Peter Steinfels

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

By this author

Religious Progressives?

Are religious progressives the wave of the future? 

That is the conclusion that a number of people have drawn from Do Americans Believe Capitalism & Government Are Working?, the study that has already been discussed here following posts by Paul Moses and myself.  Besides surveying Americans on economic conditions, inequality, capitalism, government economic policy, and religious values, the study paid special attention to what it considered the understudied counter to the religious right, namely “religious progressives.”

By combining scales measuring Americans’ views on theological, social, and economic issues, the study concludes that 28% of the population are religious conservatives, 38% are religious moderates, and 19% are religious progressives. 

The latter, however, may have prospects that those numbers belie.  First of all, that 19% of religious progressives are close in outlook on political, social, and economic questions to the 15% of Americans detached from any particular faith, the "nones.".  So a broader view of the nation’s religious landscape shows it roughly divided in thirds: 28% conservative, 38% moderate, and 34% progressive. 

More importantly, the authors of the study, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in collaboration with the Brookings Institute, emphasize that religious progressives are significantly younger than religious conservatives.  Religious conservatives' share of the population shrinks with every generation.  That’s what has been celebrated in blogs from the Washington Post to the Huffington Post by way of Salon.  The day of the religious right is passing, the era of the religious left is upon us. 

Sorry, it's not likely. 

Capitalism, Government, and Religion

Last Thursday the Public Religion Research Institute, in cooperation with the the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, published a report titled Do Americans Believe Capitalism & Government Are Working?  Religious Left, Religious Right & the Future of the Economic Debate.  

The survey on which the report was based, a very professionally designed phone poll conducted last month, has already been discussed below in a July 18 post by Paul Moses.  Having been invited to be part of a panel at  the Washington event introducing the report, I worked my way through it in considerable detail and am adding my own observations.

Here are some of the basic findings about the economy, inequality, capitalism, and government aid and competence:  

Whether one looks at Americans by ethnicity or race, by educational level, by party affiliation, or by generation, there is unusual agreement that the lack of jobs is the nation's number one economic problem.  There is also a general pessimism about the economic future.  Almost two-thirds of the population believe that the government should be doing more to decrease the gap between rich and the poor, and should provide a safety net to take care of people who can't care for themselves.   Less than 6 of 10 Americans think capitalsim is working well while more than 4 in 10 think that it isn't.  More than half think that unequal chances in life is a big problem.     

But more than two thirds also say that the federal government is "broken," either partially (40%) or "completely" (26%).

Beyond the Stalemate

In January we were amply reminded by marches, protests, editorials, op-ed screeds, and TV sound bites that it has been forty years since Roe v. Wade. Americans who were fifteen and barely beginning to register the personal and moral implications of this sweeping change in the law are now fifty-five. At least two generations have now lived out their choices about sex and parenthood entirely under the post-Roe regime. And yet the matter remains unsettled.

Shock Therapy

By resigning, Pope Benedict served the church well. He has spared it another prolonged period of mounting disarray. He has "humanized" the papacy, as Joseph Komonchak and others have pointed out. He has jolted the church into allowing that something generally considered unthinkable for centuries is really not beyond doing after all. And he has set the stage for his successor to do likewise.

Bleeding Times

I know that this item has already been bouncing around the blogosphere, but somehow I feel that I should be the one to take note here of New York Times public editor Arthur S.

What We’ve Learned

In the summer of 1958, when I turned seventeen, I discovered and reported a case of an adult sexually abusing minors. For me the episode had some of the melodrama of a young adult novel, but it was nothing at all like the painful, often life-shattering experiences of survivors of sexual abuse. No surprise, then, that I did not think much about it for many years.


Did anyone notice? Another one of the seven instances supposedly demonstrating that our religious freedom is endangered has just bit the dust. Last week a federal judge permanently enjoined New York City officials from barring worship services in public schools. Religious groups, Judge Loretta A. Preska ruled, should have the same access to empty school buildings on weekends as any community group, without distinguishing between worship and other activities.Will this ruling stand? Should it? I don't know.

Never on Sunday?

My friend Kenneth Woodward, former religion writer at Newsweek, has sent me abriefnotice that I am happy to pass on. It reflectsKen's love of exposingthe secular blinders at my former employer, The New York Times.I have a different view of the matter, especially in this instance, but frankly Ken's jabs are salutary, and defensiveness is uncalled for. The Times can take it.

Accommodation or Engagement?

Ross Douthat, the youngest writer to win a regular spot among New York Times columnists, is a promising recruit to the tribe of public intellectuals. He is a cultural conservative, which stirs my sympathy, and a political conservative, which doesn’t. Either way, he regularly writes as though he knows there is something to be said for the other side.

The hire power

Politico reports that Health and Human Services has a new deputy assistant secretary for public affairs. He is Tait Sye, media director for Planned Parenthood for the last four and a half years.