God & Country
Michael I. Meyerson (Yale University Press: June 2012), 384 pages.
The debate over the framers’ concept of freedom of religion has become heated and divisive. This scrupulously researched book sets aside the half-truths, omissions, and partisan arguments, and instead focuses on the actual writings and actions of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and others. Legal scholar Michael I. Meyerson investigates how the framers of the Constitution envisioned religious freedom and how they intended it to operate in the new republic. Endowed by Our Creator shows that the framers understood that the American government should not acknowledge religion in a way that favors any particular creed or denomination. Nevertheless, the framers believed that religion could instill virtue and help to unify a diverse nation. They created a spiritual public vocabulary, one that could communicate to all — including agnostics and atheists — that they were valued members of the political community. Through their writings and their decisions, the framers affirmed that respect for religious differences is a fundamental American value. Now it is for us, Meyerson concludes, to determine whether religion will be used to alienate and divide or to inspire and unify our religiously diverse nation.
Only One Way Left (The Iona Community: 1956), p. 38.
The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.
Miroslav Volf (Brazos Press: August 2011), 192 pages.
Debates rage today about the role of religions in public life. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, various religions come to inhabit the same space. But how do they live together, especially when each wants to shape the public realm according to the dictates of its own sacred texts and traditions? How does the Christian faith relate in the religious pluralism of contemporary public life? While Volf argues that there is no single way Christian faith relates to culture as a whole, he explores major issues on the frontlines of faith today: 1) In what way does the Christian faith come to malfunction in the contemporary world, and how should we counter these malfunctions? 2) What should a Christian's main concern be when it comes to living well in the world today? and 3) How should we go about realizing a vision for human flourishing in relation to other faiths and under the roof of a single state? Covering such timely issues as witness in a multifaith society and political engagement in a pluralistic world, this compelling book highlights things Christians can do to serve the common good. ~ Product Description
Reflections on the Revolution in France (J. Dodsley: 1790) pp. 13-14.
Supposing, however, that something like moderation were visible in this political sermon; yet politics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. No sound ought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity. The cause of civil liberty and civil government gains as little as that of religion by this confusion of duties. Those who quit their proper character, to assume what does not belong to them, are, for the greater part, ignorant both of the character they leave, and of the character they assume. Wholly unacquainted with the world in which they are so fond of meddling, and inexperienced in all its affairs, on which they pronounce with so much confidence, they have nothing of politics but the passions they excite. Surely the church is a place where one day's truce ought to be allowed to the dissensions and animosities of mankind.
John Milton, from the "Areopagitica", in The Best of the World's Classics (Funk and Wagnalls Co.: 1909), pp. 135-41.
Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point, the highest that human capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of Learning in her deepest sciences have been so ancient and so eminent among us, that writers of good antiquity and ablest judgment have been persuaded that even the school of Pythagoras and the Persian wisdom took beginning from the old philosophy of this island. And that wise and civil Roman, Julius Agricola, who governed once here for Csesar, preferred the natural wits of Britain before the labored studies of the French. Nor is it for nothing that the grave and frugal Transylvanian sends out yearly from as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian wilderness, not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language and our theologic arts.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), p. 155.
Toleration was certainly the term of choice in matters of religious liberty before American independence. It had been made popular by writings such as John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration and copied into the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 by George Mason. Young James Madison objected, however, and when he succeeded in changing the word tolerance to the words free exercise, he advanced the cause of religious liberty by light-years. Tolerance is too condescending and uncertain. It is the gesture of the strong toward the weak, the government toward the citizenry, and the majority toward the minority. Free exercise, by contrast, is inalienable because it is the inalienable right of everyone, the minority no less than the majority, the weak as well as the poor, and the citizens just as much as the government.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), pp. 144-5.
Yet over the course of time the United States has given rise to its own soft civil religion, and the reason lies in the character and function of civil religion. In the absence of an official religion, what binds a nation together becomes suffused with a sense of the sacred and surrounded with a religious or semireligious aura until it becomes its civil religion. Thus, in essence, civil religion is a nation's worship of itself.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), pp. 135-6.
The principle of religious liberty for all rests on and requires an essential mutuality, or reciprocity, of rights, responsibilities, and respect — the "three Rs" of religious liberty. Thus a right for one person is a right for another person and a responsibility for both. A right for a Christian is a right for a Jew, and right for an atheist, and a right for a Muslim, and a right for a Buddhist, and a right for the adherent of every possible faith or nonfaith within the wide span of the fifty states, either today or in some future as yet unseen. In principle, there is no right for anyone that is not thereby a right for everyone.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), pp. 100, 101.
Put differently, there are two equal but opposite errors into which Christians have fallen in the modern world. One error is to "privatize" faith, interpreting and applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. That way faith loses its integrity and becomes "privately engaging and publicly irrelevant." ¶ The other error, represented by the Religious Left in the 1960s and the Religious Right since the late 1970s, is to "politicize" faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes "the regime at prayer," Christians become the "useful idiots" or "biddable foot soldiers" for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form: Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests. In short, out of anxiety about a vanishing culture or in a foolish exchange for an illusory promise of power, Christians are cheated into bartering away their identity, motives, language, passions, and votes.
"A Citizen's Response" in Citizenship Papers (Counterpoint Press: 2004), p. 14-5.
But "Christian" war has always been a problem, best solved by avoiding any attempt to reconcile policies of national or imperial militarism with anything Christ said or did. The Christian gospel is a summons to peace, calling for justice beyond anger, mercy beyond justice, forgiveness beyond mercy, love beyond forgiveness. It would require a most agile interpreter to justify hatred and war by means of the Gospels, in which we are bidden to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who despise and persecute us.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), pp. 51-3.
Another example of a flawed understanding of the separation of church and state is George W. Bush's much-trumpeted but bungled policy of providing government money for what he calls "faith-based initiatives." Predictably, this initiative was surrounded by controversy from the start and did not live up to its supporters' hopes. At its best, it was a well-intentioned compliment to the dynamism of faith-based entrepreneurialism in the nineteenth century. The tribute was sincere and the intention laudable — to encourage the voluntarism and dynamic energy that are now recognized as the lifeblood of a healthy civil society, and to foster the little platoons and mediating institutions that are its cells. ¶ But regardless of its political and legal problems, such as the accusations of cronyism and political manipulation, the project was self-defeating as a concept because the close relationship between government and faith-based groups almost inevitably leads, first, to a growing dependency of the faith-based organization on the government, and, eventually, to the effective secularization of the faith-based group. In the words of David Kuo, President George W. Bush's special assistant for faith-based initiatives, "Between Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services alone, for example, more than $1.5 billion went to faith-based groups every year. But their activity had come at a spiritual cost. They were, as organizations, largely secular."
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), pp. 50-1.
But in reacting to to separationism, many conservatives have gone overboard and are actually speaking against the separation of church and state. ¶ One example is the common arguments heard from the Religious Right that the separation of church and state is a "myth," that it was "not in the Constitution," and that it was an invention of Jefferson's through his reference to a "wall of separation" in his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. A Republican congresswoman recently denounced the separation of church and state as a "lie." ¶ This argument is both wrong and foolish. The phrase is not in the Constitution, but the principle most certainly is. More important, both the framers and almost all Americans — certainly all Protestants — viewed the provision as principled and positive.
James Madison in Gospel Advocate and Impartial Investigator, Vol. 7 (An Association of Gentlemen: 1829), pp. 61-4.
In 1784, a bill was before the House of Delegates of Virginia for a publick Act, "establishing a provision for the teachers of the Christian religion," which had for its object the compelling of every person to contribute to some religious teacher. The bill was postponed to the next session of the legislature and ordered to be printed, and the people were requested to signify their opinion respecting its adoption. Among the numerous remonstrances against the passage of this bill, the following one drawn by Mr. Madison, stands pre-eminent. It is certainly one of the ablest productions of that great statesman, and deserves to be widely circulated. To use the language of the authour of the work from which it is extracted — Benedict's "General History of the Baptist denomination in America," — its "style is elegant and perspicuous and for strength of reasoning and purity of principle, it has seldom been equalled, certainly never surpassed, by anything on the subject in the English language." It is hardly necessary to say that the bill never passed the House. ~ Hartford Times
Os Guinness on Religious Liberty said...
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), pp. 44, 45.
The right of religious liberty is a fundamental consequence of human nature itself and of our capacity as thinking, choosing, conscience-directed beings. ... [T]his foundation in human dignity is what makes religious liberty a natural, basic, and indispensable right, independent of the decisions of any group or government. As a human right rather than a favor, religious liberty is a right to be guaranteed by the government, but it is not the government's right to grant. ¶ Religious liberty is for all human beings, not simply liberty for the religious. It is rooted in the characteristic, natural, and inescapable human drive toward meaning and belonging. As fundamental as life itself, this "will to meaning" finds expression in ultimate beliefs, whether theistic or nontheistic, transcendent or naturalistic. Religious liberty is for atheists and secularists, too, and for all human being who assume and value meaning in their lives. ... [T]here are two reason why religious liberty should rightly be seen as the first liberty. On the one hand, it comes first logically, in that it protects the inner freedom of thought, deliberation, judgment, and choice that is the source and subject of the later rights of free speech and free assembly. Though not infallible, conscience is inalienable. Thus, what we are each bound by according to the dictates of our reason and our conscience is the very deepest thing we also desire to speak of with freedom. And we further desire to gather together with other who prize those same things.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), p. 38-9.
Church and state were not officially separated in France until February 21, 1795. But the overall explosion that the corrupt, coercive French establishment ignited against itself created a grand fusion of revolution and irreligion and led to a radical secularization of French public life, so that in France to be progressive still mostly means being secular and to be religious still means being viewed as reactionary. This is a key part of the French mentality that lingers to this day and bedevils the resolution of French conflicts over religion in public life, not to speak of the direction of the European Union. ¶ Astonishingly, too, Roman Catholic writers, from the popes down, who decry the militancy of French secularism today rarely acknowledge that this fierce secularism was bred and developed in direct reaction to their own earlier corruptions and has led to similar outbreaks of murderous anticlericalism elsewhere. These include the vicious Mexican repression of Catholics in the 1920s and the brutal Socialist slaughter of seven thousand priests, nuns, and bishops in Spain in 1936.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), p. 31, 32.
The salience of religion in our times is a massive stumbling block to much educated opinion in Europe, the United States, and the Western world at large — to what was once called the republic of letters, and which Peter Berger calls "the international faculty club." For one of the cardinal assumptions of intellectual orthodoxy since the Enlightenment, expressed canonically in the secularization theory, is that modernization means secularization, which in turn means that, like Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat, religion will slowly disappear from sight as the world modernizes, leaving behind only a vacant grin. ¶ This presumption translates practically into three attitudes that are widely prevalent in educated circles in the West: that religion in the modern world is irrational, archaic, retrograde, and on the way out; that what remains of religion is the leading source of evil and conflict today; and that a central task of politics is to curb the illiberal power of religion, above all in the public square. In short, the idea that religion is a wild card in human affairs is admissible, but the idea that it could play a central and constructive role is absurd. ¶ For any thoughtful student of world affairs who understands the role of religion in American and Western history, or in international affairs today, this view is preposterous.
Os Guinness on the Culture Wars said...
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), pp. 15-17.
To be sure, it is as dangerous to exaggerate the culture wars as it is to minimize them. At the core of these wars is a battle between two sets of elites, with their corresponding battalions of activists, organizations, and supporters. And on most issues, the great majority of Americans find themselves between the two sides, somewhat ambivalent and often confused. But when all the issues have been clarified and matters of style separated from matters of substance, it becomes clear that the issues dividing the traditionalists and the progressives are important and will be decisive for the future of of the republic. They are, after all, disagreements about the very nature and destiny of human beings, so they cannot be swept under the rug. ¶ In short, the issues at the heart of the culture wars will be decisive for the American future, and they will have to be settled — but not in the present, destructive manner.
David Brog (Encounter Books: July 2010), 376 pages.
Religious faith is under assault. In books and movies and on television, militant secular critics attack religion with a renewed vigor. These “new atheists” repeat a two-part mantra: that religious faith is hopelessly irrational and that those possessed of such faith are responsible for the hatred and bloodshed that has plagued humanity. Abandon religion, they urge us, and the world will at last live in peace. In Defense of Faith examines this proposition in the context of Western civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition and asserts that, far from encouraging hatred and violence, the Judeo-Christian tradition has easily been the most effective curb upon the dark defects of human nature and our best tool in the struggle for humanity. From the Christian activists who fought to stop the genocide of Indians in South America and their ethnic cleansing in North America, to the abolition of African slavery on both sides of the Atlantic, and on to modern human rights activists from Martin Luther King Jr. to the rock star Bono — In Defense of Faith rebuts the fashionable arguments against religion and presents the strong and lasting record of the Judeo-Christian idea. History has not been as kind to the atheist model: every time it is put to the test, we have reverted to the most base, violent instincts of our selfish genes. ~ Production Description
James Davison Hunter (Oxford University Press: April 2010), 368 pages.
The call to make the world a better place is inherent in the Christian belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Christians so often failed or gone tragically awry? And how might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter offers persuasive — and provocative — answers to these questions. Hunter begins with a penetrating appraisal of the most popular models of world-changing among Christians today, highlighting the ways they are inherently flawed and therefore incapable of generating the change to which they aspire. Because change implies power, all Christians eventually embrace strategies of political engagement. Hunter offers a trenchant critique of the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists, taking on many respected leaders, from Charles W. Colson to Jim Wallis and Stanley Hauerwas. Hunter argues that all too often these political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. What is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one that Hunter calls "faithful presence" — an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life. He offers real life examples, large and small, of what can be accomplished through the practice of "faithful presence." Such practices will be more fruitful, Hunter argues, more exemplary, and more deeply transfiguring than any more overtly ambitious attempts can ever be. Written with keen insight, deep faith, and profound historical grasp, To Change the World will forever change the way Christians view and talk about their role in the modern world. ~ Product Description
John Locke in Letters Concerning Toleration, Latin orig. 1689 (J. Brook: 1796), pp. 29-66.
John Locke here sets a clear purpose: "to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other". Specifically, the concern of the state is the commonwealth, especially the protection of property, and the just use of force to that end. The concern of the church, on the other hand, is the care of souls, to which force is ill-suited. What is essential is toleration: the state's toleration of the church, and each sect's toleration of another. Indeed, Locke argues that the mark of any truly Christian church will be toleration; this, because of Christ's "Gospel of peace" and of the impossibility of forced belief. "Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true, ... such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation." Whenever a church or minister reaches for powers of the state, the power to dispossess others of freedom or property, their true ambition is betrayed, "what they desire is temporal dominion". State authority is also circumscribed, "The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force: but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind..." It is refreshing to see in Locke that the obvious incongruity of Christian coercion is not a recent realization. For example, Locke notes Jesus' prediction that Christians will suffer persecution, but far be it that Christians become persecutors, to "force others by fire and sword, to embrace her faith and doctrine". One could object to Locke's claim that "the only business of the church is the salvation of souls", if that in effect precludes the church working towards a just and civil society in the here and now. Nonetheless, Locke's argument, rooted in Christian ideals and natural law, is rightly credited for the delineation of church and state authority that later emerged in America. ~ Nate