Commentary Magazine

Secularism's Victory Claimed

To the Editor:

In his article on “America’s New Religiousness” (September 1955) Will Herberg argues that “religion is taken very seriously in present-day America in a way that would have amazed and chagrined those who were so very sure not very long ago that the ancient superstition was bound to disappear very shortly in the face of the steady advance of science and reason.” This is an overstatement of the position of even the most optimistic “village atheist,” who well knew how slowly “science and reason” reached the mind of man. Yet Mr. Herberg himself demonstrates in this article that the predictions of the agnostic and the atheist have been pretty well borne out.

“Religion” persists, and is enrolling large numbers of new converts in the degree to which it becomes meaningless. Mr. Herberg’s sad lament about the lack of content in the American religions, and his fully substantiated charge that secularism and nationalism pervade the three religions, tend to prove my assertion. Should temple, church, or synagogue attempt to insist on a religion in which “the values of life, and life itself, are submitted to Almighty God to judge, to shatter and to reconstruct” their pews would be empty and their congregations fade away.

Jewish Orthodoxy, Protestant fundamentalism, and medieval Catholicism were religions of this sort. They changed, they had to change, because the realities of the industrial revolution and the discoveries in the field of science rendered their teachings irrelevant. They had to change in the direction that Mr. Herberg bemoans. It was against religion of this type, religion that had the power to excommunicate the scientific investigator, to burn his books, to frustrate his work, to blacklist his family, and even, on occasion, to burn him at the stake, that the adherents of science and reason rebelled. I do not think that Mr. Herberg will deny that, in compelling religion to reduce itself to the function of a social service club, they have won their victory.

I do not think that even Mr. Herberg wishes to return to the omnipotent church, to the priest uttering anathema, to the dungeon and the stake, which are the unavoidable appurtenances of a religion that teaches “the sense of the nothingness of man before a holy God.”

David P. Berenberg
Brooklyn, New York



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