I will tell you something you may not hear elsewhere. You live at a wonderful time in a wonderful country. I feel as strongly as anyone that everything could be much better, and ought to be better. But one of the pleasures of my self-defining life, my life as writer and teacher, is that I have read history, and I have traveled to and talked with people in those regions of America considered by many in this country to be alien territory. I have taken from history an awareness of the human tendency toward destructiveness and bitter violence. We share this tendency, certainly. But, in terms of our national life, we have cultivated an ethic of civil peace which has allowed for the flourishing of a great many wonderful communities and institutions. At the moment this ethic is under great stress, a fact that makes it all the more important to acknowledge it and recognize its value….
It is easy to be disappointed, exasperated, with our religious culture, with blandness here and intemperance there, with fads and hypocrisies and a general failure to inculcate tradition. So it can come as a surprise to learn that on balance America gives religion a good name, that religion is associated through us with ethical seriousness among other things, and that its importance among us is considered by many to be enviable.
For those of us who are religious in any way or degree, the fact that much of the world, and certainly the secularized Western world, looks to us to see how religion is lived out, implies responsibility of a very high order….