God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics

God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics

God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics

God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics


America faces a crisis of legitimacy. It's a crisis that dramatizes the separation of church and state. A crisis that, in the messages sent by our culture, marginalizes religion as a relatively unimportant human activity that plays an unimportant role in the national debate. Because the nation chooses to secularize the principal points of contact between government and people (schools, taxes, marriage, etc.), it has persuaded many religious people that a culture war has been declared.

Stephen Carter, in this sequel to his best-selling Culture of Disbelief, argues that American politics is unimaginable without America's religious voice. Using contemporary and historical examples, from abolitionist sermons to presidential candidates' confessions, he illustrates ways in which religion and politics do and do not mesh well and ways in which spiritual perspectives might make vital contributions to our national debates.

Yet, while Carter is eager to defend the political involvement of the religious from its critics, he also warns us of the importance of setting some sensible limits so that religious institutions do not allow themselves to be seduced, by the lure of temporal power, into a kind of passionate, dysfunctional, and even immoral love affair. Lastly, he offers strong examples of principled and prophetic religious activism for those who choose their God before their country.


Chattering About the Lord

RELIGION HAS BEEN INSEPARABLE from American politics for as long as America has had politics, and will likely remain inseparable as long as Americans remain religious. Yet every generation seems to think it has discovered something new. Take presidential elections as an example. Early in the year 2000, when an internecine battle erupted in the Republican Party over the role of religious conservatives in the nomination process, astonished reporters told television audiences that nothing like this had ever happened before. Not since 1992, they might have added, when the religion-ful Republican convention raised precisely the same eyebrows. Or not since 1980, when candidate Ronald Reagan told the Religious Roundtable, a conservative evangelical group, "You cannot endorse me, but I endorse you." Not since 1976, when an outpouring of evangelical votes, many of them from first-time voters, ruined the Republican Party's Southern strategy and helped put Democrat Jimmy Carter in the White House. Or not since 1960, when candidate John R. Kennedy rushed to a convention of evangelical preachers in Houston to assure them that he, a Roman Catholic, would not do the Pope's bidding if elected. (In our celebration of the Kennedy moment, we tend to forget that the bidding that worried the evangelicals most was the Catholic Church's forceful opposition to racial segregation.)

The reporters, if inclined to do a little digging, could have gone back further. Back to the 1950s, perhaps, when Dwight Eisenhower assured the whole nation that belief in God was the first principle of Americanism. Back to Theodore Roosevelt, who said that the President should go to church regularly to set an example for the nation. Back to William McKinley, who ran a campaign showing how he was a better Protestant than William Jennings Bryan, and fought a holy war to prove it. Back to Abraham Lincoln, who announced in his Second Inaugural Address that the . . .

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