Spirit Matters: The Worldwide Impact of Religion on Contemporary Politics

Spirit Matters: The Worldwide Impact of Religion on Contemporary Politics

Spirit Matters: The Worldwide Impact of Religion on Contemporary Politics

Spirit Matters: The Worldwide Impact of Religion on Contemporary Politics

Excerpt

There are some who will see the tension in this book's title—spirit joined to matter, its opposite—as an author's device to catch the reader's eye, but that is not the whole story. The double entendre in the word "matter" captures the book's thesis precisely.Spirit matters in making a difference, but it also "matters" in that the difference it makes occurs partly in the material realm.It affects the course of history, enlivening and shaping it, ambiguous in its power to both redeem and destroy. One thinks of the lines from the Bhagavad-Gita that occurred to Oppenheimer as the first atomic bomb exploded over the sands of New Mexico:

I am come as Time, the waster of worlds,
Ready for that hour that ripens to their ruin.

From Liberation Theology to the New Right, America is aflame with debate over the actual and appropriate applications of faith; Ayatollahs, abortion, creationism, and bishops-on-the-bomb jostle one another for front page billing.A journalist recently wrote that he had been trained to think first in terms of power—who's got the guns and the money to buy them? Now, though, he concluded, it's back to Religion 101. Irving Kristol cites the collapse of Christianity as the most important political fact of the twentieth century; for Malcolm Muggeridge that fact is the Soviet Union's inability to stamp out the Orthodox Church.They differ on specifics, but both nominate a religious occurrence for the most important political fact of our time. Spirit matters.

As the emphasis of this book is on specifics—the way individual religions are currently affecting politics in regions like Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East—I shall use this introductory statement to dub in some general points that could throw these detailed studies into sharper relief.Background affects foreground; what is timeless affects what is timely. My hope is that the . . .

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