Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago and one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today.

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

By Martin E. Marty

As Pope Francis was an exhorter bidding for attention last month, not only Roman Catholics were his exhortees. Count us in. The dictionary tells us that adding “-ee” to a word turns it into one which means a person or thing that is the object of that verb. The pontiff issued an “apostolic exhortation,” Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), whose 85 pages have inspired uncommon attention in the media. It was clear that he focused on Catholics, but he probably wouldn’t mind if the rest of us joined his faithful in heeding the exhortation. The document concerned “economic inequality,” “unequal wealth,” and in it he denounced the current economic system as “unjust at its roots” because it defends “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.” He calls the result “a new tyranny,” which “unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”

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The great historian Martin E. Marty wrote an insightful response concerning statements that Pope Francis made in an interview with “America” magazine.

By Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

The headline on a Thursday (Sept. 19) news story linked the Catholic Church’s “focus on gays” and “abortion,” and, said the same headline, Pope Francis “bluntly faults” those who have focused on that focus.

What struck, or should strike, all readers who read on, is this: Pope Francis means it! His comments do not have the weight of an encyclical, a long-thought-out formal church teaching, but he knows from response to what he has said earlier, that there will be a huge response. His words are not small-print filler at the end of a Sunday church bulletin; they have to have been thought out, and he is broadcasting them.

Reaction? One can picture the most outspoken and sensationalist Catholics-on-the-right, who thought they had captured the ear and voice of modern pontiffs, jumping out of the windows — without parachutes, just as some did when Wall Street crashed in 1929. They had their innings to enjoy Schadenfreude as popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had “bluntly faulted” those who took Vatican II reforms seriously. Now the temptation will be strong for those faulted in recent decades to leap up with a “hooray for our side” shout, which they hope will be numbing to the new poor losers. Read More…


Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

By Martin E. Marty

Published in late 1959, my first book, The New Shape of American Religion, cited several mainstream commentators and spotted numerous trends to suggest that the then-much-noticed “revival of interest” in religion had crested in 1958. It’s bad manners for authors to cite their own writings, but… Religious institutions, e.g., in suburbia, were prospering, but the culture, ethos, and spirit of religion in America were changing. We did not speak of ‘Mainline Decline” in part because the “mainline” in America’s then-majority religion, “Protestantism,” did not yet have a name. But decline soon began, in “the Sixties,” observers observe.

I mention this after having reflected on “Mainline Decline” in a recent Christian Century blog-post. Today, one could speak of a virtual link between the two words, as in “Mainlinedecline.” Readers of Sightings can test this trend by using their search engines to confirm how headlines routinely refer to decline.

I played the game of typing “decline” alongside other entities. Thus: “declining Catholic” linked with “number of” “worshippers,” “priests,” “nuns,” “seminarians,” and “parishes.” “Declining Jewish” linked with “number of members” reveal statistics that make ‘Mainline’ or ‘Protestant’ or ‘Christian’ appear comparatively healthy. Read More…


By Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Martin E. Marty

Sociologist Rodney Stark’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Myth of Unreligious America,” is his well-stated rejoinder to other sociologists, demographers, and religious leaders who imply that the “game is all over” for religion and religious believers in America today. He does not deny that there has been decline in most forms of –for want of a better term—“institutional religion.” But, using broader definitions and critiquing the methods used by many to measure religious response, he sees religion surviving, thriving, and prospering “all over the place,” including, we’d add, in Fourth of July advertisements.

Most notably, scores of newspapers contained a full-page advertisement placed by the pious Hobby Lobby on Independence Day. This ad’s bold type beckoned with In God We Trust. Countering it was an ad whose bold type beckoned with Celebrate Our Godless Constitution. This ad was placed by the impious Freedom from Religion Foundation, “the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics, working to keep religion out of government.”

“Truth in Advertising” monitors or “Better Business Bureaus” would find many shadings of truth and plenty of bad business in both advertisements. Serious citizens who care about “religion and government” and about issues related to what or whom “we trust” have to go elsewhere. Both ads are misleading; neither is of help in troubled times. Read More…