RELIGION, religion! We may exalt it or vilify it, we may be comforted by it or irritated by it, we may seek it out or flee from it, but the one thing we seem unable to do, in a society we often describe as secular, is escape from it. The United States offers as fabulous a religious diversity as any nation on earth. Ours is not a Christian nation in the strong sense in which some conservative activists seem to think it should be, and, in all likelihood, we never were.1 But we also do not have the religion-free public life for which some liberal activists yearn. As the historian Richard Lovelace has pointed out, "[a]ny political landscape with this much God-talk going on may be divided, but it is religiously alive."2 Although religiosity is notoriously difficult to measure, the one thing that seems pretty clear is that Americans possess an awful lot of it.3 Religion is at the heart of America, and no amount of academic or journalistic wishing will make it go away.
Unfortunately, there is a growing perception (at least in elite journalistic and academic circles) that religion is the enemy of civility, that religious activism is a danger to our politics, and that the language of religion is either irrelevant or harmful to the rest of social life. For example, the literary theorist Stanley Fish, in the article I mentioned in chapter 2, argues that the reason we cannot all "just get along" in America is precisely our religious diversity. According to Fish, the trouble with religious citizens is that, far from wanting to participate with fellow citizens in the marketplace of ideas, they necessarily want to shut it down. In this, Fish and others who claim that religion is an obstacle to civility echo the