A 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival Panel: “Faith in 2024”

In 2014, a panel titled “Faith in 2024” was held at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The audio for that panel can be found on Soundcloud here.

Ray Suarez was the moderator for that panel (Suarez’s publications and broadcast list can be found on his Wikipedia page; with regard to his many credentials that earned him a role on this panel, Suarez is the author of The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America among other books). The panel was originally slated to include four people, but ended up only including three:  

1) Molly Worthen, who is currently Associate Professor at UNC Chapel Hill (Molly has published two books as of this posting, the most recent is the topically relevant and well-received Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism),

2) Leon Wieseltier, the now-fallen former literary editor of The New Republic for almost thirty years and contributor to The Atlantic until he fell under the axe of the #MeToo movement in 2017, three years after this panel was held — for Leon’s fall, see first here at Vanity Fair, then (in any order) here at The Atlantic, here at the Weekly Standard, and here at The New York Times for stories (with regard to this panel, Wieseltier is the author of the book Kaddish, which is also an audiobook; he also wrote an obscenely expensive book titled Against Identity that seems to be an expanded version of an article he wrote in 1994 for The New Republic), and

3) Arsalan Iftikhar, a Virginia-based human rights lawyer and media commentator whose website can be found here (prior to the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival he’d only written one book, so far as I can see: Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era; he has written only one other book, so far as I can see, the 2016 publication Scapegoat: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms, which received an endorsement from former US President Jimmy Carter; his most recent article is about how Islamophobia is predicted by politics, not religion).

4) The original panel list included Peter Beinart, whom we’ll get to in the next post, but it seems that Beinart could not attend because of a death in the family. Only a few years later, Beinart would take what I imagine must have been some of his working notes from this session –and perhaps even inspired by an ethnic twist on a line of exchange from this session (Iftikhar: “[…] the religious intolerance in America is becoming more entrenched… Suarez: “…even as people are becoming less religious.”)– and turn them into an article for The Atlantic titled: “Breaking Faith“, or, alternatively, “America’s Empty Church Problem”, where he argues that a decrease in religious participation correlates to an increase in more primitive animosities from an ascendant, elemental, and rigid set of in-group out-group formations. 

Back to the Aspen panel. The blurb for the panel is as follows on the Ideas Festival website:

After a rapid increase in their ranks over the last decade, the “nones,” or those who claim no particular religious affiliation, now represent one-in-five US adults. What portrait does this leave us of the future of faith in this country? And how are communities of faith changing internally as they witness the same demographic and generational shifts as the population at large? Will church groups see the same hollowing out of the middle as the political and economic landscapes, with a trend toward both ends of the conservative vs. reform spectrum? 

Below are a set of abbreviations and transcriptions from that panel, with timestamps for the Soundcloud recording of the panel. I have not been exhaustive, but I’ve caught everything that I thought was interesting. If a section is in quotes, it’s nearly exact. If it’s not, fidelity ranges from abbreviation to almost-exact-but-I’m-not-rewinding-that-one-more-time.

Continue reading

Confession: Why This is Not an Apologetics Website (Part One)

The mission of this website was (and is) to write about secularity as our common situation, and other topics related to it (with a few poems and other related issues thrown in). It aims at treating what is public, and common. When I include Christian historical elements –and as they are heavy in many of the roots and in the trunk of much of the West’s history, they have been prominent in many recent posts on Christianization— these elements are, or aim to be, (1) historical in character (this is the most common), or (2) they aim to clarify certain kinds of religious configurations that appear in our contemporary situation (often critically), or else (3) they aim to trace the shape of viable commitments in the modern age. Christianity is part of everyone’s heritage in the West, because of where we come from, but in nearly every Western country, there is no communal commitment to Christian identity. A heritage is not an obligation or a commitment (at least, I’m not currently so persuaded), but it is public. The manner in which, and the degree to which, Christian commitments either are or are not possible, and the shape of the options that people take within the current time, reveal something about the peculiarities of our age. That is to say, despite the depth of feeling I may bring to anything I write, my primary aim is to exposit, rather than to exhort. (There are and shall be plenty of hortatory moments here, but they are not of that sort, and I don’t expect they shall be.) I shall bring such feeling to Nietzsche and Plato alike, so my enthusiasm is not partisan. I’m not interested in selling anyone anything.

Readers who have no (or no explicit) religious practice are often uncomfortable with my (Orthodox) Christian one, and readers who are self-consciously Christian are often uncomfortable with my insistence on the ubiquity and inescapability of secularity (though these almost always radically mis-diagnose what secularity and secularism are) — indeed, some of the more zealous Christians I meet seem to expect that my writing here on Into the Clarities must be to denounce secularity and to promote Christian practice and identity. It is to these two groups that these posts are addressed.

Neither evangelism nor apologetics is my goal here –indeed, apologetics is not something that is compatible with my beliefs and outlook– and I’d like to take the opportunity to explain why.

Continue reading