Sharing the von Hildebrand legacy

Looks like I was able to give some momentum to efforts to bring more attention the life and work of Dietrich von Hildebrand.

A few weeks ago, I “wrote”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070523/NEWS02/705230368/1028/NEWS12 about Alice von Hildebrand, a longtime New Rochelle resident who taught philosophy at Hunter College for 37 years. She is the widow of Dietrich von Hildebrand, an incredibly influential Catholic philosopher — we’re talking about influencing popes — whose work is largely out of print or was never translated into English.

tjndc5-5epwpkyh8fqduyoa9hk_layout.jpgAlice, who is 84, has been working with the newly formed “Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project”:http://www.hildebrandlegacy.org/index.cfm to bring new public attention to her husband’s work and to get his books republished and translated.

The Legacy Project is the brainchild of John Henry Crosby, a young (as in 29) scholar who is the project’s founder and director.

A few months ago, John Henry and Alice met with Pope Benedict XVI, a big fan of Dietrich von Hildebrand who has pledged to support the work of the Legacy Project. This was the focus on my article. (In the picture, that’s Alice on the left and John Henry on the right. Next to John Henry is Patricia Lynch of the Papal Foundation)

Now the Zenit news service, a Catholic wire, has published an interview with Crosby. You can read it “here.”:http://www.zenit.org/article-19869?l=english

Dietrich von Hildebrand was perhaps the first German public figure to publicly oppose the Nazis and surrendered a life of comfort in order to do so. An orthodox Catholic, he would go on to write about the centrality of pursuing religious truth.

In the interview, Crosby says this:

To begin with, one might say that the Holy Father sees Dietrich von Hildebrand as a voice of reason in an age that has largely despaired of reason.

How often have we not heard it said that there is no objective moral law but only what is right for me; that there is no reality except what I choose to make my reality?

This was hardly the way of von Hildebrand, who was always concerned with conforming himself to reality or, as he often expressed himself, to “listening to the voice of being.”

Von Hildebrand has been described as a “knight for truth,” and this marvelously expresses the way he not only sought and understood the faith but the manner in which he defended it and gave witness to it through his life.

Does faith guide politics? Yes and no

When it comes to the question of whether religious views affect our politics, Americans are split down the middle, according to a “poll”:http://www.sacredheart.edu/pages/18947_national_poll_says_americans_looking_for_a_religious_president.cfm released today by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

Of those polled, 48.4 percent said their faith always or sometimes guides their political views. And 48.4 percent said their faith seldom or never does. What were the odds of that?

Most respondents, 60.7 percent, said a presidential candidate should be a religious person. No surprise there, especially if the choices are religious or not religious (pretty broad categories).

And 27.8 percent said they would consider a candidate’s religious affiliation when deciding who to vote for.

“While 27.8% is a minority,� said Jerry Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute, “it represents nearly 34 million people, based on the 2004 voter turnout, who will consider the particular religious denomination of such candidates as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – a Mormon.�

And get this: 60.3% expect the Democrats to win the White House. Only 14.5% believe Republicans will retain the White House. One quarter, 25.2%, are undecided.

That’s a pretty broad spread. But it’s early, early, early.

Pat Robertson stays active

Jerry Falwell is gone, but Pat Robertson will continue to stir the pot.

A few days back, he said on the 700 Club that Islam is not a religion of peace and that ”the goal of Islam, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, is world domination.”

So the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, which exists to counter the “religious right,” hammers Robertson in a new “statement.”:http://www.interfaithalliance.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=8dJIIWMCE&b=137971&ct=3962065 It reads, in part:

Robertson has once again proved that he is woefully out of touch with reality. America is the most religiously diverse nation in the world, which is something that Robertson seems unable to grasp.

I stopped by the 700 Club website, by the way, and found a “feature”:http://www.cbn.com/700club/guests/bios/Robin_Givens061407.aspx on, of all people, Robin Givens. The former sitcom actor and ex-wife of Mike Tyson is now pushing a new book, Grace Will Lead Me Home.

From where?

The 700 club offers this:

Robin said that it was ex-husband Mike Tyson who introduced her to God. Speaking of the pain Tyson caused her during their relationship Robin shared that regardless of it all, it was Tyson who made her the women she is today. She believes that it is by knowing God that she has come to understand who she really is.

Now I’m really confused.

Close to heaven

If you haven’t seen Billy Graham’s statement about his wife’s condition and their burial plans, it’s worth reading, I think.

Its tone is just so Billy Graham, so unchanging:

MONTREAT, N.C., June 13, 2007 — “Earlier this spring, after much prayer and discussion, Ruth and I made the decision to be buried beside each other at the Billy Graham Library in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

We have held this decision privately and only decided to announce it now that she is close to going home to Heaven.

Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side. I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College.

Ruth and I appreciate, more than we can express, the prayers and letters of encouragement we have received from people across the country and around the world. Our entire family has been home in recent days and it has meant so much to have them at our side during this time. We love each one of them dearly and thank God for them.�

Studying the non-believers

What do evangelical Christians make of the supposedly growing numbers of atheists and agnostics?

Every now and then, I cite a study from the Barna Group, an evangelical media group that conducts and analyzes its own research in order to better understand what’s going on out there.

They’re very honest and direct about where they’re coming from — a pretty conservative evangelical perspective — and how they understand everyone else.

So I was pretty curious to see a study Barna has done of atheists and agnostics. It opens like this:

A new evangelistic movement has emerged in America. Yet this effort does not spring from those loyal to a particular faith or religious view.

The new evangelists are atheists. People who have determined there is no God or who doubt his existence (a group commonly known as agnostics) are adopting a more aggressive, intentional effort to discredit the notion that God exists and to critique people of faith. Widely reviewed new books such as The God Delusion and God is Not Great represent this movement.

You can read the full report “here.”:http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=272

Barna found that about 1 out of every 11 Americans — or 9 percent — say they are of no faith.

Here’s an interesting section of the study:

Interestingly, only about five million adults unequivocally use the label “atheist” and, when asked to describe the nature of God, staunchly reject the existence of such a being. In other words, most of those who align with the no-faith viewpoint harbor doubts as to the existence or nature of a supreme deity but do not express outright rejection of God.

Atheists and agnostics are distinct demographically from the active-faith segment. The no-faith audience is younger, and more likely to be male and unmarried. They also earn more and are more likely to be college graduates.

Perhaps partly due to the younger nature of the audience, atheists and agnostics are more likely than are active-faith adults to say they are into new technology (64% among no-faith individuals versus 52% among active-faith adults) and to assert that they adapt easily to change (81% versus 66%). Atheists and agnostics are also significantly less likely to say they are convinced they are right about things in life (38% versus 55%).

And some more:

The study produced a mix of findings when it came to lifestyle and personal priorities. In terms of differences, Christians were more motivated by faith, as expected. Yet, just one-quarter of active-faith adults identified their faith as the primary focus of their life. For their part, atheists and agnostics were more likely than were Christians to be focused on living a comfortable, balanced lifestyle (12% versus 4%) or on acquiring wealth (10% versus 2%). Three-quarters of no-faith adults said they are clear about the meaning and purpose of their life and a surprising one-quarter said the phrase “deeply spiritual” accurately describes them. One of the largest gaps was the perception of being “at peace,” a description less frequently embraced by no-faith adults (67% versus 90%).

Nevertheless, there were a number of areas of commonality between the two audiences. The two groups were equally as likely to think of themselves as good citizens, as placing their family first, as being loyal and reliable individuals, as preferring to be in control, and as being leaders. Each group admitted to experiencing personal difficulties with similar frequency, including being in serious debt (11% versus 10%), dealing with a personal addiction (13% versus 12%), and trying to find a few good friends (41% versus 40%). Christians admit to being overweight with greater frequency (26% of no-faith, compared with 41% of active-faith), while atheists and agnostics are more likely to feel stressed out (37% versus 26%).

In their interactions with others, the two groups also share common ground. Both audiences were equally likely to say they have discussed political, moral, and spiritual issues with others in the last month. In addition, about one-fifth of both active-faith and no-faith adults said they often try to persuade other people to change their views.

Yes, the Boy Scouts still require an oath of faith in God

Catching up on some weekend stuff…

I see that a program that offers transportation to students at John Jay H.S. in Cross River is being “discontinued”:http://lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070609/NEWS02/706090353/1018/NEWS02 because it requires volunteers to sign an oath to “observe his or her duty to God.”

The program, called SafeRides, is sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America. All Boy Scout programs require a similar oath.

The Boy Scouts is not a religious group. But it is an officially pro-religion group.

Many Boy Scout troops across the country are sponsored by religious groups and congregations. The Scouts have a Religious Relations Committee, which includes representatives of many of the more than 30 denominations that are represented in scouting.

The Boy Scouts’ “Declaration of Religious Principle”:http://usscouts.org/aboutbsa/rp.html declares:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.

Only persons willing to subscribe to these precepts from the Declaration of Religious Principle and to the Bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America shall be entitled to certificates of leadership.

Every now and then, people are surprised by the religious dimension of the Boy Scouts. It often comes up when the Scouts say or do something that is considered discriminatory toward gays and lesbians.

The website of the BSA National Council includes these “questions and answers:”:http://www.bsalegal.org/faqs-195.asp

Q. Can an individual who states that he does not believe in God be a volunteer Scout leader or member?

A. No. The Scout Oath represents the basic values of Scouting, and it addresses the issue of “duty to God� before duty to country, others, and self.

Q. Why is duty to God important to Scouting?

A. Since its founding in the United States in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had an ongoing commitment to encouraging moral, ethical and spiritual growth. The Boy Scouts of America believes that the principles set forth in the Scout Oath and Law are central to Boy Scouts’ goals.

Anyway, my LoHud colleague Diana Costello reports that the Katonah-Lewisboro schools are looking for a new group to sponsor the transportation program.

Peekskill pastors tab new leader

The Peekskill Area Pastors Association has a new president: the Rev. Adolphus Lacey, the young and dynamic pastor of “Mount Olivet Baptist Church.”:http://www.mountolivetbc.org/

He came to Peekskill a few years ago from Grace Baptist in Mount Vernon, where he served as an associate pastor under the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson. Lacey is bright and engaging and one of those guys who makes things happen.

The pastors group — known affectionately as PAPA — has done a lot of good work under the leadership of outgoing president the Rev. Douglas Leonard, pastor of the “Reformed Church of Cortlandtown.”:http://www.reformedchurchcortlandtown.org/ They’ve been able to keep a longtime Peekskill soup kitchen going despite losing a big corporate sponsorship. The group has also been active in the never-ending fight for affordable housing.

At a meeting yesterday, the group decided to participate in a city-wide “day of healing,” an upcoming Sunday (or weekend) when all houses of worship in the area will be asked to pray and work for peace and against violence in Peekskill. A request was made by Mary Rainey of the Peekskill Community Action Program.

PAPA’s new vice president, by the way, is Rabbi Claudio Kupchik of the “First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill.”:http://www.firsthebrew.org/

Barbara Walters hosting anti-Catholic views?

The Catholic League is taking Barbara Walters to task for allowing a steady stream of “Catholic bashing” on her show, “The View.”

An “ad”:http://www.catholicleague.org/linked%20docs/walters.htm on the op-ed page of today’s NYT lists several example of anti-Catholicism — offered by the since departed Rosie O’Donnell and Joy Behar — since last fall.

These include ridicule of the Eucharist, Baptism, and Catholic teachings.

The ad says:

Barbara Walters has never made an anti-Catholic remark, yet she permits her panelists to run roughshod over Catholicism…It’s time she took control of the show and restored her integrity.

I knew she’d find God!

Just a few days ago, I was thinking about blogging that Paris Hilton was certain to be finding God any day.

But I blew it off. Not that funny, I thought.

Now I just found out what she told Barbara Walters on Sunday: “I have become much more spiritual. God has given me a new chance.”

I could have looked like a genius!

Two Jewish leaders (one atheist, one rabbi) discuss the Jewish future

Two of the more interesting characters I’ve met in this business will go head-to-head next Monday on some big Jewish questions.

Michael Steinhardt and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz are each super-committed to securing the Jewish future. But they see the world quite differently.

Steinhardt made a ton in hedge funds and has a one-of-a-kind, 51-acre estate in Beford, covered with 2,000 kinds of shrubs, trees and perennials. Since he retired in 1995, he’s poured millions into various Jewish programs designed to re-engage Jews in communal life.

tjndc5-5b5hf3e32r41g1to6ezi_layout.jpgHe wants to preserve Jewish values, the Jewish way of life.

Steinhardt is also an atheist. He told me in 2004 that he lost his faith in God after studying, in depth, the Holocaust.

“You’re left with a question that was asked before me and will be long after me: How could a God, all-knowing, good, powerful, have allowed that?” he said. “I find totally unacceptable the idea that God’s ways are beyond our understanding.”

I remember thinking at the time that this was a man who was used to getting things his way and getting things done. Not having an answer was unacceptable.

tjndc5-5b5gdpxxopt16hgjtezi_layout.jpgSteinsaltz is generally regarded as one of the world’s most brilliant religious thinkers. He has produce a 36-volume translation of the Talmud from Aramaic to Hebrew and dozens of other books.

He is regarded as a mystic, a concept that I understood when I met him. He spoke in riddles and metaphors and arrived at his point in roundabout ways that I could not see coming. I included him in my new book.

I asked him about the “culture war” in the U.S.

“Day and night are dissimilar, but night is never completely dark and day is not everywhere light,” he said. “Even black is rarely completely black or white completely white. This is reality.

“American, as distinct from English, is a language of superlatives, of overstatement,” he continued. “Because of that, in America, when you have a dispute, it is between angels and devils. But even angels, most of the time, are not completely angelic. And devils should be full of self-doubt – even though American devils might be different.”

Steinhardt and Steinsaltz will square off, in a sense, on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Thirteenth Annual Aleph Society Dinner at The St. Regis Hotel, 2 East 55th Street, at Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan.

Their subject will be what can be done to invigorate Jewish identity and growth. For information, go “here.”:http://www.steinsaltz.org/dynamic/event_details.asp?id=22