Ten years ago at the board meetings overseeing WORLD, due diligence required raising the question of whether to continue putting out a magazine struggling desperately to stay afloat. Those discussions have not been necessary since, in large part due to the efforts of two members of our editorial team (Nick Eicher and Mindy Belz) who were with us then, three others who came on board in 1995 (David Freeland, Bob Jones, and Gene Edward Veith), and several more, like Timothy Lamer, who arrived later in the decade.
These individuals are all hard rowers, as are the folks on the business side whose work allows us to have a boat and oars. But perpetual rowing against the current tires out even the strongest; providentially, we are now able to row with a slight current. We're happy to have readers from many different religious beliefs as long as they share the sense that questions of belief are relevant to our lives. And that sense is growing in America.
The current of religious interest ran very fast for several weeks after last Sept. 11, when the World War II observation that "there are no atheists in foxholes" showed its accuracy once again. The current may be slower now, as many are not pushed to prayer by the feeling of being preyed upon. But in the uncertain world of the next decade most Americans are likely once again to find themselves clinging to a rock, either the real one or one they imagine.
Whether or not terrorists mind their manners, one grim reaping will advance: Baby boomers are aging. Because of their numbers, they have yanked press chains for a third of a century, with college protests in the 1960s, diet books in the 1980s, and Viagra in the 1990s all becoming big news. Interest in religion generally increases as people age, and as this biggest generation contemplates God the whole world, and WORLD especially, will be watching.
The new debate about a very old matter-How did life begin? How did man begin?-is also likely to intensify over the next decade. From the 1860s through the 1980s Darwin's theories waxed powerful, opposed only by a tiny, scorned group of creationists. That changed during the 1990s with the advent of "intelligent design" scientists who explain how complicated processes like blood clotting could not have come about through chance mutations. Time and Newsweek still mock any deviation from Darwinian faith, so some inquiring minds will look elsewhere.
The compassionate conservative drive for religious groups to provide spiritual and material help to the poor has only just begun. It has led to vigorous discussion about the "separation of church and state," an overused term that in some way camouflages the deeper issue: Do we want a separation of faith and life? People who see the effect of belief in poverty-fighting realize that if a religion is God-given it has implications for every hour of the day-and some of those people will gravitate to a magazine that takes those implications seriously.
We may also see greater interest in religion as we more readily see how different beliefs lead some of our new neighbors to act in dramatically different ways. The number of Hindus in America has increased during the past 30 years from 100,000 to almost a million. The number of Buddhists has similarly climbed, and perhaps 5 million Muslims now live in the United States, up from about 800,000 three decades ago. Religions that once were exotic in America are now next door, and that raises public interest about how faiths change lives.
Overall, these factors lead to movement away from what Richard John Neuhaus called "the naked public square," naked in its lack of religious discussion. We've learned over the past four decades that attempts to avoid mentioning religion in public places do not yield neutrality: They leave us naked. We have lived in a society, very unusual in the history of the world, where many intellectual leaders boasted of nakedness. Most people in most places at most times have worn religious clothes, and as many Americans face pressure-perhaps from terrorists but certainly from the terror of growing old-that is likely to be the case again.
So in the Year of our Lord 2002, rowing for now with the current, we at WORLD have the opportunity to go fast. Rocks, logs, and swirling rapids surround and await our boat, but God is taking us on quite a ride, and we are thankful.