Book Excerpt: Madeleine Albright's 'The Mighty and the Almighty'

Although -- as I learned late in life -- my heritage is Jewish, I was raised a Roman Catholic. As a child, I studied the catechism, prayed regularly to the Virgin Mary, and fantasized about becoming a priest (even a Catholic girl can dream). As I was growing up, my sense of morality was molded by what I learned in church and by the example and instruction of my parents. The message was drilled into me to work hard, do my best at all times, and respect the rights of others. As a sophomore at Wellesley College, I was required to study the Bible as history, learning the saga of ancient Israel in the same way as that of Greece or Rome.

As an immigrant and the daughter of a former Czechoslovak diplomat, I was primarily interested in world affairs. I did not, however, view the great issues of the day through the prism of religion -- either my own or that of others. Nor did I ever feel secure enough about the depth of my religious knowledge to think I was in a position to lecture acquaintances about what they should believe. I did not consider spiritual faith a subject to talk about in public. For the generation that came of age when and where I did, this was typical. I am sure there were parts of America where attitudes were different, but the scholar Michael Novak got it right when he asserted in the early 1960s, "As matters now stand, the one word [that could not be used] in serious conversation without upsetting someone is 'God.' "

The star most of us navigated by in those years was modernization, which many took as a synonym for secularization. The wonders we celebrated were less biblical than technological: the space race, breakthroughs in medicine, the birth of nuclear power, the introduction of color television, and the dawn of the computer age. In the United States, the play and movie Inherit the Wind dramatized the triumph of science (the theory of evolution) over creationism (a literal interpretation of Genesis). When we thought of Moses, the image that came to mind was Charlton Heston, in technicolor. Religious values endured, but excitement came from anticipating what our laboratories and researchers might come up with next. We Americans were not alone in our pragmatic preoccupations. Abroad, the rising political tides were socialism and nationalism, as Africans and Asians freed themselves from their colonial overseers and began the task of building countries that could stand on their own.

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