I personally had the good fortune to encounter religion mid twentieth century when it had reached a peak in social concerns and good actions.  The Israelis were experimenting with a socially responsible reconstitution of Judaism in Israel, some of our great theologians were still alive and practicing in Protestantism (Barth, the Niebuhrs, Tillich as well as a host of reformers such as Martin Luther King, Jr.), various inspiring secular/religious leaders were trying to modernize and liberate their countries in Islam.  Gandhi still was an inspiration for all religions, not just Hinduism, Pope John 23 had called the Second Vatican Council to reform and modernize Roman Catholicism.  Those were inspiring days as we were recovering from the horrors of WW2.

But then the decline set in. I experienced it personally as one who had thought of theology as a life’s work and had preached sermons in two countries with continuing studies in theology as well as philosophy. Each of the traditions mentioned above began to regress towards the worst features of their traditions carried over from past millennia.  One need not retrace the history of wars, massacres, genocidal abuses committed back then in the name of religion.  But one could not have imagined that these war and hate motifs would be restored in direct or indirect forms.

I watched the despair of my own teachers mount as they tried to stem this tide, but as they died one by one they were not replaced by comparably powerful intellects and personalities — and the con artists began to thrive. Falwell was an archetype of these who used the new media to garner financial benefits and to trash a great religious tradition with cheap appeals to self-interest.  Jesus of Nazareth had died and these types could not care less about carrying out the Gospel mission.

Needless to say this pattern of degeneration has escalated until the point when we see the not too unlikely prospect of culture wars armed with nuclear weapons.  The last gasp colonial grab in the Middle East perpetrated by Bush and Blair may have unleashed the whirlwinds.

I direct my concern here to contemporary religious leaders because they are either too often perpetrators, silent, or compromised.  These are most dangerous times and it does not take much insight to see that the enemies of mankind, of innocent women and children today, are inspired by corrupt religions — Darfur today and tomorrow the world?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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