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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religion by Stephen L. Carter

A thoughtful look at the poo-pooing of religion by secular American society

I found The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religion while reading another book by Stephen L. Carter, one that I did not care for, Jericho's Fall. However, I am glad I read Jericho's Fall because I found this book listed on a page of the author's other works.

Read the discussion boards on popular blogs, newspaper pages and any other site that attracts people from all walks of life and you will find a strong anti-religious bias. In fact, there is a rather insulting review of this book that does much the same on Amazon.com. Carter takes a look at this relatively new fact of American life - the secularization of everything and the expectation that religious people treat "God as a hobby" and the expectation of people not to use their religious beliefs as a framework for their lives. Fear of someone "imposing" one's religion on another rules all.

Carter explores the history of this movement, looks at legal cases that have run roughshod over religion and discusses the irony of the fact that Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement was based on religious arguments against discrimination and highlighted the main strength of autonomous religion in a pluralistic society: it can serve as a counterweight to government. In more common terms, it can "speak truth to power."
Carter is far from advocating theistic government (he is, in my opinion, very liberal politically), he is merely pointing out that religion cannot be a tool of the state - they have different goals. He warns that "nearly everyone seems to operate with the general presumption that the government can and should regulate in whatever areas suit its constituents' fancy - unless opponents can interpose a claim of constitutional right. And as federal constitutional rights go, the right to exercise religion freely is quite near the bottom of the totem pole."(p. 138)

The only problem with this book is that it is dated. There are many, many references to the 1992 Republican Convention (one that I vaguely remember for a particularly vitriolic speech by Patrick Buchanan) which was the last big national event that involved religion and politics. I would love for Stephen L. Carter to re-write this book and include recent events such as the Jeremiah Wright controversy, the Schiavo case, Islam in America and so much more.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Culture of Disbelief.

Reviewed on September 19, 2009.

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