Rick Warren in the end is a preacher who believes that the earth and even the universe is controlled by an anthropomorphic power Who took some time out to write 66 highly disjunct historic, poetic, prophetic, narrative, and occasionally epistolatory tracts between 3,500 and 1,900 years ago. Generally all this scribbling occurred within an area about the size of the San Joaquin Valley, though one far more arid, far less populated, and far more susceptible to plagues and disruptive invaders.
Rick Warren also believes that we should OBEY the things we find in those 66 odd tracts, even down to the letter, even after many other good and often even better tracts by Spinoza, Darwin, Freud, Marx, Engles, Locke, and Jefferson have appeared, as well as the disturbing developments of nuclear power, asbestos contaminations, and thousands of very nasty episodes of religious conflict through history.
That Rick Warren is going to give the invocation at the Obama coronation I find as disturbing as any liberal does. But in the end I'm obliged to shrug. Indeed, I find it no more disturbing than daily American life itself, the relentlessly religious element of which, with its emphasis on division rather than reconciliation, is simply embarrassing, and even perhaps civilization-inhibiting.
There are reformed Jesuits who talk of the resurrection "apparition stories"; there are reformed Jews who enjoy clambakes; there are liberal Protestants who tinker with Latin American politics in a way that diminishes the role of religion itself. These have all evolved from taking those old, disjunct, oft-conflicted tracts too literally, and they are indeed now the majority of the land, but...
Our nation, unlike England and Mexico, our two greatest cultural forebears, has never banned any mainstream religion wholesale, as both of two greatest cultural forebears, England and Mexico, did with for example Catholicism, the former for about 300 years. Our nation, on balance, still has not endured as much religious trauma as have the places our forebears have fled.
It may yet. Or, like so much else of the globe's trauma, we may get lucky and skip the gene with this one too. But somehow, the only nation that sent a man to the moon needs to find a way sometime to shake its text-based Appallachian morality for a cosmopolitan, contemplative one. It is probably not on the agenda of this presidency, but it was on the agenda of Thomas Jefferson's, and it would be a welcome agenda to resume some time in the near future.