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Religion & Liberty Article Listing

Religion's Role in Public Life

R&L: Alexis de Tocqueville observed that religion is the first political institution in America, an observation you have said is even more true today than it was in the nineteenth century. Would you explain?

Neuhaus: One can make the case that America is in many ways more religious today than it was in the 1830s when Tocqueville wrote. Tocqueville’s understanding of religion as the first political institution had nothing to do with what is viewed today as the influence of religion in lobbying and direct political action. Rather, apart from the family, which is not a political institution, it was in religious associations that people came to experience their first and deepest sense of participation. In that sense, religion is the first political institution. Second,...

Making the Case for Population Growth

In April, a distinguished assembly of some forty Catholic officials and lay people met in Mexico City with several experts on demographic issues. There they were to discuss substance and strategy related to the United Nations’ 1994 decennial conference on population in Cairo. It is widely expected that the Cairo conference will once again call for large scale population control programs and planned development. In the vanguard of this push is the environmental movement and groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population fund, which believe that a growing population is a threat to human welfare and to the biosphere, and that one way or another governments should control population growth.

The Mexico City meeting was sponsored by the Pontifical Council...

Islam and Freedom

Islam is the stereotype of the unknowable “Other” in the West today. Yet the commonality between Islam and Christianity is greater than the difference. The legacy of Crusades fought long ago lends itself to more recent political interests and ambitions that obscure that commonality. There is, no doubt, an important theological difference between Islam and Christianity: the belief held by Christians of the divinity of Christ is not held by Muslims. Yet, Muslims revere Jesus (peace be upon him) as an outstanding Prophet and Messiah, and acknowledge the legitimacy of the Christian community as “People of the Book” (i.e., as recipients of an earlier revelation). Additionally, the Qur’an (which every Muslim believes to be the actual Word of God) states: “Nearest among [people] in love to the believers will you find those who say:...

Charles le Comte de Montalembert

Born in London in 1810 to am émigré French nobleman serving in the British Army, Charles Forbes René, comte de Montalembert was raised largely by his English grandfather, James Forbes. Although a devout Protestant, Forbes encouraged Charles in the Catholic faith of his father.

In 1819, the young Montalembert returned to France for school, and received his degree in Paris from the College Ste. Barbe in 1828. In the fall of 1830, at the suggestion of Father Félicité Robert de Lamennais, he joined the editorial board of L'Avenir, the fledgling journal dedicated as the organ of liberal...

Good News for the Poor

The essence of what Jennings has extracted from Wesley is that the Christian ethic revolves entirely around providing for the poor. Moreover, the “rich” who do this are not just people living in great plenty but also those who have attained only sufficient shelter, food, and clothing to sustain life at a reasonable level of comfort–in other words, anyone in the lower middle class. Even reaching this modest level of prosperity, one runs the risk of falling into spiritual pride; beyond it religious life inevitably dies as the cares of the world crowd out the spiritual fruit that once flourished in the midst of physical adversity. Possessing “wealth,” the formerly poor and faithful Christian now sets his heart on it and so chokes out his spiritual life. Jennings provides enough extracts from Wesley’s writings to convince the...

Challenges Facing the Culture

R&L: What did you mean when you subtitled your 1989 book Against the Night, “Living in the New Dark Ages.” Have the last four years changed your views?

Colson: When I wrote Against the Night, I was fearful that we were entering the new dark ages, that the barbarians were not only at the gates of our culture but coming over the walls. Looking over these past four years, I see no signs that we are awakening to the threat; in fact, almost every single cultural indicator reveals a deepening decline and further erosion of decency and civility in our society.

I believe, in fact, that we have crossed a major cultural divide–the barbarians are not just coming over the wall, they are inside running things. We can no longer say that America...

Effective Aid to the Poor

How would you like half a million dollars? There are only two conditions for you to receive it. The first is that you give it all away to the poor. That is disappointing, but on reflection still attractive: Quite nice to be able to give away $500,000 to those in need. The second condition is that you give it away efficiently. This means you must be able to show it went to those most in need, that they did not waste it, that it did not encourage them to become dependent on such generosity, and that it did not destroy incentives to work and independence. No, thank you.

Giving away money is easy, provided you’ve got enough in the first place. But giving away money efficiently is very difficult. And that remains true whether the donor is the state, a voluntary association, or an individual. In normal...

Morality, Duty, Responsibility, and Authentic Liberty

Among its many features, religion is primarily the worship of God. If the desire to worship God is genuine, then there naturally will arise a suitable code of morality as man’s expression in action of what is true and good. This is due to man’s innate need to satisfy God, that is, to do what is pleasing in his sight. By nature, man fears God; a fear born out of ignorance of God. Unless his fear overwhelms him in an inexhaustible grip of anxiety about his daily life on earth and his state after death, man attempts to satisfy and thereby appease God. In this way man wants by nature to know, to love, and to serve God. Moreover, God has created each man with an innate ability to do this: a conscience.

The conscience is that inner voice in every man’s own heart that speaks the truth about...

Isaac Backus

Isaac Backus era uno de los oradores principales del "púlpito de la Revolución Estadounidense." A menudo comparado con Roger Williams, John Leland, Thomas Jefferson y James Madison, Isaac Backus era una de las "figuras de relieve en el proceso de formación de un movimiento sobre la libertad de conciencia en los Estados Unidos." Su compromiso con la causa de los derechos civiles y de la libertad de conciencia se expresan claramente en su sermón publicado en 1773, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Against the Oppressions of the Present Day”.

Nacido en Norwich,...

Isaac Backus

Queste sono le parole di Isaac Backus, uno degli oratori di punta del “pulpito della Rivoluzione Americana”. Spesso collegato a Roger Williams, John Leland, Thomas Jefferson e James Madison, Isaac Backus è una delle “ figure di spicco nel processo di formazione in America di un movimento sulla libertà di coscienza”. La sua dedizione alla causa dei diritti civili e della libertà di coscienza trova chiara espressione nel sermone che egli fece pubblicare nel 1773, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Against the Oppressions of the Present Day”.

Nato nel Norwichin Connecticut, nel 1724,...

Isaac Backus

Isaac Backus was one of the leading orators of the “pulpit of the American Revolution.” Often ranked with Roger Williams, John Leland, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, Isaac Backus is one of the “preeminent figures in the establishing of freedom of conscience in America.” His commitment to liberty and freedom of conscience is best articulated in his published sermon of 1773, “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, Against the Oppressions of the Present Day.”

Born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1724, Backus was converted to Christianity in 1741. He attended a Separatist Congregationalist...

The Loss of Virtue

Several years ago the Philadelphia Inquirer published an editorial outlining the absence of moral direction in the public forum as a consequence of the current understanding of the separation of church and state. The author argued that it is as though the embrace of any moral standards implies the adoption of certain religious tenets or the dogma of a particular church.

The Founding Fathers were, of course, decidedly religious men; and it was precisely their desire to protect the free exercise of religion that led them to insist that the United States should never have a state church. It is regrettable that the modern interpretation of the separation of church and state, intended to protect religious liberty, should lead many today to the conclusion that religion and religious discourse should have no part...

Productivity and Potential

R&L: You have led an incredibly productive and active life, from the early civil rights movement to now working to strengthen the black family. What motivates you?

Perkins: I don’t like to see human potential wasted, and that’s what happens when people are left behind, either because the system excludes them or because they have failed to adopt solid values. I spent 22 years, from 1962 to 1980, in rural Mississippi, and prior to that I lived in California. But I had little basic moral training. I grew up with my grandmother, but her sons were bootleggers and gamblers. I would like to give people something I did not have.

R&L: What do you think it was in your own life that instilled values in you? ...

Natural Law and Economics

If we accept the fact that economics is a human discipline designed, in its original sense, to provide for the acquisition and management of household goods, we can perhaps admit that economics is not a wholly “autonomous” discipline that has no relation to other considerations about human life. The fact that economies are nation- and world-wide, themselves highly mathematicized, does not change the principle behind this observation.

Aristotle was quite sure that a household, as well as the polis, needs a certain amount of material goods if other ends like the practice of virtue were to be achieved. On the one hand, human life was not exclusively about such goods, but it still needed them and had to devote vast amounts of time and effort to produce them. On the other hand, there was a situation of too...

The Spirituality of Conflict

Sixteen years ago, Bill married Jennifer, his high school sweetheart, in a joyful ceremony at which I officiated. A few months ago, they stunned me with the news of their divorce plans. They had attempted to reconcile, but were now committed to ending the marriage. They informed me that since they were both rational people who respected one another, they were determined to divorce amicably.

Right now, however, Bill and Jennifer are embroiled in bitter divorce litigation. Legal fees have soared into the six-figure range and seriously threaten their estate. Their two families, who had been close for years, no longer speak; their friends have been forced to take sides. Jennifer has exchanged her beautiful home for a small apartment, and Bill has not seen his children for eight weeks.

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