Religionist Sees a `Christophobic' Elite Michael Novak, Winner of This Year's Templeton Prize, Says There Is an Antireligious Bigotry Loose in the Land

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THE winner of the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion says he is "outraged" that the United States government acted so hastily in attacking the Branch Davidian group in Waco, Texas.

"If that was a feminist group, or a gay group, or a hundred different kinds of groups, they would have been much more cautious," says Michael Novak, a leading Roman Catholic thinker, author, and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Mr. Novak says he believes the government felt justified in its action against the Davidians "as long as they could call them `religious nuts.' " This attitude, Novak says, is part of a wider bigotry against evangelicals and other fundamentalists. "People say insulting things about them. They wouldn't allow them to say things like that about other human beings," he says.

To Novak, an anti-religious attitude in government is not surprising in a democracy.

The secular forces in society, he says, "have a case of `Christophobia.' " He relates this anti-Christian and anti-Jewish view to the fact that "People who want to do something very different don't like the feeling of being judged ... so they have to throw off Judaism and Christianity."

In Novak's view, this anti-religion attitude is most apparent among the nation's elite, especially among professionals like journalists, lawyers, and filmmakers. He finds these groups out of touch with mainstream America.

For example, most polls find that Americans are among the most religious people in the world. "But you would never guess that from our movies.... When was the last time you saw a movie that treated religion - Jewish, Christian, Islamic - with any kind of seriousness?" he asks.

One of his favorite examples is from New York Post movie critic Michael Medved who went to Hollywood parties and asked people how many Americans attend church. Most partygoers guessed only 1 or 2 percent. Only one person guessed as high as 10 percent. The real number is 43 percent, Novak says, adding that this means more people go to church than watch the Super Bowl. "But Hollywood doesn't know that," he says.

Novak says that the anti-religious attitudes are part of a broader trend toward moral relativism in America. He observes that many people find it hard to accept the concept of truth. "They don't think there are any truths.... They think everything is opinion," he says.

He links relativism to such events as the rise of Hitler and Mussolini. "That's what the dictators said - that there is no right, there is no wrong, there is just power and will," Novak says. If society accepts this premise, then people "will do what they want, and no one will meet their responsibilities."

Novak warns that moral decadence, not external enemies, will be the danger faced by free societies in the next century.

Even though Novak does not countenance homosexuality, he would not outlaw it, since he opposes governmental meddling in people's private lives.

"I am perfectly willing to go along with tolerance," he says. "But you can't make me say that acts that I think are evil are good." The state should not treat homosexuals and heterosexuals as equals, he says. "I think the heterosexual family provides such important benefits," he says. "You need to strengthen that all you can; it's very fragile."

Novak expects that people will disagree with him. If homosexuality becomes a public issue, with each side operating according to its conscience, then he advocates putting the issue to a vote "as civilly as you can."

A vote may also be necessary, Novak says, on abortion. …