Croly was a quiet man who’d grown up with noisy parents. His mother was one of America’s first female syndicated columnists and a dedicated “feminist.” His father was a successful journalist and editor whose friends dubbed him “The Great Suggester.” Their home was something of a “European island in New York,” according to one historian. The most interesting thing about the senior Croly — if by “interesting” you mean really loopy — was his obsession with Auguste Comte, a semimystical French philosopher whose biggest claim to fame was his coinage of the word “sociology.” Comte argued that humanity progressed in three stages and that in the final stage mankind would throw off Christianity and replace it with a new “religion of humanity,” which married religious fervor to science and reason — even to the extent of making “saints” out of such figures as Shakespeare, Dante, and Frederick the Great. Comte believed that the age of mass industrialization and technocracy would pluck the human mind from the metaphysical realm for good, ushering in an age where pragmatic managers would improve the plight of all based upon man-made morality. He anointed himself the high priest of this atheistic, secular faith, which he called positivism. The elder Croly made his Greenwich Village home into a positivist temple where he held religious ceremonies for select guests, whom he would try to convert. In 1869 young Herbert became the first and probably last American to be christened in Comte’s religion.
Longtime readers of this “news”letter might know that my favorite quote of any Progressive Era clergyman is from Walter Rauschenbusch. This famous man of God believed socialism was an idea whose time had come. “Our disorganized competitive life must pass into an organic cooperative life,” he insisted. “Unless the ideal social order can supply men with food, warmth, and comfort more efficiently than our present economic order, back we shall go to capitalism. . . . The God that answereth by low food prices, let him be God.”
This isn’t an argument for God, but Baal. Whichever deity delivers the material stuff we want may be called “God,” but that doesn’t make Him God. If you think God ceases to be God if circumstances require “going back to capitalism,” then you don’t really believe in God.
Rauschenbusch popped into my head last week when I heard that Al Gore said he might become a Catholic because the Pope has taken Gore’s position on global warming. That’s better than Howard Dean, who left his Church over an argument about bike paths, but theologically, it’s not much more sophisticated. Let the God who answereth with carbon taxes (or bike paths) be God!
As with every Goldberg newsletter, there is so much more. Get it at the link.