Guest speaker talks Christianity and politics at Scholastica


Susan Jacoby believes that an intricate relationship has existed between religion and politics in America since the very beginning, and that the tensions that were created by the Constitution continue to impact the world.

The Alworth Center for Peace and Justice is hosting a series of lectures under the category “Is Religion a Force for Good or for Ill?” at the College of St. Scholastica campus. The next lecture in this series comes from Jacoby and centers on the question, “Is Christianity Good for American Politics?”

“I am very interested in the question, not only whether religious involvement with politics is good for politics, but whether it is good for religion. Because that is really what the Constitution is all about,” said Jacoby in a phone interview from her residence in New York last Friday.

A longtime author, journalist and guest speaker Jacoby is now scheduled to make her way to Duluth.

“Every year I try to bring a variety of points of view,” said Thomas Morgan, the director of the Alworth Center for the Study of Peace and Justice at St. Scholastica.

And, this year he seems to have reached that goal. Bringing in lecturers who specialize in areas including Christianity, Eastern Orthodox theology, Judaism, and thanks to Jacoby, Atheism.

“We are going to be talking about some distinctions rather than generalizations about religion or atheism or politics,” Jacoby said.

These distinctions include differentiating between conservative and liberal groups in various religions and looking at the shared effect that religion and politics have on each other, as opposed to thinking of it as a one way influence.

Jacoby’s book “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” outlines many of her thoughts on the second distinction- taking the discussion back to look at the founding fathers, and the Constitution.

Jacoby wrote a long running column for the Washington Post’s On Faith website, entitled “The Spirited Atheist,” in which she examined her experiences and opinions on being an atheist in today’s world.

In 2011, she stopped writing the regular column to focus on her book “Conversions: A Secular History.” The book, retitled “Secular History of Religious Conversion,” is scheduled to come out next year, according to Jacoby.

With the upcoming release of her new book and a recent poll by Pew Research that shows seventy-two percent of the American public now thinks that the effect of religion on politics is lessening, this lecture seems to be coming at a perfect time.

“I can see that many people would say, ‘well the influence of religion on politics is declining, because look at all of the favorable decisions about gay marriage and look at the change in public opinion about this in only ten years,’” Jacoby said. “But that doesn't mean that the influence of religion is declining. It means that the influence of a certain kind of religion, very conservative religion, may be declining, but there are obviously all kinds of religion."

Whether you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the sentiments Jacoby presents, Morgan urges you to come and hear her speak.

“Try to leave your prejudices or your previous thinking at the door and come with an open mind,” said Morgan. “And hopefully you come to all of them and hear different perspectives and become more thoughtful. You are not going to get all the answers in a handful of lectures at St. Scholastica, but I think you will be in a position to ask yourself more questions and maybe read more and think more and gain new perspectives.”

The lecture will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014 at 7:30 the Mitchell Auditorium on the College of St. Scholastica campus free of charge.

To get a better idea of what Jacoby will be discussing, check out this video of a debate she participated in on the same topic.

And for more information on the lecture series, visit the Alworth website or check out this article published by Morgan via the Duluth News Tribune.

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