The Future of Religion in American Politics

The Future of Religion in American Politics

Edited by Charles W. Dunn
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
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    The Future of Religion in American Politics
    Book Description:

    Should parents receive vouchers to send their children to religious schools? What limits -- if any -- should the government place on abortion? Should the government permit and fund stem cell research? Should religious organizations have the right to prohibit the employment of homosexuals? Should public schools teach both creationism and evolution? How does religion influence our political stances on gay marriage? The death penalty? Immigration? The issues are real. The emotions are intense. The solutions are difficult to reach and often problematic. From the White House to the courthouse, from governors' mansions to the United States Supreme Court, religion factors into many contemporary legal controversies. Efforts to establish the proper balance between church and state create heated debates in America and raise seemingly insoluble questions. Politicians and their advisers walk a fine line when addressing religious issues in an increasingly pluralistic society where religious factions attempt to impose their values on the electoral and legislative processes. The Future of Religion in American Politics presents thoughtful, wide-ranging essays by twelve eminent public intellectuals and scholars, offering rich and stimulating views on one of the most divisive issues of our time. Editor Charles W. Dunn and the contributors assess the impact of religion on American politics in four distinct time periods: the founding, the Civil War, the New Deal era, and the modern era. Dunn out lines seven propositions that characterize the interaction of religion and politics during these time periods and describes how and why religion continues to influence politics in America. Contributors to this volume argue that whereas religion in the founding era held society together in a shared belief of the biblical portrayal of humanity, today's pluralistic religious interpretations of God appear to be tearing society apart. The rise of Islam and other world religions poses perplexing questions about the issue of tolerance. Can America survive as a free society without commonly accepted morals that are based in religion? Is America a secular society with a clear separation of church and state, or a government created and informed by ever-changing religious values? The Future of Religion in American Politics includes essays about religion in the public square, evangelical, and faith-based politics in presidential elections. The authors investigate many thought--provoking questions about the extent of religious influence in the U.S. government today and its likely impact in the future. Lucid and accessible, this book covers a wide range of issues and will be invaluable to students of politics, religious studies, and history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2929-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: The Dynamic Complexity of Religion and Politics in America
    (pp. 1-38)
    Charles W. Dunn

    From the courthouse to the White House, religion looms large on the landscape of legal controversy and campaign rhetoric, posing heatedly debated and often seemingly insoluble questions:

    What roles should religious leaders, such as Jesse Jackson and James Dobson, play in politics?

    Should politicians use religious appeals in their campaigns, as Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama did in their quest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and as many Republicans have likewise done in their party, including Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Mike Huckabee?

    What financial aid, if any, should the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and other...

  4. Religion in the Public Square
    (pp. 39-46)
    Jean Bethke Elshtain

    “God talk,” at least as much as “rights talk,” is the way America speaks. American politics is unintelligible if severed from America’s religions, most important of these being Christianity, in its multiple Protestant and its Catholic versions. The greatest impact flows from the Protestant direction, given the course of American history.

    None of this is a surprise. American democracy from its inception was based on principles derived from a long tradition of reflection on the laws of God and the ways in which human societies should reflect God’s laws as available to human beings in the form of natural law....

  5. On That “Superintending Principle” That Was There before the Laws
    (pp. 47-60)
    Hadley Arkes

    I would like to take, as my opening portion of text, that admonition sagely offered by G. K. Chesterton when he remarked on those people who come to love one strand in Catholicism more than they love Catholicism itself. And that produces, in each case, a notable disfiguring. If they come to appreciate a soul, apart from our bodily existence, they may cultivate a contempt for the body and for life. They neglect the cardinal point that we are souls embodied, that bodily life is a good, that death does not stand on the same plane as life as a...

  6. Is America a Christian Nation?
    (pp. 61-96)
    Hugh Heclo

    There are no guarantees, but sometimes research actually can help us think more clearly about hot political topics. Recent research studies show that religious polarization in the American electorate is real and important, but not all-important. The nation’s overall religious cleavages have remained largely unchanged for at least the past quarter century. Politically and religiously speaking, it is the vast and moderate middle that continues to hold ultimate power. This is true even when one includes conservative Protestants in the picture.¹

    Polarization in Republican and Democratic voting has, however, grown at the far ends of the spectrum, where Americans are...

  7. George Washington on Religion’s Place in Public Life
    (pp. 97-114)
    Daniel L. Dreisbach

    George Washington, the father of our country, was a man of quiet, personal piety. Moreover, he was a man who gave serious thought to religion’s public role in the American political system. His writings and public pronouncements frequently acknowledged God and divine interventions in the affairs of nations. Celebrations of the great American experiment in religious liberty are another familiar theme in his papers.

    These themes were not reserved for private musings or obscure missives; rather, they were central to his most important public addresses. A third of his first inaugural address, for example, is devoted to a “discussion of...

  8. Virginia and the Origins of Religious Liberty
    (pp. 115-120)
    Michael Novak

    Just before his twenty-fifth birthday, James Madison heard troubling news about an event that occurred not far from where he lived in central Virginia. A group of Baptists had gathered on a hillside—like a natural stadium—when a posse of Anglicans rode up, pulled the minister from the pulpit, strung him up and had him lashed.

    There were during this period somewhere between thirty-four and fifty Baptist ministers in jail for preaching the gospel without a license from the state. But their argument was, “We don’t need a license from the state. Our license comes from God.”

    Touched by...

  9. Evangelical Political Models: James Fenimore Cooper or William Wilberforce?
    (pp. 121-128)
    Marvin Olasky

    The future of American politics clearly includes religion. The real question is, Which religion? A religion that describes the reality of the human condition, or a religion based on utopian hopes and claims?

    I can say confidently that the future of American politics includes religion because the past is prologue: American politics always has included religion. I’d like, first, to address briefly that past; second, to spotlight a politician who did immense good by bringing to bear his religious beliefs on a crucial issue; third, to show how he contrasted reality and utopia, and how we should do the same;...

  10. Left Turn? Evangelicals and the Future of the Religious Right
    (pp. 129-152)
    D. G. Hart

    Imagine yourself at a small academic seminar, listening to the presentation of two political scientists on the influence of faith on American electoral politics. Each man happens to teach at a different evangelical college and is genuinely excited by their project’s findings, though how they manifest excitement differs according to the shades of northern European ethnicity. Their argument—no, their evidence—proves that religion was decisive in the most recent presidential contest. By now this sort of analysis of exit polls that divides Americans into red and blue has become commonplace. But a decade ago, when these evangelical political scientists...

  11. The Declining Role of Religion in Politics?
    (pp. 153-158)
    Michael Barone

    Religion has played a role in our politics since the beginning of the republic, and even before—one of the grievances of our founding fathers was that they thought King George III was going to send an Anglican bishop to Virginia. Our tradition of religion in politics is equivocal. The Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 in England resulted in an uneasy compromise. Churches were established—Episcopal in England and Ireland, Presbyterian in Scotland—but they were not given a spiritual monopoly. They were favored—in England you had to take communion in the established church to hold public office or...

  12. Red God, Blue God: Is There a God Gap between the Parties?
    (pp. 159-172)
    Michael Cromartie

    The importance of religion in American politics cannot be overstated: except for race, since 1992 religion has become the most important determining variable in predicting voting behavior in the electorate. Religious belief and religious behavior have become almost as consistent as race in predicting voting behavior.

    I became particularly interested in this topic when it was being widely discussed in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election. In late August 2004, during the Republican National Convention, Wesley Theological Seminary hosted a panel in New York City titled “The God Gap in Presidential Politics: Is It Real?” The panel was moderated...

  13. Religion, Civic Engagement, and Political Participation
    (pp. 173-208)
    Corwin E. Smidt

    Public life itself is essential to human flourishing (Cochran 1990, 84). To participate in, share responsibility for, and develop affective ties to some social entity outside oneself, whether a voluntary association, a church, a neighborhood, or a workplace, adds a dimension to human life beyond that present in the private realm. And such participation serves to balance the limitations of private life and moderate its negative tendencies.¹

    Religion plays an important role related to public life in that it fosters both civic and political engagement (e.g., Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995; Wuthnow 1996; Putnam 2000). Yet, while there is a...

  14. Faith-Based Politics in American Presidential Elections: Trends and Possibilities
    (pp. 209-228)
    John C. Green

    Many journalists and pundits rediscovered the political impact of religion in the 2004 presidential election. Their reporting and commentary focused largely on traditionally religious white Christians, variously described as the “religious Right” or “fundamentalists.” These voters were credited—and blamed—for President Bush’s close reelection (Green 2007). To many such observers, it appeared that a “traditionalist alliance” had taken control of the Republican Party, introducing a new era of faith-based politics (Rozell and Das Gupta 2006).

    Although such conclusions were often overstated, they contained an element of truth: traditionally religious white Christians did play an important role in Bush’s reelection,...

  15. Emerging Trends in Religion, Society, and Politics
    (pp. 229-256)
    Allen D. Hertzke

    A consultancy for the Pew Charitable Trusts in the winter of 2005–2006 involved an effort on my part to chart the current status of and emerging trends in religion, society, and politics. This effort entailed wide-ranging interviews with a number of the nation’s prominent scholars, journalists, religious leaders, and policy makers, along with an extensive review of academic literature. In the interviews I asked respondents to reflect on key trends—both globally and domestically—and what they portend for the future of religion and civic life in America. Pew has graciously granted permission for me to draw on this...

  16. List of Contributors
    (pp. 257-260)
  17. Index
    (pp. 261-274)