The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 13, 1996 · Page 58
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 58

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, October 13, 1996
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Page 58
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'Religion is breaking out everywhere/ says noted commentator Bill Movers, whose Genesis debuts this week on PBS. Here he asks: Can powerful beliefs and democratic tolerance coexist? S omething is happening in America that as a journalist I can't ignore. Religion is breaking out everywhere. Millions of Americans have taken public their search for a clearer understanding of the core principles of belief and how they can be applied to the daily experience of life. The Gallup Organization reports that more Americans say religion plays a role in their lives today than did 10 years ago. Public confidence in both organized religion and the clergy has been renewed. Church attendance has held steady and in some instances — among teens, for instance — is up slightly. Another AMERICA'S RELIGIOUS MOSAIC BY BILL MOVERS survey reports that "religion is a strong and growing force in the way Americans think about politics" — not only among the conservative activists of the Christian Coalition but also among Americans who describe themselves as politically moderate or liberal. Religion is big news — a fact that was brought vividly home to me as I did research for Genesis: A Living Conversation, a new series that begins Wednesday on PBS stations. As the journal Theology Today notes: "People seem to want to talk about God. Recent novels, magazine stories and newspaper articles reflect a more serious attention to religious matters." One scholarly book,/f History of God, remains on the popular best-seller list for more than a year. Another, God: A Biography, wins the Pulitzer Prize. The son of the Rev. Billy Graham appears on the cover of Time magazine as heir to his father's evangelical ministry. The media flock to cover tens of thousands of men — Promise Keepers—who gather in sports stadiums to renew their commitment to God, family and country. Buddhists and Roman Catholics launch dialogues to learn about each other's traditions. YEARNING FOR CERTAINTY We shouldn't be surprised by all this stirring. It's a confusing time, marked by social and moral ambivalence and, for many, economic insecurity. People yearn for spiritual certainty and collective self- confidence. In her classic study of ancient Greece, The Greek Way, historian Edith Hamilton writes that "when the world is storm-driven and the bad that happens and the worse that threatens are so urgent as to shut out everything else from view, then we need to know all the strong fortresses of the spirit which have been built through the ages." For many people, this has meant turning — or returning — to the Bible as a guide through the chaos. I've lost count over the past year of people who have told me they have joined a Bible study group, sometimes one associated with a church or synagogue, often one improvised by laity. These Bible stories of struggle and redemption seem more than ever relevant to our storm-tossed time. But there are new stories contributing to the religious ferment. They come from an amazing diversity of sources. Until this century, as Encountering God author Diana Eck reminds us, America's religious discourse was dominated by white male Protestant cultural conservatives of European heritage. Their core values went largely unchallenged. Dissenting visions of America — of the role of women, of race, faith and language — rarely reached the mainstream. It is different now. The old "melting pot" is being supplanted by metaphors of "mosaic" or "tossed salad." America has become the meeting place for nearly all the living religions of the world. When I first rode the New York City subway almost 30 years ago, I was impressed by the number of riders reading the Bible in Spanish. Now I am as likely to see someone reading the Koran. Islam is America's fastest-growing religion. Muslims now outnumber Episcopalians and Presbyterians, and soon may outnumber Jews. Along with Muslim minarets, Buddhist retreat centers and Hindu temples now dot our religious landscape. Recently I interviewed Huston Smith, the renowned historian of religion. He told me that East and West are being "flung at one another, hurled with the force of atoms, the speed of jets, the restlessness of minds impatient to learn ways that differ from their own." When historians look back upon our years, Smith wrote in his classic study The World's Religions, "they may remember them not for the release of nuclear power but as the time in which all the peoples of the world had to take one another seriously, including our quest for meaning." Because of this, some of the most interesting stories of our time are emerging in the intersection between the secular and the spiritual. A NEW NATIONAL VISION One story is the attempt to find a new vision for America that has the authority and power of a religious vision but that is inclusive, not sectarian. We have seen what happens when a leader such as Nelson Mandela offers a vision so inclusive that an entire nation embraces a revolution that once seemed impossible. It happened in no small part because Mandela's old adversary, the white South African F.W. deKlerk, was moved by his own religious faith to help fulfill that vision. Watching their cooperation in the emergence of the new South Africa, I am reminded that at its best, religion's great accomplishment has been to create 4 USA WEEKEND « Get. 11-13, I9V6 COVER AND COVER STORY PHOTOGRAPHS BY JAMES McGOON Location: Church of Si. Francis of Assist, New York City

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