President Abraham Lincoln famously called Americans an "almost chosen people". That might qualify as America's national joke, for you can't be "almost chosen" any more than you can be almost pregnant.
Lincoln's oxymoron frames the tension between the religious impulses that made America and the reality that ultimately it is one imperfect polity among many others. America is "a country with the soul of a church", as G K Chesterton wrote, and by no accident, the only industrial nation (apart from Israel) in which religion plays a decisive role in public life. The central role of religion continues to polarize Americans and confuse foreign observers.
The working of faith in America's public square is more complex than Americans acknowledge, or foreigners understand, Richard John Neuhaus shows in this study of the heavenly city versus the earthly city of our exile.
In some respects, Poland deserves the special admiration of her pre-eminent son. As a breakaway Soviet buffer state on the central front, Poland occupied center stage in the Cold War, and the Polish people led by the Catholic Church rose heroically to the occasion.
The trouble is that Poland's story is coming to an end. The country's population will fall by almost 30% by mid-century, and the median age will rise from 36 years to 56 years. Benedict XVI, for that matter, ranks by my reckoning as the best mind on the planet, but it is questionable whether today's Germany is capable of educating another Joseph Ratzinger.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Father Neuhaus' Last Book
If you do nothing else today, read this review of Father Newhaus' last book by the eminent columnist and commentator Spengler of Asia Times Online. The book is going on my wish list.