A Sociology of Religion for Secularism

Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith. American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems. NYU Press, 2015. 

Reviewed by István Kamarás OJD

Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith’s book American Secularism, published in 2015, is an excellent work in the sociology of religion, one that addresses a gap in the literature. Few studies have focused on the question of non-religiousness as thoroughly as this one. For readers who connect diminished levels of religiosity with secularization or secularism (and these types even crop up among sociologists of religion), the title of this review may come as a surprise. The title is warranted by the central thesis of Baker and Smith’s book, namely, that secularism and religion are two dimensions of the same phenomenon, or more precisely, they represent two endpoints on a continuum of faith.

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Voluntary Servitude? The Matter of CEU

by David Baer

International criticism of a new Hungarian law targeting the operation of Central European University has been unprecedentedly severe – and that’s saying a lot, given the harsh criticisms Viktor Orbán’s government has received in recent years. The President of Germany has spoken out publicly in defense of CEU, and even President Trump’s State Department issued a critical statement. Meanwhile American news outlets, from the mainstream New York Times and Washington Post, to the conservative leaning American Interest and the leftist Vox, have all covered the story critically.

The severity of the criticism mirrors the brazenness of the law. Although Viktor Orbán has been chipping away at democratic institutions since assuming power in 2010, this newest attack on Hungary’s most prestigious university, a symbol of Hungarian-American friendship, and bastion of high caliber intellectual inquiry, has crossed a line so obvious that even Hungary’s apologists are at a loss for words. If in the past Orbán could work to explain away suspicious legislation, he has been unable to produce even the most superficially plausible explanation for “Lex CEU.” The most frequently offered explanation, namely, that CEU is the instrument of a world-wide liberal conspiracy orchestrated by the rich, evil genius of Jewish descent, George Soros, is too outrageous to dupe even the most gullible foreign observer. North and West of the Danube, Hungary is universally perceived as an autocratic regime. Freedom House now ranks Hungarian democracy below Bulgaria and Romania.

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My Crystal Ball Says These Things Will Happen While Donald Trump is President

by David Baer

History is full of surprises, irony, and unintended consequences – which is one reason those who study history know better than to make predictions. Since, however, I’m not a historian, I’m foolish enough to make a few specific predications about things that will happen during Donald Trump’s first term as President. I’m even foolish enough to put these down on record, so you can call me out and rub it once history proves me wrong. If events prove me right, however, then I’ll clearly deserve to be the next President.

1. The sanctions imposed on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine will be lifted, raising the possibility of further territorial revisions in Eastern Europe.

2. Putin will test NATO by manufacturing a crisis in one of the Baltic States. Trump will look the other way. His failure to protect a NATO ally will mark the end of NATO as a credible military alliance.

3. Insurmountable contradictions between Trump’s anti-free trade protectionism and Paul Ryan’s free market philosophy, coupled with Trump’s personal dislike of Ryan, will lead to an anti-Ryan insurgency within the House. Ryan will be replaced by a Speaker whose political vision more closely aligns with Trump’s.

4. Due to his utter lack of political experience and erratic temperament, President Trump will be unable to deliver on the promises made to his base. Democrats will make notable gains in the 2018 mid-term elections, which will exacerbate tensions between traditional and Trumpian Republicans. The Republican Party will start to fissure and possibly split.

5. Trump’s presidency will be tarnished by scandals, as more information about his business dealings come to light, and due to his inability to manage the inherent conflict of interest between being President and operating real estate businesses and casinos.

6. Between 2016 and 2020 traditional American debates about the size and role of government will not feature in political discourse. In 2020 Democrats will abandon the political strategy dating back to Bill Clinton of running centrist campaigns. They will nominate a candidate to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who will win the Presidency.

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Earthly Kingdoms in the Shadow of the Heavenly: Understanding the Ethics of Immigration

by Peter Meilaender

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Source: NBC News (April 5, 2016)

Immigration presents us with a moral dilemma familiar in other circumstances: the challenge of weighing our particular obligations against our universal obligations to all human beings. We should think of ourselves as having special obligations toward our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, but there is a point at which the demands of universal charity outweigh special relationships. We can justify immigration restrictions and need not accept all comers if the pressures become more than we can bear without doing injustice toward those with a prior claim upon us. Yet the demands of universal charity also keep breaking in upon us, and we must recognize also the claims of those whose need is desperate.

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C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

George Marsden. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Reviewed by Gilbert Meilaender

Lewis biographyA biography of a book may seem like a rather strange beast, but something like that is what Princeton University Press provides in its “Lives of Great Religious Books” series. With this offering written by the well known historian of religion, George Marsden, Mere Christianity takes its place in the series alongside books as different as Calvin’s Institutes, the book of Job, and the I Ching. Given the relatively brief “life” of Mere Christianity–compared, for instance, with the three examples I offered of other volumes in the Princeton series–Marsden prescinds from labeling the book a classic. But when one considers that it has been translated into at least thirty-six languages, and that in the last fifteen years alone it has sold over 3.5 million copies just in English, it is hard to deny that Mere Christianity merits inclusion in the series.

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Repurposing Europe

by Pierre Manent

“The gravity of the crisis in France has long been hidden by what we like to call the construction of Europe. The energies of our political class have been devoted to buttressing the authority of an enterprise that delegitimizes the nation and promises a new way of bringing humans together. But these sweet hopes have become less and less plausible. Neither the institutions of Europe, nor the government of France, nor what is called civil society have enough strength or credibility to claim the attention or fix the hopes of citizens. As rich as we still are in material and intellectual resources, we are politically weak. Nothing seems to have the power to gather us toward the common action we all feel necessary. What to do about our diminished collective capacity is the great political question of Europe. Whether in relation to European unification or to Islam, it is clear that we have nothing pertinent to say if we refrain from making claims about European identity.”

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This article was originally published in First Things (April 2016)

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Toward Truth and Reconciliation in Ukraine

By Cyril Hovorun

Maidan (Photo: Claudia Himmelreich McClatchy)

Maidan Square (Photo by Claudia Himmelreich McClatchy)

Ukraine has been riven by civil strife. These are more than political events. They touch upon the most fundamental experiences of conscience and dignity. They reflect an awakening of civil society—and a reaction that seeks a return to ­­state-dominated public life. The future of the country hangs in the balance. What is needed ­today, not only in Ukraine but in every post-Soviet country, is church leadership that is clear-minded about the perils of an excessively close relationship between Christian witness and state power. The single greatest imperative is to encourage and engage civil society.

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Stumped by Trump: Armageddon and the GOP

by David Baer

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

If these are Trump’s supporters, we can begin to see that the strength of his support draws on something more than hatred and bigotry. Trump’s core constituency may have concluded, reasonably enough, that its fortunes are not likely to improve with either a Republican or Democratic President. Insofar as working class voters have deliberated about the candidates within the horizon of their own self-interest (and which political constituency doesn’t deliberate this way), why wouldn’t they vote for Trump?

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Principium 2016.1 Now Available

principium cover

The newest issue of Principium has just been released!

Contents:

  • The editors, “Why Principium?”
  • Robert Benne, “The Church and Politics”
  • Tibor Görföl, “Christianity at the Start of the Millennium”
  • David Baer, “The Nature of Christian Political Action”
  • Gilbert Meilaender, “Infant Euthanasia in Europe”
  • Laura Viktoria Jakli and Jason Wittenberg, “Are Hungary’s Churches Confronting Their Communist Past?”
  • Krisztina Nemes, “Catalan Independence and the Catholic Church”
  • Ádám Rixer, “The Essence of Marriage”

To purchase in the United States click here, in Europe here, and the UK here.

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The Essence of Marriage

by Ádám Rixer

What-Is-MarriageWhat is Marriage? is not a book written primarily to prevent certain types of people from marrying, but rather to shed light on the nature of the institution of marriage. According to the authors, there are two fundamentally different interpretations of marriage, the conjugal view and the revisionist view. The conjugal view presupposes a physical, spiritual and emotional union between a man and a woman, encompassing all essential aspects of their existence, through an exclusive life-long commitment. The revisionist view believes married partners primarily seek emotional fulfillment, and that marriages last only as long as they are emotionally satisfying. In this model, fidelity and sexual commitment last only as long as the “romantic” connection. The revisionist view is therefore held not only by those who support same sex marriage, but also by many who believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. According to the authors this situation makes the defense of traditional marriage necessary.

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What is Marriage? Facebook page

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