When my mother died at the grand old age of 91 she left behind a long letter to her children, filled with loving reflections and one exhortation. "I think if I had one wish for all of you other than a long and healthy life," she wrote, "it would be that you give the grandchildren a little religion. Something that has lasted for over 6,000 years has to have something going for it."
She knew that her assimilated Jewish family was tempted by the secular culture. At the end of her long life she was puzzled by how difficult it had become for the generation following hers to integrate religious faith into their lives.
Whether Jewish or Christian, organized religion has fallen on hard times. Millions of Americans attend synagogue, church and cathedral services every week, but even among the devout, God is less integrated into daily life than in earlier generations.
The Founding Fathers, tutored intellectually and sometimes theologically in the Judeo-Christian tradition, counted on the wall separating church and state to insulate religion. This would allow the faithful to go about their business of spreading their good news freely. Skeptics would always assert their prejudices in the public square, but intolerance would be exposed as bigotry.
References to God -- such as "In God We Trust" -- are commonplace in our history, indeed right on the money. What astonishes me is that people of faith rarely sneer at nonbelievers, but scientifically oriented cosmopolites rarely hesitate to mock believers. Evangelical Christians are routinely scapegoated with impunity, as if they're troglodyte know-nothings unified in a cabal to promote ignorance.
George W. Bush is ridiculed as chaplain-in-chief because he openly speaks of his faith. Does anyone doubt his sincerity? Kevin Phillips, betraying an ignorance of American history, writes in The Washington Post that under George W.'s leadership, "The Republican Party has become the first religious party in U.S. history." Gerhard Schroeder, the former chancellor of Germany, writes in his memoir that what bothered him about the president "and in a certain way made me suspicious despite the relaxed atmosphere, was again and again in our discussions how much this president described himself as 'God-fearing.'" (Would that an earlier generation of Germans nourished a little fear of God.)
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