Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics

Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics

Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics

Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics


In this book, Benne describes and analyzes the wrong ways to relate religion and politics and offers a better way.

Benne calls the two main bad ways of relating religion and politics "separationism" and "fusionism." Secular separationists decry all involvement of religion in politics; religious separationists, on the other hand, advocate abstaining from politics in the name of religious purity. Fusionism comes in many types, but the type that most concerns Benne is the use of religion--in this case Christianity--for political ends, which turns religion into an instrument for purposes other than its own main reason for being. Rejecting these bad ways of relating religion and politics, Benne offers a better way that he calls critical engagement which derives from the Lutheran tradition, with a few tweaks to adapt the tradition to deal well with the new challenges of our present situation.

As Benne points out, "The question is not so much whether American religion will have political effects. It most definitely will. The more serious questions are: Should it? How should it?" In this book, Benne offers a clear and useful guide to a subject too often characterized by confusion and loud rhetoric.


Why in the world would one want to write another book on religion and politics? Any brief glance at the catalogue of a library or any quick search through an online search engine will bring forth a huge number of entries. Is there anything about the subject that hasn’t been said?

It is certainly true that much has been said, but a good deal of what has been said is genuinely bad. There is nothing greater than indignation to stimulate a writer to write, and my outrage has been stirred mightily by reading so many wrongheaded “takes” on how religion and politics ought to be related. in this book I will describe and analyze the bad ways and then offer what I consider to be a better way.

I am so bold as to think that the Christian tradition from which I write — the Lutheran tradition — offers such a better way. It has an approach to faith and politics that has scarcely been heard in the larger public debate about the relation of religion and politics. Indeed, that way of looking at religion and politics is generally neglected even by the church that supposedly bears it. Moreover, though I prize that tradition and will be writing from it, the tradition itself needs some revision in order to . . .

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