Martin Marty Brings Some Historical Context to the Pew Religion Survey

At Sightings, the publication of the The Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Martin Marty comments on the Pew “U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey.”  As a good historian, Marty notes that these kinds of results should not surprise us.  They reflect patterns of religious ignorance that have been around for a long time.

Here is a snippet of Marty’s article:

Should we be shocked! shocked! at this new Pew set of findings? Hardly. In 1955 Will Herberg’s Protestant-Catholic-Jew, the most quoted account of religion in our most religiously-touted modern decade, produced data that anticipates and parallels the new findings.

I recently had occasion to revisit a book from that era by (my then Ph.D. co-advisor) Daniel J. Boorstin, later Librarian of Congress. His The Genius of American Politics came out when we were trying to make sense of the religious scene in the Eisenhower years, Herberg’s prime. At chapter length he noticed that “Perhaps never before in history has a people talked so much and said so little about its basic beliefs.” He gave many illustrations of practices in the then-as-now Overclothed Public Square. The U.S. Supreme Court rulings against school prayer and devotional Bible reading had not yet come down, but, never mind, when religious propagation and worship was still allowed and sometimes practiced in public schools and other such institutions, “we” were illiterate. There was no golden age, no time of “good old days.”

One thought on “Martin Marty Brings Some Historical Context to the Pew Religion Survey

  1. Even if Martin Marty is a “good historian,” that doesn't mean that being a “good American” or a “good Christian” requires us to pretend as if there is no God.

    Sorry for hassling you, John. I really don't mean to troll. But Martin Marty's mockery “shocked! shocked!” is too painfully typical of those who think belief in God and trust in His ways and voting the “wrong way” is a function of the ass end of the Bell Curve.

    “Perhaps never before in history has a people talked so much and said so little about its basic beliefs.”

    Perhaps in the Eisenhower Years. I dunno. Not now. because it comes down to the

    Overclothed Public Square

    Huh? Hardly now in 2010. The very existence of God is now only a theory. Who came up with that reactionary phrase, John, “Overclothed Public Square,” clearly in response to Richard John Neuhaus' naked public square, where God is stripped from public life?

    In 1776 and in 1787 when they wrote the “Godless” Constitution, God was still considered to be a reality.

    That's the key point, John. The rest pales. As an historian, surely you acknowledge that.

    In 2010, we have to pretend that even “deism” is “ceremonial.”

    And if Christianity is “local,” then Christians should vote for whoever favors the devolution of political power from Washington DC.

    This correspondent, John, finds the entire argument disingenuous and I don't care if it comes from the sainted Martin Marty.

    Academics now control the telling of American history because they're the “professionals.” Professional theologians like Martin Marty control our Christianity too?

    It's enough to make me a Protestant or a Mormon or something. I'm just not feeling this.


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