February 16, 2009
— Martin E. Marty
"Brotherhood Week": Is there still such an observance? I Googled, and came up with scores of versions, sung and printed, of Tom Lehrer's delightfully cynical or cynically delightful song of satire about the prejudices and hatreds that were disguised and covered that one week of the year. While Lehrer's song is a chastening dose of realism, one has to observe that some good things are going on; serious people are working away at improving inter-religious relations; and many more are acting in programs and in ways that advance the minimize the potential of lethal actions, group against group.
Someone who tackles the religion beat has plenty of choices on what to cover, as I did last week. The Pope and the Jews. How the religious line up pro- and con- on Charles Darwin. Whether Abraham Lincoln, our most religiously profound president, has anything to say to us today. New Catholic and Evangelical resolves to fight on the anti-abortion front. But few of these stories do justice to the way religious forces and energies are put to work close to the ground. I look at my logbook and find numbers of these in a week not named "Brotherhood." Some examples:
First, an afternoon with a religion reporter who is helping her profession make its way in, between, and among print and electronic media. There is no way she can keep up with religion stories, so abundant are they. Yet she reports that recent college graduates, now in journalism schools, tend to have little interest (yet!) in religion, and don't foresee how they are going to have to make sense of it in the years ahead. Why the generation gap in understanding of the role of religion, with its healing and killing power?
Some younger people do have an understanding and are doing something about it. As this Sightings column is making its way to screens like yours this morning, I am breakfasting and chatting with leadership of the Interfaith Youth Core. Founder and leader Eboo Patel looked around at lectures, forums, and action groups dealing with religion(s) in public life and saw mainly gray-haired seniors. Older people know how important their topics are. Patel reasoned that it is the young who have longest to live with interfaith conflict, and who most need hope of reconciliations. He founded this group, now national and more, to attract the under-thirty set, and attract them it has. There is nothing wishy or washy about the conversations or activities among these young people of all faiths who are changing their part of the world.
At dinner this weekend with friends, my wife and I enjoyed the company of people, most of whom we had never met, who deal with what gets called "faith-based" on every level, from the global to the ghetto-school. Entrepreneurial, full of spirit and Spirit, tireless, they put faith to work. How much does the world we call "secular" know of the buzz of activities, the energies, the thinking of such, when "The New Atheism" more readily attracts attention?
Then there is an e-mail from Rabbi Michael Lerner, announcing his lung cancer, praying for prayers, and pitching for so many causes associated with Tikkun magazine and his Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). The NSP is not everyone's cup of tea, but Lerner has added the voice and action of "spiritual progressives" to the media mix long dominated by "spiritual regressives". Here's to his health and to faith-based life of many sorts where the promotion of health in public life gets fostered. Tom Lehrer had his place and time, but now a dispirited culture needs new songs. We'll listen.
Listen to a sound file of Tom Lehrer's "National Brotherhood Week" at http://www.getalyric.com/mp3/lyrics/songs/tom_lehrer-4565/that_was_the_year_that_was-14721/national_brotherhood_week-78507/.
Learn more about Interfaith Youth Core at http://www.ifyc.org/.
Learn more about Tikkun, the magazine and the movement, at http://www.tikkun.org/.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.