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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
            Wednesday, December 3 2003 

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Frames of reference, 5

Secularism prioritized

Spirituality and moral living prioritized

Despite the fact that some of my favorite relatives were Roman Catholics, I grew up like many Protestant kids with a strong bias against Catholicism. It wasn't until I was studying theology in a graduate school in Philadelphia that I realized, as something of a shock, that just about everything Protestants possess in the way of Christian doctrine and history they owe to the Catholic Church. The shock was realizing that the professors at the fundamentalist Protestant seminary measured everything they taught against Catholic doctrine and history. Luther wanted to reform the Catholic church, not abandon it, and though Calvin (the "great white father" of the seminary, whose students were mostly Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and assorted evangelicals), a slightly younger reformer than Luther, gave up on reforming Rome institutionally, still considered his own movement a reform of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, not a new start.

Even more important, between the ages 15 and 25 I became convinced that the major competitor to Christian faith was secular humanism, not other less doctrinally "biblical" denominations than my own, though the Bible was still our supreme norm. And this realization meant the end of my anti-Catholicism, as most of the best-educated and most-articulate voices against secularism in the United States were Catholics like William F. Buckley and many others.

Humanism traces its roots to the Catholic universities of the middle ages (the University of Paris and England's Oxford pre-eminently) where it began as the science of everything human (the humanities, also known as the liberal arts). In the Renaissance (the movement that ended the middle ages) humanism became the spearhead of a reform movement toward democracy, against monarchy and hierarchicalism, and which movement flourished in the Reformation as Protestantism, which is always more "democratic" than Catholicism, and sometimes (as in the Quakers and congregationalism) downright egalitarian. In the next wave of humanistic evolution, the Enlightenment (18th century), humanism became secularist, turning into secular humanism, and that movement is still very much with us, both in formal and informal manifestations. ("Secular" is just an English variation on the Latin word for "the world" or what the New Testament calls worldliness.) And secular humanism's basic creed is that man (male and female) is the measure of everything and, as such, man is the creator of god or gods, not the other way around.

It's this doctrine that makes acceptance of abortion thinkable in this generation, many of whose older members used to think of "abortionist" as the most vile label that could be applied to members of the medical profession. I have no doubt that the pre-eminent proponent of abortion in the US Senate, Ted Kennedy, grew up hearing it used this way, and strongly suspect he used it that way himself through his youth.

One way to identify liberals as such is to see whether politicians or writers view "separation of church and state" as a principle of our Constitution or, in general, our laws. Our Constitution prohibits the establishment of a church or religion as the American favored spiritual entity or the "state church," but never uses the phrase "separation of church and state." Thomas Jefferson, a secularist but with a healthy respect for religion, is often referred to as having spoken of separation of church and state, but his one use of the phrase "wall of separation," in a private letter to a Baptist minister, is referring to an American legal doctrine protecting the churches from state intrusion rather than the other way around. But that other way around is how "separation" is routinely interpreted by latter-day liberals. So-called separation of church and state is a fundamental tenet of liberalism; conservatives believe this misconstruction of the Constitution treats religious people as second-class citizens and treats religion as a "second-story" or "airy-fairy" pursuit divorced from reality.

Clearly, secularism is the liberal priority. On the other hand, the conservative leaders of our time (for example, Buckley and William Bennett, Catholics; Jack Kemp, evangelical Protestant), are not only church goers because it's politically expedient to be such, but are authors whose every thesis and speech or book is rooted in moral principles like the Ten Commandments and other teachings of the Bible and their church traditions. President Bush is neither a theoretician or author, but is outspoken in his dependence on relationship with Christ and the Bible as his moral and ethical compass. And for those who see his open smile as a smirk, it should be noted that even Bob Woodward, the journalist whose reporting in the Washington Post helped bring down the Nixon presidency, after meeting with President Bush numerous times has offered for public consumption his assessment that, "with George W. Bush, what you see is what you get"; there's nothing disingenuous ("phony") about him.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Quick reference for this series: First, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh. twelfth.

Fun facts (or "facts," so it says, but take with a grain)

More people are killed by donkeys annually than are killed in plane crashes.

The name of all the continents end with the same letter that they start with.

—Sent by Trudy Myers 

Thought for today - Advent

The brethren asked the elder monk, Abba Agathon, "Among all good works, which is virtue requires the greatest effort?"

He answered, "I think there is no labor greater than that of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath."

— Sent by Christopher Haas

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