NYTimes.com Article: One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom

 

From: franksmith
Date: Tue Mar 23, 2004 2:18 am
Subject: NYTimes.com Article: One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom

The article below from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by franksmith.

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One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom

March 23, 2004
By DAVID BROOKS

Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether it is constitutional for public school teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, including the phrase "one nation under God," in their classrooms. So tonight's reading assignment is "A Stone of Hope" by David L. Chappell.

"A Stone of Hope" is actually a history of the civil rights movement, but it's impossible to read the book without doing some fundamental rethinking about the role religion can play in schools and public life.

According to Chappell, there were actually two camps within the civil rights movement. First, there were the mainstream liberals, often white and Northern. These writers and activists tended to have an optimistic view of human nature. Because racism so fundamentally contradicted the American creed, they felt, it would merely take a combination of education, economic development and consciousness-raising to bring out the better angels in people's nature.

The second group, which we might today call the religious left, was mostly black and Southern. Its leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., drew sustenance from a prophetic religious tradition, and took a much darker view of human nature.

King wrote an important essay on Jeremiah, the "rebel prophet" who saw that his nation was in moral decline. King later reminded readers that human beings are capable of "calculated cruelty as no other animal can practice." He and the other leaders in the movement did not believe that education and economic development would fully bring justice, but believed it would take something as strong as a religious upsurge. Because the experiences of the Hebrew prophets had taught them to be pessimistic about humanity, the civil rights leaders knew they had to be spiritually aggressive if they wanted to get anything done.

Chappell argues that the civil rights movement was not a political movement with a religious element. It was a religious movement with a political element.

If you believe that the separation of church and state means that people should not bring their religious values into politics, then, if Chappell is right, you have to say goodbye to the civil rights movement. It would not have succeeded as a secular force.

But the more interesting phenomenon limned in Chappell's book is this: King had a more accurate view of political realities than his more secular liberal allies because he could draw on biblical wisdom about human nature. Religion didn't just make civil rights leaders stronger - it made them smarter.

Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible and commentaries on the Bible can be read as instructions about what human beings are like and how they are likely to behave. Moreover, this biblical wisdom is deeper and more accurate than the wisdom offered by the secular social sciences, which often treat human beings as soulless utility-maximizers, or as members of this or that demographic group or class.

Whether the topic is welfare, education, the regulation of biotechnology or even the war on terrorism, biblical wisdom may offer something that secular thinking does not - not pat answers, but a way to think about things.

For example, it's been painful to watch thoroughly secularized Europeans try to grapple with Al Qaeda. The bombers declare, "You want life, and we want death" - a (fanatical) religious statement par excellence. But thoroughly secularized listeners lack the mental equipment to even begin to understand that statement. They struggle desperately to convert Al Qaeda into a political phenomenon: the bombers must be expressing some grievance. This is the path to permanent bewilderment.

The lesson I draw from all this is that prayer should not be permitted in public schools, but maybe theology should be mandatory. Students should be introduced to the prophets, to the Old and New Testaments, to the Koran, to a few of the commentators who argue about these texts.

From this perspective, what gets recited in the pledge is the least important issue before us. Understanding what the phrase "one nation under God" might mean - that's the important thing. That's not proselytizing; it's citizenship.

E-mail: dabrooks@nytimes.com

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From: winters_diana
Date: Tue Mar 23, 2004 4:57 am
Subject: Re: NYTimes.com Article: One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom

from:

One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom

March 23, 2004
By DAVID BROOKS

I agree with (or at least found useful) much of this, just wanted to point out:

The lesson I draw from all this is that prayer should not be permitted in public schools,

Prayer is permitted in public schools in the US.

It would be hard to stop it. (Kinda like kicking soccer balls. Which would be easier to prevent, actually, if you just took away the balls. You can't take away the content of kids' heads, or the teachings of their parents and church.)

The only thing that is not permitted is for the school to organize the students to pray in a particular time and place, to require specific prayers, and to turn the prayer into a communal, school- sponsored activity. That is as it should be, because (sorry to put it in such almost child-like language, but the point seems often missing from public discussions of this) - the kids know a lot of different prayers. Their families pray different prayers. That is as it should be. It should not be up to the state to teach them to pray. It is the basis of religious freedom.

Diana

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From: Jo Ann Schwartz
Date: Tue Mar 23, 2004 12:54 pm
Subject: Re: [anthroposophy_tomorrow] Re: NYTimes.com Article: One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom

Diana wrote:

One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom

March 23, 2004
By DAVID BROOKS

I agree with (or at least found useful) much of this

Hi Diana,

Like you, I agreed with a lot of the article, however, I would point out the same problem you found with the passage on school prayer exists in the following passage:

Chappell argues that the civil rights movement was not a political movement with a religious element. It was a religious movement with a political element.

If you believe that the separation of church and state means that people should not bring their religious values into politics, then, if Chappell is right, you have to say goodbye to the civil rights movement. It would not have succeeded as a secular force.

Separation of church and state does not mean that people should not bring their religious values into politics -- how could one avoid doing so?? -- it means the State should not impose religious values on the people. Funny how often folks forget about this -- at least until it's someone else's religious values that the State wants them to consider....

Musing on the how freedom sometimes requires restraint....

JoAnn

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