Suspension accord


In the School of Social Service Administration lobby, the window walls behind him revealing the Midway’s yellowing trees, Martin Marty, PhD’56, took the podium. His Wednesday afternoon talk, “America: Still Gadget-filled, No Longer Paradise: Providing Human Services Today,” spanned the 1890s origins of modern social work, 1967 predictions about American religiosity in the year 2000, America’s post-9/11 insecurity, and current debates over displaying the Ten Commandments, funding faith-based initiatives, and repealing the federal estate tax. The winding discourse concluded with his argument that religious institutions and social services are poised for unprecedented partnerships.

Sporting a red plaid bowtie, Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone distinguished service professor emeritus in the Divinity School, noted that in 1980, the last time he lectured at the SSA, there was “a necessary difference between the social-work way of doing things and the clergy’s way of doing things.” Indeed, each entity often perceived the other as imposing on its turf. But now, especially after September 11, 2001, that view has changed.

Taking his lecture’s title from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s Cold War–era comment that America was “a gadget-filled paradise suspended in a hell of global insecurity,” Marty contended that after 9/11 “the suspension cord was broken, and we joined the rest of the human race,” no longer feeling sheltered by two oceans and friendly neighbors. The resulting trend toward intense religiosity, though threatening in its militant forms, also can have positive effects, he said: “In a world of insecurity, there is more friendliness between the secular and the religious,” creating “a larger amplitude of resources on which to draw.” Secular and religious social-service providers share a common vocation, he argued. And in such a world, where the Divinity School and the SSA have joined forces, “we will be much better off than when it was just turf battles.”


Photo: Martin Marty, PhD'56, sits with SSA senior lecturer William Borden, AM'83, PhD'88, before Borden introduces Marty's lecture (top).

October 15, 2004