Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State. By Stephen M. Feldman. New York: New York University Press, 1997. 395 pp. $29.95.
This is a curious book indeed. It begins and ends with poignant personal stories about the author's daughter growing up Jewish in a Christian culture and having unpleasant experiences around Christmas displays. In between lie eight scholarly chapters on development of the theory of separation of church and state, beginning with the initial Christian split from Judaism to the late twentieth-century Supreme Court decisions.
Mr. Feldman's purpose is to challenge what he calls the two major claims that constitute the story of the separation of church and state. "First, that separation of church and state stands as a constitutional principle that promotes democracy and equally protects the religious liberty of all, especially religious outgroups, including Jews. Second, this principle emerges as a unique American contribution to political theory" (p. 255). On the contrary, argues the author. Rather than promoting democracy and equal protection for all, separation of church and state "manifests and reinforces" Christian dominance in American society. As for the second point, the author spends the majority of the book showing how the principle of separation grew by fits and starts throughout Western history primarily through power struggles between states and churches.
As for methodology, Mr. Feldman warns his readers that he approaches the question of church-state separation from a postmodern perspective, i.e., he discusses "Christian social power vis-a-vis the state and religious outgroups" and accepts the postmodernist insight that "power is everywhere and in everyone." What this apparently means is that the author is not willing to accept the kinds of distinctions and nuances utilized by more traditional scholars when discussing basic concepts. For example, the author is not willing to accept a traditional definition of antisemitism as "intentional or conscious antiJewish actions and attitudes." Rather he uses the term to refer to "intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious, hatred, dislike, oppression, persecution, domination, and subjugation of Jews qua Jews for whatever reason or motivation, whether it be religious, cultural, ethnic, racial, or political." Domination is a key word here, for a consistent subtext throughout the book is that Christianity is unavoidably antisemitic in its origins, history, and very essence. The author resents the term Judaeo-Christian as an insult to Judaism and on the last page urges readers to resist "Christian imperialism." A culture …