The Time cover of April 8, 1966 became the most notorious in the magazine’s history. A Harris Poll taken around that time found that while 97% of Americans polled said they believed in God, only 27% declared themselves “deeply religious.” In the mid-1960s, a group of theologians advised churches to “accept God’s death, and get along without him. Princeton ethicist Paul Ramsey put it this way: “Ours is the first attempt in recorded history to build a culture upon the premise that God is dead.”
During this period, Harvey Cox had a best-seller with The Secular City; Robert Bellah earned academic fame with his essay “Civil Religion in America”; and the Catholic Church shook the religious landscape with declarations on religious liberty in the Second Vatican Council.
Fast-forward to the next generation to the mid-1980s. Robert Wuthnow publishes his landmark study of recent American religious history, The Restructuring of American Religion capturing the two trends that emerged from the 1960s: a religious awakening around the Religious Right and the spinning out of faiths in everything from new age spirituality to a civil religion of technology. The book that came closest to capturing this moment was Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square. While ostensibly a collection and expansion of themes Neuhaus had been writing on in a variety of publications, the book seemed to suggest a debate that would shape the future of American politics as well as the future of America’s churches.
Recently, our moment has been punctuated by debates over health care, access to contraception, and the murky term of religious freedom. For a sliver of conflicted opinions expressed among Catholics see Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s letter and an editorial in America. We’ve had ambiguous results from the Republican primary in the bellwether state of Ohio. Only 25% of those eligible to vote actually did, and of those who voted, half supported technocratic candidate Mitt Romney and half supported Catholic fundamentalist Rick Santorum. The primary results indicated both a split among the Republican electorate and the lukewarm feelings the candidates generate.
My question for this week regards the moment we seem to be in: have we reached another impasse of faith? Is there a book or topic that might capture this moment as had Cox’s The Secular City and Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square? What’s the new tagline?