The marriage of mainline denominations to the Great Society caused the rise of the New Religious Right.
The relationship between the sacred and the profane is not a new issue, and it is not terminal. At least it will not be terminated short of the promised coming of the kingdom of God. We want to deal with the conflicts, tensions, and sometimes harmonies of that relationship. In courts of law, the issue is church-state relations. In ethics it is the relationship between the transcendent and the immanent. In every field of human endeavor the issue erupts in a distinctive form. It is irrepressible.
Christian wrestling with this issue was always tortuously complex. Jesus spoke of duties to God and to Caesar. Paul wrote of principalities and powers. For Tertullian, it was the empire of Christ; for Augustine, the City of God and the City of Man. It was pondered by Innocent III, Thomas, Luther, Calvin, and by John Courtney Murray who, in what he called “the American proposition,” underscored the historical nature of our thinking about the sacred and the profane in society. Contemporary insights, he wrote, “became available only within twentieth-century perspectives, created by the ‘signs of the times.’ [They] were not forged by abstract deductive logic but by history, by the historical advance of totalitarian government, and by the corresponding new appreciation of man’s dignity in society.”
A question many thought was definitively settled is being asked again today in many different ways: Is America a secular society? If not, what might that mean? If America is presumed to be the “advance society” of world history, the question has large implications for our thinking about the future of humankind.
The “signs of the times” reveal ...1
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