From Niebuhr to God’s Harvard
As I surfed the web today between classes and dissertation, I noticed a couple things of possible interest to our readers.
First, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has an interesting web report on the “comeback” of Reinhold Niebhur. It seems that Niebhur is in vogue with an off-Broadway play, entitled “Horizon," loosely based on his life that ran this summer as well as various politicians, including Eliot Spitzer, Barack Obama and John McCain, quoting the politician. The appeal of Niebhur for politicians seems to be in his understanding of how faith relates to politics. Benedicta Cipolla writes:
Niebuhr's own grounding of his political beliefs in his Christian faith may serve as another factor in the increased interest in him. While Republicans have long cloaked their programs and policies in the language of faith, since the 2004 election Democrats too have turned to a religious vocabulary to publicly undergird their views on domestic and foreign policies and to attract voters who may feel more welcome as people of faith by conservatives. At debates and forums, current presidential candidates from both parties have spoken about how faith has informed both their public policies and personal lives with a pietistic emphasis some believe would have discomfited Niebuhr.
Second, Slate offers a dialogue between Hanna Rosin and David Kuo, who is a self-proclaimed evangelical and previous employee of the Bush Whitehouse, on Rosin’s God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America. (Kuo has also written Tempted by Faith critiquing the Bush administration’s faith based initiatives.) This is another book on my ever-expanding reading list of new books on “evangelicals.” Kuo, however, quickly calls Rosen on her presentation:
In examining Patrick Henry College, you are looking at a very narrow slice of the evangelical world. Most studies conclude that there are at least 20 million, and perhaps as many as 70 million, Americans who fit the "evangelical" classification. Patrick Henry's first class in 1999 had 92 students, and it currently has only 325 students. It's run by a man who makes no apologies for saying that Jesus would be a social conservative. Isn't it a bit of a stretch to make generalizations about evangelicals based on Patrick Henry?
Rosin responded with her conception of “evangelical”:
When I say "evangelical," I am thinking of that elite subgroup that goes to church at least once a week. The Patrick Henry kids are in that 29 percent of Christian teens who say religion is "extremely important" in their lives, who don't cut classes or do drugs, and who wouldn't succumb if you left Scarlett Johansson waiting for them in their bedrooms.
Despite the gender connotations present in her definition, I think, once you get past Scarlett, this points to a larger issue of how to define the term evangelical and how to employ it. Does the term have much value since it is bandied about so often?