Catalogue


Politics, religion, and the common good : advancing a distinctly American conversation about religion's role in our shared life /
Martin E. Marty with Jonathan Moore.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c2000.
description
v, 184 p. ; 23 cm.
ISBN
0787950319 (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
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More Details
added author
imprint
San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c2000.
isbn
0787950319 (alk. paper)
contents note
Handle with care : the case against public religion -- Worth the risk : public religion and the common good -- The individual citizen, formed and mobilized by faith -- The declining political power of traditional institutions -- The flourishing of religious special-interest groups -- An invitation to all religious people : join the political conversation.
catalogue key
3702099
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. 167-170) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Martin E. Marty is professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he received his Ph.D. and taught for thirty-five years. An ordained minister, he is senior editor of the weekly Christian Century, a frequent media commentator on American religion, and the recipient of sixty-four honorary degrees
Excerpts
Flap Copy
"2Public religion2 is not a top-down, worked-out, authoritative concept. It is the result of the very complex strivings and questionings of a couple of hundred million citizens. How it is realized in contemporary life depAnds on the quality of the questioning, the clarity of people2s expression, and the seriousness of their resolve as individual citizens."-from Politics, Religion, and the Common Good Religion has always been part of American public debate. The values in which our culture is entrenched have been, since their inception, created and shaped directly from a religious moral sensibility. Unfortunately, too many of us cede our voices without realizing the implications of silence. It2s the need for each individual2s voice that lies at the heart of this groundbreaking investigation into religion2s role in the political arena; Martin Marty, acclaimed scholar and frequent commentator on American religion, encourages each person to speak out -to engage in thoughtful, productive dialogue, and to take stands that are morally based. He skillfully interweaves decades of his own insights with conversations with both lay people and nationally recognized experts in various fields, creating a robust and complex look at the problems and, ultimately, the potential for religion2s future in the public sphere. This landmark work is the first of a two-volume set that will explore the promise and challenge of public religion. These works are intAnded not as the last word on the subject; rather, the author hopes to initiate a national conversation-providing a guided tour of public religion in America, even-handedly exploring the role religion has played, is playing, and could play in our life together as a nation. BACK FLAP: [head] What is Religion2s Proper Role in Our Shared Life? The future of America, in many ways, depends upon an understanding of the proper role of religion in our shared life as a republic. Discussions and debates on the topic have too
Flap Copy
"'Public religion' is not a top-down, worked-out, authoritative concept. It is the result of the very complex strivings and questionings of a couple of hundred million citizens. How it is realized in contemporary life depAnds on the quality of the questioning, the clarity of people's expression, and the seriousness of their resolve as individual citizens."-from Politics, Religion, and the Common Good Religion has always been part of American public debate. The values in which our culture is entrenched have been, since their inception, created and shaped directly from a religious moral sensibility. Unfortunately, too many of us cede our voices without realizing the implications of silence. It's the need for each individual's voice that lies at the heart of this groundbreaking investigation into religion's role in the political arena; Martin Marty, acclaimed scholar and frequent commentator on American religion, encourages each person to speak out -to engage in thoughtful, productive dialogue, and to take stands that are morally based. He skillfully interweaves decades of his own insights with conversations with both lay people and nationally recognized experts in various fields, creating a robust and complex look at the problems and, ultimately, the potential for religion's future in the public sphere. This landmark work is the first of a two-volume set that will explore the promise and challenge of public religion. These works are intAnded not as the last word on the subject; rather, the author hopes to initiate a national conversation-providing a guided tour of public religion in America, even-handedly exploring the role religion has played, is playing, and could play in our life together as a nation. BACK FLAP: [head] What is Religion's Proper Role in Our Shared Life? The future of America, in many ways, depends upon an understanding of the proper role of religion in our shared life as a republic. Discussions and debates on the topic have too
First Chapter


Chapter One

Handle with Care

The Case Against Public Religion

Thesis: Public religion can be dangerous; it should be handled with care.

In the 1940s, what could incite otherwise law-abiding white Christian Americans to treat a group of fellow white Christian citizens like this?

    In Nebraska, one member of this group was castrated.

    In Wyoming, another member was tarred and feathered.

    In Maine, six members were reportedly beaten.

    In Illinois, a caravan of group members was attacked.

    In other states, sheriffs looked the other way as people assaulted group members.

    The group's meeting places were also attacked.

    Members of the group were commonly arrested and then imprisoned without being charged.

    Certainly the castrated, tarred, beaten, attacked, imprisoned people must have posed a great threat to the republic to prompt such behavior. They must have been revolutionaries whose ideologies led them to plot the overthrow of government by violent means. Who were they? Communists? Nazis? Anarchists?

    They were Jehovah's Witnesses. One would expect that the law of the land, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, would have protected them. After all, we are talking about the middle of the twentieth century, more than one hundred fifty years after the Constitution had assured religious freedom and equal protection under law.

    Yet in 1940 the Court did just the opposite: it ruled against a religious practice of an essentially peaceful people.

    What had the Jehovah's Witnesses done? They had circulated pamphlets such as "Reasons Why a True Follower of Jesus Christ Cannot Salute a Flag." According to their strict interpretation of Exodus 20:3-5, not saluting the U.S. flag was as sacred to Jehovah's Witnesses as honoring the flag was to the American majority.

    With war beginning to rage in Europe and threatening to involve the United States, the pamphlets--and thus the Jehovah's Witnesses, already known for disdaining civic obligations--were interpreted as unpatriotic. The country had to stand together. Schoolchildren were forced to salute the flag by an action of the Supreme Court. But the Jehovah's Witnesses didn't go along with this. To them, the flag was an icon, an idol, a symbol of an authority other than God. (In 1935, official Jehovah's Witness literature argued that saluting the flag was a U.S. import of the Nazi "Heil Hitler!" salute and noted that Hitler was persecuting their fellow believers in Germany.)

    Within three years, there was a happy ending for all but those who did want the salute forced and enforced. The Court majority reversed itself. But during the three years before that reversal, it became obvious that religion, which can pose "us" versus "them"--or "them" versus what we think "the state" should be and do--carries risks and can be perceived by others as dangerous.

    Religion can cause all kinds of trouble in the public arena. The world scene reveals many instances of terror and tragedy created by people acting in the name of religion. Late-twentieth-century wars often involved religiously motivated belligerents invoking sacred powers to justify horrible acts. Mere place names evoke tragedies where religion plays a central role: Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, the West Bank, East Timor, Yugoslavia. It matters little which religion is involved; blood has been spilled by devotees of most faith traditions. Single-minded and impassioned, religious people often feel chosen by their God to work out the divine will against unbelievers--by any means necessary.

    What about the scene closer to home?

    Pro-choice people point to examples when pro-life individuals or groups inconvenience, harass, or even kill abortion providers in the name of God. Some religious groups blame religions they consider "false" as bearing responsibility for declines in morality and traditional family life.

    Critics of religious groups that promote gay and lesbian marriage and fight for homosexual rights consider those groups--and their religion--dangerous because they call down or claim God's blessings for what the critics think are abhorrent and destructive actions. On the other side, liberal Christians point out that conservative biblical interpretation denies gays and lesbians their full humanity.

    Religion inspires Native American activists to make claims on lands that once were theirs, claims that inconvenience nearby non-Indian farmers. Conflict overseas that is justified or inspired by religion and that involves kin of American population elements--in Northern Ireland, Serbia, Iran--stirs passions and can disrupt community in the United States. The charismatic head of the Nation of Islam speaks incendiary anti-Jewish denunciations in Madison Square Garden, and the rest of America gasps at such language coming from a religious leader.

    What goes on here and in such cases?

Religion Divides

Those called to be religious naturally form separate groups, movements, tribes, or nations. Responding in good faith to a divine call, believers feel themselves endowed with sacred privilege, a sense of chosenness that elevates them above all others. This self-perception then leads groups to draw lines around themselves and to speak negatively of "the others." Thus Israel had its Canaan, Christianity its Jews and heathen, and Islam its infidels. The elect denounce "others" for worshiping false gods and often act violently against such unbelievers.

    American history offers a long list of people who have claimed such sacred privilege for themselves--and for the nation as a whole. Massachusetts Bay Colony leader John Winthrop indicated this sense of elevated status when he told his fellow colonists, "We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." Others since Winthrop have sung of the United States as "God's New Israel." Ronald Reagan helped draw a similar boundary when he spoke of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." American leaders and those they represent have often claimed special status for the United States, speaking of the country as possessing a divinely chosen identity that places it above all others in relation to God's plan.

Religion Disrupts

Religious citizens do not necessarily improve community life when they justify their actions on spiritual grounds. As noted, some features of religion can tempt people to claim a monopoly on God or on knowledge of God's will--at the expense of the claims and knowledge of others. While religions claim to be resources for healing and reconciling people, they often serve as salt in old wounds or abrasions that cause new ones in the midst of community life.

    Many of the nation's founders, well aware of religion's disruptive potential, worried that officially encouraging religion would only increase the chances for such trouble. Although some colonies had established churches, the new national compact avoided formal links between the state and religion. Such a linkage, constitutional father James Madison believed, would produce "knaves, hypocrites, and fools." "Knaves" would willfully exploit the power of religion to dominate the public masses, "hypocrites" would pretend that their personal faith matched the prejudices of larger publics, and "fools" might misunderstand the nature and power of religion and come across as inauthentic.

    Steadfastly religious members of the founding generation similarly advised that religion and state should be kept separate. Baptist clergyman and founding father Isaac Backus believed that both religion and the state would be better off if kept separate from each other. "No man can be made a member of a truly religious society by force, or without his own consent," Backus contended, and "neither can any corporation that is not a religious society have a just right to govern in religious affairs."

    America has become more plural in its third century. Thus the introduction of religion into political matters runs an even greater risk of causing trouble. Think for a minute of the seemingly intractable, always contentious arguments over abortion. There religion often seems to do more to intensify passions than achieve resolution. Similarly, religion's divisiveness in the public sphere can be seen clearly when considering an issue such as homosexuality. Alan Wolfe has shown that even as Americans have grown more and more tolerant of each other, religious beliefs contribute to "a seemingly unbridgeable gulf ... between those who believe that the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality as an abomination must be taken as a moral injunction versus those who believe that Christianity requires the love and acceptance of everyone." At times, religion seems to do more to maintain and fortify political divisions than to heal them.

Religion Can Be Violent

"Violence is authorized by religion because religion is inherently absolutist in the type of authoritative claims it makes and in the all-encompassing nature of its demands on its followers," wrote Brian K. Smith. Once a particular group considers itself as divinely chosen and draws sharp boundaries between itself and others, the enemy has been clearly identified, and violence can become actual. Religion possesses special power for creating violence because its texts and injunctions have ways of locating eternal, supernatural, and absolutist impulses in the temporal world or the natural order. Other notions then follow.

    To begin at the bottom, the Ku Klux Klan, both in its nineteenth-century antiblack forms and in its twentieth-century anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic expressions, was a base form of religion. Protestant clergy who replaced pulpit garb with Klan robes and exchanged the cross from their church with the burning cross on the lawn of African Americans did so invoking the Bible on their own altar.

    Militia members, bombers, white supremacists, and their ilk pick up themes from scriptures, isolate them, and then treat them independently of the nonviolent and peacemaking texts to justify subversive activities.

    In the eyes of many, the readiness of the clergy to bless the cannon in whatever war the United States is fighting (and there are texts aplenty for this blessing) is a sign that faith communities have no questions about armament, war, and the killing of people in "evil" places--even, and often, against the counsel of fellow believers who accent other biblical themes.

    Many an adult who feels deprived of childhood, who never had an opportunity to make up his or her mind, blames religion for verbal or physical abuse: religion at its worst. And family members of those who died at Jonestown or Waco have a ready answer to anyone who asks whether religion can produce violence.

    Native Americans see a certain lake or tree to be sacred and set out to protect it. But now it "belongs" to someone else, and that someone, invoking his own God, perpetrates violence and is met by counterviolence. A place comes to be seen as sacred, and the people must engage in a crusade to take it from the infidel. Or this particular time is pregnant, and a nation must use it to expand its borders. Or this cause is unique, and a tribe must follow it and engage in ethnic cleansing. Religion in its intense forms can grasp people who would otherwise have multiple commitments and exact complete and exclusive expressions of their loyalty, "even unto death."

    Many critics argue that violence is the logical end of all religious, faith. Some critics say that religion's tendency to turn violent is especially true of monotheistic faiths--Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Because by nature they invoke an exclusivist, jealous God, monotheistic religions cannot avoid perpetrating violence against those outside the faith. Regina M. Schwarz offers this kind of criticism in The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism . Schwarz argues that biblical monotheism is inescapably bound up with violence and that this tradition lies behind most, if not all, of Western civilization's evils. Because the Bible has formed and continues to form identity by designating a chosen people apart from others, Schwartz contends, it unavoidably provides divinely sanctioned justification for violence toward those outside the boundaries. "Violence," says Schwarz, "is not only what we do to the Other. It is prior to that. Violence is the very construction of the Other."

    Though critics like Schwarz do well to point out the often deadly behavior of monotheists, they seldom clarify exactly what the more peaceful alternatives are. Some argue that the world would be safer if people simply ignored the transcendent altogether, instead using more secular and practical ideologies to order the human community. Others suggest that Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism offer more peaceful alternatives to monotheism, and some turn to Native American religions as a surrogate.

    However, religions outside of the three monotheisms have not done much better in checking violent impulses. Pre-Columbian Aztec and Incan cultures, for instance, often offered human sacrifices. At the dedication ceremony of the Aztec temple of Tenochtitlán, Mexico, in 1487, tribal leaders sacrificed as many as 84,400 captives. So if monotheisms do have a record of violence, Peter Berkowitz has noted, "it is equally true that plenty of cruelty and violence is on display in the pagan or non-biblically based religions of the world.... The Greek, the Norse and the Hindu gods are not exactly social democrats."

    In the United States, religions have justified slavery, the relocation or killing of Native Americans, and lynchings. But in twentieth-century America, there are almost certainly fewer deaths of citizens at the hands of others acting in the name of God than there are similar deaths around the world in any single week. This leads us to wonder, if religion is inherently violent, why has the United States, compared to other countries, been spared frequent and ongoing religious violence?

    Providence, some would say, and did say back at the time of the country's founding. Founders who were cautious about their religious expression and wary about using biblical names for God often spoke of the blessings of Divine Providence. This provident God had given a spacious continent, rich in resources, with room enough for all, and had planted a set of peoples who, after reluctant and grudging moves, learned to accept each other.

    Luck, say some. Luck in having all those resources. Luck in having founders who wrote a constitution that keeps the violent away from their victims and does not make it possible to legitimate a holy warrior's acting against other citizens. Luck that these founders adopted and advanced a philosophy born of the Enlightenment, a philosophy designed to promote generous views of other peoples and their faiths while allowing for and assuring freedom for each group to withhold consent from what others thought.

    Learning, still others say. Most of the settlers from Europe knew what holy war had been like in and after the Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, the Puritan Revolutions, and a hundred uprisings--all in the name of God. They did not want to replicate it here.

    In the end, most religious interpreters of American life congratulate their predecessors and contemporaries for "keeping cool" where group meets group, however hot the passion they bring to their faith.

    Nonetheless, Americans dare not become complacent about religion's potential for violence. As the United States becomes more and more plural, many religious worldviews inevitably clash in discussions over the common good. Both worldwide and on the American scene, fundamentalisms display particular power. Though international versions have so far proved the most violent, their milder domestic counterparts shadow much of the controversy about American religion and politics. It is important, therefore, to recognize and understand fundamentalisms, as an awareness of them can deepen our public interactions while keeping us wary of religion's potential for dangerous action.

What Does Fundamentalism Look Like?

"All fundamentalists, whatever their pattern of relation to the world, seek purity, draw sharp ideological boundaries, value mission work, and want to avoid the evils of the fallen world even as they seek to redeem it." Scholars agree that in spite of the differences among them, all fundamentalisms share some general features: adherence to fundamentals, dependence on modernity to trigger their response, reactivity, and "doing Jujitsu."

Adherence to Fundamentals

Protestant evangelicals embraced the term fundamentalism early in the twentieth century. They feared that "conservatives" were not firm enough and would not "do battle for the Lord." For them, fundamentalism was a badge of pride (although later some dropped the term because it also could be a stigma).

    In examining fundamentalisms, we see that each of them, usually drawing on sacred writings and traditional teachings, identifies a cluster of beliefs that must be followed and defended. In the three monotheistic faiths, the fundamentals come from the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qur'an.

    The Torah? Most scholars do not equate Jewish Orthodoxy or traditionalism with fundamentalism. The Orthodox and the traditional try to retain ancient ways of being Jewish, but most of them are not out to remake the world. Most are faithful to the covenant but do not hand out tracts and try to convert others at the airport. They may favor legislation that protects their sabbath, but they do not make efforts to use legislation to impose their will and practices on others. Yet there are some small movements, usually in the form of extremist support of Israel against the land claims of others, who lift out Torah passages and say that their stories show that God, in the promise to Moses, forever intended the land to be Israel's. Obviously, this fundamentalist view of the land cannot be a part of Muslim faith, and only a minority of Christians, fundamentalists themselves, agree in their own way with such claims about the land.

    The New Testament? Again, Christians can be very traditional, for instance, in respect to liturgy and forms of worship; they can be orthodox in respect to the creeds and confessions of their communion; they can be "conservative," in that they try to hold to inherited patterns; they may agree with fundamentalists on the content of New Testament teaching; and yet they still wouldn't be considered fundamentalists. Christian fundamentalists insist on being militant and are standoffish with respect to other Christians, including evangelicals, regarded as dangerous by many fundamentalists. Fundamentalists are uncompromising and insist that biblical passages do not admit of more than one interpretation. Since Christian fundamentalism centers on witness to the biblical teachings about Jesus, these teachings or doctrines along with their separatism make Protestant fundamentalists distinctive. They share some forms but, with the exception of claims for Israel, none of the content of faith with Jews or Muslims.

    The Qur'an? Non-Muslim Americans are busy learning that the Muslim fundamentalist with whom they became familiar in 1979 during the Iranian revolution is not the Muslim down the street. All orthodox Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the direct utterance of Allah through the prophet Muhammad, so scriptural "inerrancy" is not the mark of the Muslim fundamentalist. Wherever movements have arisen that many scholars call fundamentalist--while noting that many Muslims use other terms--these have been movements that paid attention to literal applications of laws from Shari'a, a body of law.

Dependence on Modernity

Fundamentalist movements often seek the restoration of a golden age, a return to first principles, but scholars see fundamentalists as a distinctly modern combination of the old and the new. Though a politics of nostalgia leads fundamentalists to wish for a return to a world they believe they have lost, that world--while rooted in historical reality--is also a mythical construction. Scholars agree that fundamentalisms look very much like contemporary creations, fresh combinations of old spiritual raw materials with new goals and circumstances.

    For example, some younger women in Muslim communities wear the chador, veiling their faces. Asked whether they do this because their mothers did, they might well say that they are doing it because their mothers did not . They have reached back beyond their parents' world and retrieved customs based on prescriptions that had been neglected or dismissed. Fearing that they will be overwhelmed by modernity and needing a badge of identity, they resurrect this symbol.

    Similarly, Protestant fundamentalists are uncompromising in their biblical interpretation. For example, early in the twentieth century, their intellectual ancestors produced booklets called "The Fundamentals." Some of these expressed mild support for moderate versions of evolution. But when some of these fundamentalists deduced that more radical forms of evolution were being taught in public schools and their denominations' prestigious seminaries, they dug in and resisted all traces of evolutionary thinking in the sciences and in respect to scriptures. An aspect of modernity and modernization in theology triggered their fundamentalist response.

    For all the similarities they bear to earlier movements, fundamentalists depend on modernity for their motivation--and their existence. Of course, modernity can mean many things. To some it would be best represented by technology. Not here. Almost all fundamentalist groups embrace the latest in technology and employ it toward "premodern" ends. Rather, if you let each group define it, modernity is whatever it is against which they know they must react. It can mean Westernization, as in much of the Arabic Muslim world. It can mean pluralism and relativism, which have eroded boundaries between true and false communities, true and false claims.

    As Almond, Sivan, and Appleby put it, "While fundamentalists claim to be upholding orthodoxy (right belief) or orthopraxis (right behavior), and to be defending and conserving religious tradition and traditional ways of life from erosion, they do so by crafting new methods, formulating new ideologies, and adopting the latest processes and organizational structures."

Reactivity

Both abroad and at home, fundamentalisms are reactive-- re + active --movements. Fundamentalists find threatening certain features of contemporary life, and they react against those features by preserving their religious identities. Internationally, such threats include imperialism--hence the perception of the United States as the "Great Satan" by Iranian fundamentalists. In the United States, fundamentalists might feel threatened by a presumed conspiracy of "secular humanists" to keep religion carefully separated from public life. The Supreme Court gave credence to this belief in 1961 when it identified "Secular Humanism" as a religion. A year later, the Court disallowed prayer in public schools, and in 1963, teachers were barred from leading devotional readings of the Bible. While a Christian consensus seemed to reign over politics for most of America's first century, that consensus now appeared to be threatened by a Supreme Court grown hostile to the Judeo-Christian tradition. (The idea of reclaiming the culture for Christianity motivated more than fundamentalists. It propelled much of the New Christian Right into politics in the 1970s and 1980s.)

    American fundamentalists perceive another threat in society's growing pluralism and its corollary, moral relativism--a term most fundamentalists did not use a few years ago. Instead, they talked about subversion by unbelieving theologians of their own communions, who supported progressive pursuits, evolution, or a variety of responses to moral change. Or they talked about everything as head-on satanic attacks on the bastion of truth.

    Relativism strikes fundamentalists as the key feature of modernity, the main assault on the grasp of truth. Interestingly, relativism is a problem not because every system of thought, every contention, every moral decision is perceived as equally false. Just the opposite: they can all be presented positively by advocates, sold by the tolerant, until the victim of modernity decides that all truths are equally satisfying: You have yours. I have mine. I must tolerate you. What you believe makes no difference. I do not have to decide, or I can be eclectic, picking up bits and pieces from everywhere. And in the process, say not only fundamentalists, all seriousness in moral, intellectual, and spiritual searches gets sapped.

Doing Jujitsu

Jujitsurefers to the Japanese technique whereby seemingly weaker combatants can turn the strength of opponents to their advantage. Fundamentalists commonly perform a kind of Jujitsu on the forces that contemporary life throws against them. For example, modern mass media--including television, radio, and the Internet--tend to introduce a pluralism of ideas and options, something that might threaten the integrity of a fundamentalist worldview. While rejecting this effect, fundamentalists in America have turned the force of the mass media around, using it skillfully to bring their own message to the wider world.

    On an intellectual level, fundamentalisms--especially American varieties--have performed Jujitsu on Enlightenment ideas. Liberal thinkers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries held to the supremacy of rational thought and often concluded that rationalism required the sloughing off of religious belief as mere superstition. Fundamentalists performed Jujitsu on this idea, claiming rationalism in service of faith. For example, when it seemed that scientific inquiry lent credence to an evolutionist view of human origins, many religious conservatives used the same kinds of scientific investigation and arguments to claim divine origins for human life.

    One of the more ingenious reversals in American fundamentalism has to do with the way church and state are to relate. Most citizens believe that they should be somehow separate and distinguished, but there is no agreement on exactly what that means. Normally, they and their legal experts make an appeal to the First Amendment of the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Many go on to say that the intention was to have a godless Constitution (unlike most constitutions elsewhere), thus allowing citizens freedom to develop their moral and theological commitments without state imposition or guidance. And others went still further to say that the founders tended not to be orthodox Christians but Deists or Enlightenment religionists who were respectful of Christianity but thought you could have a moral and virtuous republic on general philosophical grounds, being subject to natural law, natural reason, and reason's god.

    Then along comes modern fundamentalism or political evangelicalism. It takes the force of modernity's assault and argues that if the founders had a somewhat independent faith, then that faith, called "secular humanism," is illegally privileged and established. And if the founders were more orthodox--and fundamentalists regard all but one or two, such as Thomas Jefferson, as "Bible believers"--then one must look at what their original intention had to be. In this argument, they claim that the First Amendment still allowed governmental support for religion to continue, if all religions benefit legally. Most consistently, they argue that the establishment clause tells what only Congress cannot do--leaving the states free to do their own improvising.

The Potential for Religious Violence: Liberal and Secular Alternatives

Reactive religious movements are hardly the only ones with the potential to disrupt the civil order. For all its devotion to tolerance, moderate or liberal religion has often taken intolerant forms.

    We have made it clear that fundamentalist disruption of the American civil order almost never takes the form of violence or life-taking that it takes in much of the rest of the world. Instead it tends to take forms that are verbal or gestured--through images in cartoons, disdainful and demeaning remarks, and incivility, all of which make the constructive addressing of social issues more difficult.

    So it is with liberal complication and disruption. If you do not believe so, ask your friendly neighborhood fundamentalist or intense member of the Christian Right. The rightist complains that all the attention falls on the rightist camp because the media are biased by liberal outlooks or because liberals are suave and subversive about the way they hold exclusionary power.

    Liberal disruption shows up in primary and secondary schools, especially in the areas of sex education and social commentary. There liberals tend to acquiesce in the idea that they cannot prevent all teenagers from having sex, so they promote health causes, such as the counsel to use condoms. They might want to advance the notion that homosexual lifestyles are acceptable. They teach not a well-defined set of moral truths but "values clarification." All these are abhorrent signs of liberal incivility to their opponents. These foes see liberals as having sneaked or forced their way into positions from which they can propagate their ideas and subvert systems. In place of condoms, the religious literalists say, why not simply promote abstinence as the only foolproof method for preventing teenage pregnancy? Why not quote the Bible's several passages against homosexual behavior and be done with it? Why assume that all the value systems children bring need clarifying before the student engages in moral action? The Bible has clarified values once and for all; who are the liberals to have forced their way into the world of textbooks, libraries, teacher training programs, school boards, and the like?

    Liberals, their critics will tell them, "used" religion in support of the civil rights movement and various post-New Deal, post-New Frontier, post-Great Society causes. In all of these they invoked God--who was working through Martin Luther King Jr. or the National Conference of Catholic Bishops or the National Council of Churches or denominational headquarters. Who asked them to do that? How did they get into the position of helping those causes, and who gave them the monopoly on interpreting them as God's doing?

    Liberals were most prominent in opposing the Vietnam War, which they had helped develop. Liberal "brightest and best" scholars and agents had prompted the escalation of the war in 1965, but they did not want to be reminded of that as they scourged Bible-quoting "hawks." When fundamentalists gravitated to the hawkish position, liberals dismissed them as less than godly, God being the God of pacifists.

    Talk about intolerance, say their critics; just look at the liberal religionists. They tend to speak about dialogue and conversation but are unwilling to listen on the subject of abortion. They may not be as open about using theology to justify their commitment to "choice" as their opponents will be with justifying "life," but the theology is there. And they disrupt church and civil life by supporting gay rights far beyond constitutional demands. Their expanded definitions of the family have undercut the traditional family. They are so sure they must support freedom of speech that they limit "our" freedom of religion, which finds so much speech to be blasphemous, obscene, immoral--and needing limits in law. They are not tolerant or dialogical about these matters, and in their own way, they call God down on their side. Religion, in its varied forms, seems to promote violence.

Would Nonreligion Avoid Violence?

Clearly, religion can cause trouble, even of the most deadly kind. The frequency and near universality of religiously motivated violence can make any reasonable person wonder if religion and politics might best be kept completely separate. Better to cordon off religion from politics before passions get out of hand.

    Yet many twentieth-century attempts to replace religion with nonreligion have only issued in more violence. The century's totalitarians, intending to be non- and antireligious, opposed the historic faiths. Yet the concentration camps and gulags, the famines induced by bad policies, the destruction of sacred art in cultural revolutions, the murder of priests behind barbed wire, and genocidal policies were effected not in the name of Allah or Yahweh or the Father of Jesus Christ or any of the gods. Who can speak credibly in the name of the natural humaneness of nonreligion?

    If religions have a spotty historical record when it comes to violence and nonreligious alternatives have fared no better, what's left? A world of benevolent anarchy perhaps? People inevitably organize themselves into groups, tribes, or nations, so to advocate a nonorganized alternative is unrealistic. People will gather together on the basis of various identities, including religious ones. So the question remains: Do religions have a proper place in the political sphere, or will they cause more trouble than other means of organization?

Political Interaction Compromises Religion's Purity

Some observers have insisted that the purity of both church and state is best served by keeping them apart. Virginia Baptist John Leland, arguing against general state support for religion, wrote that "government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics." Other Baptists have also played a prominent role in a long line of religious Americans seeking to keep church and state separate. Isaac Backus, whom we have already met as a prime New England Baptist, was a dissenter against the establishment's mingling of church and state. And Baptists like to claim as one of their own Roger Williams, the Massachusetts and Rhode Island pioneer, in keeping the government out of religion and religion out of government.

    In our own time, Baptists of the North and South, who could not agree on many things, produced a "joint commission" to draw a clear line between church and state. They were often friends of the courts when that line needed redefinition. During the midtwentieth century, many helped form a group (often anti-Catholic in its impulses) called Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    For decades it was a badge of pride in the Southern Baptist Convention that it "stayed out of politics," except for considerable opposition to the presidential campaign of Catholic Al Smith in 1928 and repeal of Prohibition through the 1920s. That stance has changed in our own time, when recent Southern Baptist Convention votes have supported prayer in the public schools and similar policies that, in the eyes of their critics, blur or cross the line between church and state.

    In contemporary America, many religious people stand in the tradition of Backus and Leland. Some feel that the purity of religion would be compromised by the inevitable give-and-take of political activity. Others, across the religious spectrum, fear that the words of religious leaders will unfairly cause a political reaction against all adherents of that particular faith, working against denominational and congregational purposes. As but one example, as recently as the spring of 1999, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, prominent members of the Christian Right, questioned the direct political tactics of the right for its overidentification with the Republican party and joined others in questioning whether the tactics might not be hurting both the political and the religious causes. It was time to change the culture, out of which better politics would come, they argued. In order for faith to remain pure and prosper, they went on, a proper distance between church and state must be maintained.

Religion and Politics: Is the Mix Worth the Risk?

This brief catalogue of the dangers--both real and potential--of intermingling religion and politics points toward an obvious conclusion: America will be better off if religion and politics are kept far apart. At best, religion causes division in the political realm. At worst, religion causes all kinds of deadly trouble. Perhaps religiously motivated political action has no place in a democratic republic.

    The next chapter offers a substantial rejoinder to this argument. Although religion and politics can often be a combustible mix, there are many reasons for assuming that religion will continue to be involved in politics and for advocating that it be so.

Copyright © 2000 Jossey-Bass Inc.. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-04-15:
Marty, senior editor of Christian Century and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago School of Divinity, examines the relationship of religion and politics. He feels that the voice of religion still has an important part to play in the culture. Marty enumerates clearly what public religion has to offer in terms of perspective, commitment, and concern for the voiceless segments of society. He points out that religion is not going to go away, that most people are still formed and mobilized by faith, and that traditional religious institutions have powerful political influence today. In addition, he says, religious special-interest groups are flourishing. Marty encourages all religious groups to join in the political conversations of the community. His book is readable and thought-provoking, and his analysis always brings a creative perspective and moral challenge to all sides in the debate. Recommended for academic and public libraries.--C. Robert Nixon, MLS, Lafayette, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2000-04-10:
Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and senior editor of Christian Century magazine, argues that religion can contribute to the common good but it can also be dangerous and must be approached with caution. According to Marty, citizens who are inspired by their religious beliefs to do good can improve the nation as a whole, although religious institutions no longer have the political cachet they once possessed. He believes that religion can be divisive, disruptive and even violent but asserts that it is nonetheless key to the well-being of the nation. Religion can provide a "voice for the voiceless," give people strength during a crisis, counteract excessive individualism and energize people who might otherwise be politically apathetic. Marty notes that religiously motivated individuals need not wait for their church to catch up to their political commitments: civil rights activists, he suggests, were inspired by religious convictions to protest Jim Crow long before official church bodies agreed that segregation and disenfranchisement were un-Christian. In this election year, readers will find especially relevant Marty's exploration of the tensions between America's separation of church and state and Americans' desire for our leaders, especially our president, to be religious. This book offers a balanced and thoughtful contribution to the ongoing conversation about faith and the public sphere. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Who better than Martin Marty, ultimate analyzer of American religion, to help us all sort out the confusion around politics and religion?" (James M. Dunn, professor of Christianity and public policy, Wake Forest Divinity School)
This item was reviewed in:
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Library Journal, April 2000
Publishers Weekly, April 2000
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Summaries
Back Cover Copy
In this insightful book, Marty covers a wealth of vital issues about the state of the politics and religion, including: the case often made against public religion; how public religion affects the common good; the ways in which the individual citizen is formed by faith; the declining political power of traditional institutions; the flourishing of religious special interest groups; and how to move questions of public religion from argument to conversation.
Main Description
The future of America, in many ways, depends upon an understanding of the proper role of religion in our shared life as a republic. Discussions and debates on the topic have too often generated noise, platitudes, stereotypes, name-calling, and the distortion of vitally important issues, instead of constructive conversation among citizens--until now.Of all the voices commenting about American religion today, none is more credible or better known than that of historian Martin E. Marty. a respected scholar, author, editor, and media commentator, he has-perhaps better than anyone else in the field-a deep grasp on the complex issues surrounding public religion.
Main Description
The future of America, in many ways, depends upon an understanding of the proper role of religion in our shared life as a republic. Discussions and debates on the topic have too often generated noise, platitudes, stereotypes, name-calling, and the distortion of vitally important issues, instead of constructive conversation among citizens--until now. Of all the voices commenting about American religion today, none is more credible or better known than that of historian Martin E. Marty. A respected scholar, author, editor, and media commentator, he has-perhaps better than anyone else in the field-a deep grasp on the complex issues surrounding public religion.
Unpaid Annotation
What is the proper role of religion in our shared life as a nation? No one is more qualified to address this question than Martin E. Marty. It is a question of central importance to the future of America, and it has generated much noise -- platitudes, stereotypes, name-callings -- but little serious examination, until now. This important book proposes provocative ideas to help advance a national discussion on the role of religion in American political life.Marty demonstrates convincingly how the public conversation on issues of values and beliefs is diminished when we cede our voices to organizations that are not responsive to an actual constituency, effectively allowing extremists of all political stripes to define our values as a people.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Tools for Moving from Argument to Conversationp. 1
Handle with Care: The Case Against Public Religionp. 23
Worth the Risk: Public Religion and the Common Goodp. 43
The Individual Citizen, Formed and Mobilized by Faithp. 55
The Political Power of Traditional Institutionsp. 73
The Flourishing of Religious Special-Interest Groupsp. 129
An Invitation to All Religious People: Join the Political Conversationp. 157
Notesp. 167
The Authorp. 171
About the Public Religion Projectp. 173
Indexp. 175
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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