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The Preacher As Economist vs. The Economist As Preacher
October 11, 2003

John D. Mueller

I'd like to thank our sponsors—the James Madison Program at Princeton University, the Princeton University Center for Human Values, The Center for Research on Religion and Urban Society at the University of Pennsylvania, and The Providence Forum—for inviting me to participate in this conference on "Faith and the Challenges of Secularism." As Seana—Dr. Sugrue—told you, I have a special attachment to the James Madison Program, having been in its first crop of Fellows two years ago. I am grateful to Prof. Robert George for taking the risk of planting me there; and to the Madison Program staff—Dr. Seana Sugrue, Jane Hale, Linda Kativa, Judi Rivkin and now Reggie Cohen—for tenderly nurturing the seedling while it was in their care.

Providence and G.K.C. When Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania gather under the watchful eye of Providence, how can one help feeling its guiding Presence? My ears pricked up when it was mentioned yesterday that Dr. Armand Nicholi, in addition to his many other accomplishments, had produced a TV show titled, "The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Discuss God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life." Ten years ago I co-scripted and helped produce a play re-presenting a debate between G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw (with Hilaire Belloc in the chair), based on their actual debates and writings. The title was "Socialism, Sex and Salvation." And through this whole conference, I have found Chesterton's aphorisms coming unbidden to memory. When a speaker explains that "secular" means "temporal" or "of the age," one immediately recalls Chesterton's reply to his incredulous friends when they asked him why he had joined the Catholic Church. His second reply, that is. His instant reply was, "To get rid of my sins." But when his friends did not take him seriously, he wrote an article in 1926 explaining "Why I Am a Catholic," and one of the six reasons was that "It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." Many of Chesterton's other formulations also seemed apt to our discussion. For example, on secularism and science: "To talk of the purpose of Nature is to make a vain attempt to avoid becoming anthropomorphic, merely by being feminist. It is believing in a goddess because you are too skeptical to believe in a god." And: The Church "does not, in the conventional phrase, accept the conclusions of science, for the simple reason that science has not concluded. To 'conclude' is to 'shut up'; and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up." On secularism and cultural institutions: "The modern world is insane, not so much because it admits the abnormal as because it cannot recover the normal." And: "A new philosophy generally means in practice the praise of some old vice." And: "'Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural."

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