mass of commentary by experts and would-be experts in all fields of human endeavor—articles and essays and blogs and tweets available with a few keystrokes. Kibbitzing religion in the news—an occupation that Religion in the News had once had more or less to itself—could now be encountered in many places, and in real time.
    That’s not to say that anybody is duplicating what Religion in the News does. We still have a corner on tracing the trajectory of an important religion story and assessing its significance—the “story of the story.” To be sure, nowadays that means taking account of the fact that much of what passes for coverage no longer comes from traditional news sources.
    So rather than giving up the ghost, we have taken it on-line.
    This fall, we developed a new Religion in the News website that will offer what we’ve always offered in something more like real time. Rather than prepare a complete hard copy issue and then put it up on the Web as we have always done, we expect to publish a new article every couple of weeks. Send an email to csrpl@trincoll.edu and we will let you know whenever one is published.
    There will continue to be illustrations from Stephen Alcorn, the brilliant artist who, along with designer Jo Lynn Alcorn, has given Religion in the News its distinctive look since the very first issue. In addition, the site includes a regular feed of my Religion News Service blog, as well as a Twitter feed and featured articles and research from both the Greenberg Center and Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture.
    We’ll miss the old Religion in the News, and would like to think that you will too. There’s nothing like assembling an issue, putting it to bed, and having the tangible thing in hand. But we’re excited about the new venture, and believe that it will better serve a readership that now reaches well beyond the journalistic community, and which expects to see the world not from hard copy to hard copy but through a screen, brightly.

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    by Mark Silk

    The last Public Values lunch of the semester was devoted to a discussion of The New Atheist Denial of History by Trinity Professor of History emeritus Borden Painter. Published by Palgrave […]

  • Eighty yeCSRPLLogoBluears ago, the University of Pennsylvania sociologist Ray H. Abrams published Preachers Present Arms, a critique of the American Christian clergy’s enthusiasm for U.S. military intervention in World War I. The book appeared at a time when religious opposition to war was on the rise, and the book helped push it almost to pacifist levels. But the opposition melted away with the news of Pearl Harbor.

    In the sequel, American Christianity continued to blow as the spirit listed on matters of war and peace. Mainline Protestant leaders reacted negatively to the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but adopted the Christian realist position of Reinhold Niebuhr and company once the Cold War settled in. Religious opposition to the Korean War was restricted to the peace churches.

    In 1965, a faith-based movement against the war in Vietnam got off the ground with the founding of Clergy Concerned (later, Clergy and Laity Concerned), headlined by Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and (then) Lutheran pastor Richard John Neuhaus. But many Catholics and most evangelicals, strenuous anti-Communists that they were, remained well outside the antiwar fold.

    And American Christianity remained a divided house until this year, when, in a remarkable show of unanimity, there was neither mainliner nor evangelical, neither Catholic nor Orthodox, but all were one (with the exception of the odd neoconservative) in opposing President Obama’s desire to send bombers to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.

    Leading the way was Pope Francis, who after just a few months in the See of Peter had established himself as a kind of living saint. “War never again! Never again war!” he tweeted, and proceeded to lead a prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square where he pronounced, “Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.” Dutifully, the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops sent letters to every member of Congress urging them not to support the president’s proposed strike.

    The United Methodists likewise urged their members to contact their members of Congress to express their displeasure, citing their church’s Social Principles: “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy.” Similar thumbs down came from the Congregationalists and the Lutherans.

    Less expectedly, the National Association of Evangelicals reported that nearly two-thirds of evangelical leaders did not support direct U.S. military intervention. Russell Moore, the new president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, judged that, according to the theory of just war, there were “principles missing here, both to justify action morally and to justify it prudentially.”

    First developed out of the Roman philosophical tradition by Augustine of Hippo, and elaborated by Thomas Aquinas, just war theory remains the principal means by which Christians in the West evaluate the legitimacy of war. Reduced to formulaic terms (in paragraph 2309 of the 1983 Catholic Catechism), it holds that:

    • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

    • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

    • there must be serious prospects of success;

    • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power as well as the precision of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

    Whether President Obama’s proposed strike met those criteria was, like many proposed acts of war, open to debate. In the event, it was the credible threat of military action—something not contemplated in just war theory—that brought about at least a possible amelioration of the conflict in Syria.

    The value of just war theory is that it provides a way for Christians to acknowledge what the millennarian side of their tradition cannot—that there is evidence to suggest that violence can indeed bring peace in its wake.

    Would the Bosnians be better off today had NATO not intervened militarily in the 1990s to stop the genocidal behavior of the Serbs? Would Malians be better off had French troops not intervened in their country this year?

    On the other hand, just war theory is designed to be able to give war makers a clean bill of moral health—and that not only runs up against Christianity’s pacifist soul, it also opens the door to a triumphalism that does no one any good.

    But there is, in the Christian tradition, another approach
—that of Eastern Orthodoxy. Basil the Great, the fourth century Church Father who presided over a diocese in Asia Minor, recognized that taking up arms might be necessary even as it remained morally problematic: “Our fathers did not consider killings committed in the course of wars to be classifiable as murders at all, on the score, it seems to me, of allowing a pardon to men fighting in defense of sobriety and piety,” he wrote. “Perhaps, though, it might be advisable to refuse them communion for three years, on the ground that their hands are not clean.”

    The Columbia church historian (and Orthodox priest) John McGuckin sees in this passage a fine expression of “the tension in the basic Christian message that there is an unresolvable shortfall between the ideal and the real in an apocalyptically charged religion. What this Basilian canon does most effectively is to set a No Entry sign to any potential theory of Just War within Christian theology, and should set up a decided refusal of post-war church-sponsored self-congratulations for victory.”

    Just warriors as well as anti-warriors, non-Christian and Christian alike, would do well to ponder this lesson.