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Harvey Cox, a Baptist minister and a Harvard theologian, who is the author of this month's cover story, "The Warring Visions of the Religious Right," first came to national prominence exactly thirty years ago, with the publication of his book The Secular City. In retrospect, the year 1965 is one in which the fulcrum of national destiny held in equal balance a lingering optimism and a gathering despair. The Secular City, which celebrated the unprecedented freedom available to human beings in an urban context where traditional religion no longer reigned, and which urged people to search for "a nonreligious interpretation of biblical concepts," fell on the optimistic side in its conception of the future, a future in which rational human beings at last seemed capable of taking competent control. It became one of the most surprising best sellers of the 1960s, and now enjoys the status of a cultural milestone. But as Harvey Cox himself acknowledges in his most recent book, Fire From Heaven (1994), a survey of the rapidly growing Pentecostal movements around the world, his first book holds up better, at least in the short term, as a prospectus than as a prophecy. "Today," he writes, "it is secularity, not spirituality, that may be headed for extinction." That sentiment is the subtext of Cox's article in this issue, which examines the robust growth of Pat Robertson's Regent University, a school that embodies conservative Christianity in America.
The hallmark of Harvey Cox is the honesty that governs how he reports what he sees--that, and his engagement with some of the basic issues that confront the world. He has labored on relief operations with the United Nations. He was jailed for his activities in the early days of the civil-rights movement. He has been among the foremost advocates of communication between adherents of the world's major religions, and in that cause has spoken to countless congregations and university audiences, on every continent save Antarctica. At the same time, Cox has pursued a career as a "public theologian" in the tradition of Reinhold Niebuhr, publishing a dozen books aimed primarily at a nonacademic audience.
In the months ahead the term "religious right" will be wielded often in shorthand fashion to refer to a factor that figures significantly in national politics. It is indeed a significant factor. But, as Harvey Cox's article helps to explain, it does not figure in a single, predictable way. --THE EDITORS
Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.