A recent lead article in the Weekend Journal section of The Wall Street Journal caught my attention. It was another one of those surveys of the tendency that has been prevalent in the past twenty years or so in America toward “do it yourself’ religion. At least anecdotally, this seems to me to be a condition primarily of the now late middle-aged baby boomer generation, frustrated with traditional religion and its institutions, striving for meaning in their lives, and the struggle by their former clergy to woo them back into the mainstream. The common mantra of these religious groups is their preference for “spirituality” in an environment in which, as one group founder put it, “dogma doesn’t get in the way”. Another common attribute among these groups seems to be the tendency toward “personal growth” over “fixed creed”, as David Brooks has described it. In a country that remains the most religious in all the free world, save possibly India, and which has alone sustained a competitive marketplace for religious beliefs almost since its founding, this phenomenon is not surprising, and it is probably good evidence of the tolerance that has made us immune to religious wars.I’m all for the search for personal meaning, but I’m not sure that this movement from religion to spirituality, personal growth over fixed creed, and its accompanying anti-theological “bonding” and pop-psychology is entirely healthy for our religious life as a nation, particularly to the extent that it is in some ways tied to the concerted effort by many to remove from the public square all evidence of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, which is, after all, the foundation of our common adherence to a distinctive American creed.
China Watch Update
Very quietly, with scant notice in Western media and none in China, the fifteenth anniversary of the massacre of Tiananmen Square recently passed. Only in Hong Kong was there any significant commemoration. One hopes that this does not mean that this event has lost its central place in the historical struggle for freedom and human rights. Certainly we in America shouldn’t forget it, and we are remiss in not remembering it more prominently, for I believe it will prove to have been analogous to our Lexington and Concord or Boston Massacre. In the ensuing years since 1989, what we are witnessing in China is a revolution that I predict will be viewed by historians as at least the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution of late 18th and early 19th century Europe. Massive population shifts from rural villages to urban localities are taking place there–over 300 million people since the late 1970’s and a predicted additional 250 million by 2020. Needless to say, this revolution and its concomitant surge in economic growth have enormous implications for the world and present daunting challenges for U.S. economic and foreign policy. Of course, economic integration is essential, and for that reason we should support trade liberalization at every turn through the World Trade Organization and regional free trade organizations. And we should pursue domestic economic growth, job creation, and trade policies that shun protectionism and the constant bashing of China over outsourcing. All of which is to say that we need a President who understands why these priorities are important, but also, not incidentally, why the memory of the heroes of Tiananmen Square and their struggle for political freedom should be ever in the forefront of our thinking and policy deliberations.