Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy

By Stephen L. Carter | Go to book overview

14
Uncivil Religion

RELIGION, religion! We may exalt it or vilify it, we may be comforted by it or irritated by it, we may seek it out or flee from it, but the one thing we seem unable to do, in a society we often describe as secular, is escape from it. The United States offers as fabulous a religious diversity as any nation on earth. Ours is not a Christian nation in the strong sense in which some conservative activists seem to think it should be, and, in all likelihood, we never were.1 But we also do not have the religion-free public life for which some liberal activists yearn. As the historian Richard Lovelace has pointed out, "[a]ny political landscape with this much God-talk going on may be divided, but it is religiously alive."2 Although religiosity is notoriously difficult to measure, the one thing that seems pretty clear is that Americans possess an awful lot of it.3 Religion is at the heart of America, and no amount of academic or journalistic wishing will make it go away.

Unfortunately, there is a growing perception (at least in elite journalistic and academic circles) that religion is the enemy of civility, that religious activism is a danger to our politics, and that the language of religion is either irrelevant or harmful to the rest of social life. For example, the literary theorist Stanley Fish, in the article I mentioned in chapter 2, argues that the reason we cannot all "just get along" in America is precisely our religious diversity. According to Fish, the trouble with religious citizens is that, far from wanting to participate with fellow citizens in the marketplace of ideas, they necessarily want to shut it down. In this, Fish and others who claim that religion is an obstacle to civility echo the

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Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • I - The Collapse of the Three-Legged Stool 1
  • I - Barbarians Running Late 3
  • 2 - Do Manners Matter? 20
  • 3 - The Death of the Golden Age 38
  • 4 - Welcoming the Stranger 55
  • 5 - The Embarrassment of Free Will 76
  • 6 - Sacrifice and Neighbor-Love 96
  • II - Incivility's Instruments 113
  • 7 - The Demon on the Other Side 115
  • 8 - The Varieties of (not) Listening 132
  • 9 - Fighting Words 148
  • 10 167
  • II - Some Technologies of Incivility 186
  • 12 - Law, Tolerance, and Civility's Illusions 207
  • III - Civilizing the Twenty-First Century 227
  • 13 - Where Civility Begins 229
  • 14 - Uncivil Religion 249
  • 15 - Civility and the Challenge of Christendom 265
  • 16 - The Etiquette of Democracy 277
  • 17 - Coda: the Civility of Silence 287
  • Notes 293
  • Index 333
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