dwell on punishing the bejesus out of hisrnenemies. Like most believing women ofrnher time—perhaps any time—her regardrnfor the doctrines of purgatory and hellrnwasn’t robust.rnNeedless to say, De Palma is no Dante.rnHe has served up yet another seience fictionrntravesty of my mother’s natural hopernin supernatural answers. His mandate forrndoing so is all too evident. As I write, hisrnfilm is number one at the box office. It’srncashing in on our popular culture’s sadrnbut predictable hankering to fill the vacuumrnleft by the widespread decline of traditionalrntheology. De Palma’s pseudoscientifiernhooey is resonating profitably withrnthe same crowds who were spellbound byrnSteven Spielberg’s Close Encounters ofrnthe Third Kind and Jodie Foster’s Contact,rnfilms in which salvation arrives inrnspaceships and alien emanations. This isrnan audience largely made up of the sophisticatesrnour universities annually turnrnloose on the body politic. Having had thernidea of a personal God trained out ofrnthem, they can’t help themselves. Thernprospect of benevolent aliens takingrncharge of human destiny turns them torndewy-eyed mush every time. To paraphrasernG.K. Chesterton, the difficultyrnwith losing faith is not that people will believernin nothing, but rather that they willrnbelieve in anything.rnWliilc such credulity in the masses isrnimfortunate, it’s unspeakable in thosernpeople of talent and intelligence whornwould abu.se it in the pursuit of fame andrnriches.rnGeorge McCartney teaches English at St.rnJohn’s University.rnRELIGIONrnThe GrowingrnIrrelevance ofrnthe NCCrnby Mark TooleyrnThe National Council of Churchesrn(NCC) is the Hugh Hefner of thernreligious world: aging and not dealingrnwell with it, trapped in the fashions of thern1%0’s and 1970’s, financially troubled,rnstill offensive but no longer shocking.rnblissfully unaware of obsolescence, andrnfeebly trying to disco at a time when retirementrnmight be in order.rnOf course, Hefner’s Playboy still hasrnthree million readers, and his financialrnempire is sfill solvent, if stagnant. In contrast,rnthe NCC is nearly bankrupt fiscallyrnand, according to its conservafivc crifics,rnspiritually bankrupt as well.rnAll of this was evident when the NCCrnrecently celebrated its 50th anniversaryrnin Cleveland. Many thousands of peoplernbraved a snowstorm to attend the NCC’srnfounding there in 1950. Not even a thousandrnbothered to celebrate its anniversary,rndespite the balmy weather.rnEstablished as an outgrowth of America’srnpostwar optimism, the NCC oncernembodied the liberal mainstream. Anficommunist,rnpro-New Deal, anti-segregation,rnand pro-imion, the new churchrncouncil sought to unify America’s denominafionsrnbehind ecumenism and socialrnjustice. The nation’s most prestigiousrnProtestant churches were itsrnfounders, the Eastern Orthodox joined inrnorder not to be left behind, and the NCCrnhoped the Roman Catholic Churchrnwould soon follow. Conservafivc evangelicalsrnwere seen as too irrelevant to consider.rnFive decades later, Roman Catholicsrnstill see no need to join. Mainline Protestantrnchurches arc now entering theirrnfourth conseeufive decade of membershiprndecline. And evangelical churchesrnare thriving, with the conservative SouthernrnBaptist Convenrion (never an NCCrnmember) having long since surpassed thernliberal-dominated United MethodistrnChurch as America’s largest Protestantrncommunion.rnEewer than one in three Americanrnchurch members now belong to an NCCrndenomination. But with 35 denominationsrnand 5 5 million church membersrnsfill in the NCC, fiie gray old lady oughtrnto wield a heavy sfiek. Instead, the N C Crnis unpopular with most of its own constituency.rnIts image never fully recoveredrnfrom the Sixty Minutes and Reader’s Digestrnstories of the early 1980’s that exposedrnthe N C C ‘ S close ties to Marxistrnmovements.rnFederal dollars (mostly for refugee resettlement)rnnow exceed denominationalrngifts as a source of NCC income. Tornmake up its huge deficit, the NCC sentrnan appeal for help in September to its traditionalrnpillars: the United Methodist,rnPresbyterian, Episcopal, EvangelicalrnLutheran, American Bapfist, Disciples ofrnChrist, and United Church of Christ denonfinafions.rnThese “seven sisters” accountrnfor 90 percent of the NCC’s denominationalrnfunding.rnInstead of a bailout, the UnitedrnMethodist Church responded by withholdingrnover $300,000 in payments, demandingrnfiscal reforms in exchange forrnrenewed funding. The Christian Century,rnthe flagship publication of liberal Protestantism,rnpublished a cover story urgingrnthe “orderly, intentional dissolution ofrnthe NCC.” The author was the ReformedrnChurch in America’s general secretary,rnwho is also an NCC board member.rnBy raiding the coffers of its internationalrnrelief agency, Church World Service,rnthe NCC is striving to make up its deficit.rnThe NCC has also enlisted a new leadershiprnteam. Former Pennsylvania congressmanrnBob Edgar is its new generalrnsecretary, while former Atlanta mayorrnand United Nafions ambassador AndrewrnYoung is its president. Both arc reputedrnto be good fiindraisers.rnBoth are also liberal Democraticrnpoliticians who share the NCC’s viewrnthat genuine Christian faith is inextricablyrntied with left-wing politics. The collapsernof Marxist “liberation” movementsrnaround the world left the NCC and itsrnsister group, the World Council ofrnChurches, somewhat perplexed aboutrntheir fiiture direefion. In the years since,rnthe NCC has tried to tame its politicalrnradicalism somewhat, aligning itselfrnclosely with the pragmatic Clinton administration.rn(After the Republican victoryrnin 1994, an NCC delegation visitedrnthe Oval Office and prayed against thern”unholy” legislation of the GOP Congress.)rnThat docs not mean the NCC is makingrnany apologies for its controversialrnCold War role. For years it praised communistrnregimes in Cuba, Nicaragua, Angola,rnand China, while condemningrnU.S. military actions in Grenada, Libya,rnPanama, and Iraq. In Cleveland, thernhead of the World Council of Churches,rnKonrad Raiser, congratulated his NCCrncolleagues for their “prophetic culturalrnwitiiess” during the Cold War, when theyrn”built bridges to Eastern Europe andrnchallenged MeCarthyism.” Raiser especiallyrnthanked the NCC for “exposingrnthe complicity of the United States Governmentrnin dictatorship and repression”rnaround the world, for “mobilizing againstrnthe Contras” in Nicaragua, fighting sanctionsrnagainst Cuba, advocating KoreanrnJUNE 2000/47rnrnrn