The Future of Religion in American Politics

The Future of Religion in American Politics

The Future of Religion in American Politics

The Future of Religion in American Politics


Should parents receive vouchers to send their children to religious schools? What limits -- if any -- should the government place on abortion? Should the government permit and fund stem cell research? Should religious organizations have the right to prohibit the employment of homosexuals? Should public schools teach both creationism and evolution? How does religion influence our political stances on gay marriage? The death penalty? Immigration? The issues are real. The emotions are intense. The solutions are difficult to reach and often problematic. From the White House to the courthouse, from governors' mansions to the United States Supreme Court, religion factors into many contemporary legal controversies. Efforts to establish the proper balance between church and state create heated debates in America and raise seemingly insoluble questions. Politicians and their advisers walk a fine line when addressing religious issues in an increasingly pluralistic society where religious factions attempt to impose their values on the electoral and legislative processes. The Future of Religion in American Politics presents thoughtful, wide-ranging essays by twelve eminent public intellectuals and scholars, offering rich and stimulating views on one of the most divisive issues of our time. Editor Charles W. Dunn and the contributors assess the impact of religion on American politics in four distinct time periods: the founding, the Civil War, the New Deal era, and the modern era. Dunn out lines seven propositions that characterize the interaction of religion and politics during these time periods and describes how and why religion continues to influence politics in America. Contributors to this volume argue that whereas religion in the founding era held society together in a shared belief of the biblical portrayal of humanity, today's pluralistic religious interpretations of God appear to be tearing society apart. The rise of Islam and other world religions poses perplexing questions about the issue of tolerance. Can America survive as a free society without commonly accepted morals that are based in religion? Is America a secular society with a clear separation of church and state, or a government created and informed by ever-changing religious values? The Future of Religion in American Politics includes essays about religion in the public square, evangelical, and faith-based politics in presidential elections. The authors investigate many thought--provoking questions about the extent of religious influence in the U.S. government today and its likely impact in the future. Lucid and accessible, this book covers a wide range of issues and will be invaluable to students of politics, religious studies, and history.


Jean Bethke Elshtain

“God talk,” at least as much as “rights talk,” is the way America speaks. American politics is unintelligible if severed from America’s religions, most important of these being Christianity, in its multiple Protestant and its Catholic versions. The greatest impact flows from the Protestant direction, given the course of American history.


None of this is a surprise. American democracy from its inception was based on principles derived from a long tradition of reflection on the laws of God and the ways in which human societies should reflect God’s laws as available to human beings in the form of natural law. That is, human law should conform to the natural laws available to human beings through reason and, many Christians would add, through grace. America was, and remains, a land of religious seekers and believers who found and find in communal liberty—in free exercise—the freedom to be religious rather than freedom from religion.

One must be careful in making historical claims, of course, as there are always those who rush to the fore proclaiming that the founders, to a man, were deists who had little or no interest in “organized religion.” (I’ve always found that a curious locution, by the way. What is the contrast? Disorganized religion?) Be that as it may, it is my general impression, based on the historical scholarship, that the deist argument is unsustainable as it is usually put. But that isn’t the most important question, surely. What we should concentrate on is what the founders helped to unleash when they combined nonestablishment with free exercise. America’s founding was not “sacral” in anything resembling a theocratic . . .

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