Farewell to Christendom: The Future of Church and State in America

Farewell to Christendom: The Future of Church and State in America

Farewell to Christendom: The Future of Church and State in America

Farewell to Christendom: The Future of Church and State in America

Synopsis

Thomas Curry argues that discussion and interpretation of the First Amendment have reached a point of deep crisis. Historical scholarship dealing with the background and interpretation of the Amendment are at an impasse, and judicial interpretation is in a state of disarray. Here, Curry provides a new paradigm for the understanding and exploration of religious liberty, contending that much of the present confusion can be traced to habits of mind that persist from Christendom and inevitably draw government into religious matters. The First Amendment, however, was meant to be a departure from the thinking that had preceded it for nearly fifteen hundred years. Curry traces much of the current difficulty to the largely unexamined assumption on the part of judges and scholars that the amendment created a right--the right to free exercise of religion--and that the courts are the guardians of that right. The First Amendment is, in fact, a limitation on government and a guarantee that the government will not impinge on the religious liberty that citizens already possess by natural right. Here, Curry shows that the key to finding more coherence between Church-State decisions and the historical meaning and purpose of the First Amendment lies in embracing this understanding of the Amendment as a limitation on government.

Excerpt

Given the number of books about American Church-State relations, a reader might reasonably ask why another is needed. Most of the historical background surrounding the First Amendment has been known for decades, and it is unlikely that any major new historical evidence will be discovered. However, the fact that a great deal of historical evidence has been available does not mean that it has been accounted for or used well.

The following work expresses my puzzlement about how so many writers on Church and State could continue to ignore what to me is the plain consensus of the evidence of the way Americans in the 1780s understood establishment of religion. I have long been fascinated that writers who accord authority or even reverence to James Madison for his part in enacting the First Amendment also adhere to an interpretation that sees him as not quite knowing what he was doing, as needing some correction and guidance, or as silently changing his mind on a crucial Church-State issue.

Above all, I have sought to escape from the ideology that has engulfed discussion of Church and State wherein authors are as predictable as night and day, and seminars and symposia as ritualized as a minuet. I have tried to approach the subject of Church and State by way of a historical method that avoids the adversarial and advocacy approach, derived from the legal system, by which writers select evidence that bolsters their position and either ignore or discount contrary evidence. My objective is to account for the totality of the historical evidence as well as for the motivation of the historical actors.

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