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Reaping the Whirlwind

Reaping the Whirlwind: Liberal Democracy and the Religious Axis

John R. Pottenger
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
  • Book Info
    Reaping the Whirlwind
    Book Description:

    As early as the sixteenth century the liberal democratic state has been forced to confront the question of religion in politics. The result has been a tense and uncomfortable balancing act. Today, in the public square of liberal democracy, a number of religious confessions and beliefs compete for attention. In the American experience, some sense of religious pluralism and relative social harmony has been maintained. However, for this relationship to prevail, a tension must continue to exist-one that balances the political and social pursuits of self-interest with meeting the objectives of the common good. In Reaping the Whirlwind, John R. Pottenger shows how this process began in the modern world, and how societies attempt to manage this ongoing conflict. The first part of the book lays the groundwork of his analysis by using examples from history to demonstrate the genesis of political and religious "whirlwinds." It goes on to explore contemporary case studies, such as conflicts between Mormons and Evangelicals in the United States, liberation theology in Latin America, Islam and the state in Uzbekistan, and radical Christian reconstructionism. Pottenger believes that the formal institutions of liberal democracy should maintain this turbulence, even as religious activism threatens to upset the balance. He concludes by advocating religious liberty and recognizing the individual and social need for expression. At the same time, he maintains that the survival of liberal democracy requires that these religious traditions not dominate the public sphere.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-404-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Hosea’s pronouncement about reaping the whirlwind has resonated through the millennia, particularly in moments of anxiety and foreboding. Indeed, this Old Testament aphorism looms as a dark warning. Its imagery suggests that the sowing of something common yet vaguely malevolent, like the wind, will reap a destructive harvest, like the whirlwind. The admonition points to a causal connection between ambiguous ideas and deeds and their unforeseen and unintended consequences.

    In society, the conceptual seeds of individual actions and of the social structures engendered by those actions—including political institutions—can result in unanticipated and undesirable outcomes. Religious seeds are no...

  5. Part One Religion and Politics

    • [PART One Introduction]
      (pp. 7-10)

      Modern liberal democracies enshrine freedom of religion, including freedom of religious association and expression. Defending individual choice and tolerance, the secular state abides a civil society rife with sectarianism. And the public square tolerates the politicization of religion while resisting relentless demands of those attempting to spiritually purify the state. In this way, liberal democracy both encourages and restrains religious diversity and activism. Inevitably, political and legal conflicts arise over the demarcation between the legitimate and illegitimate mix of religion and politics. To the extent that the resolution of these conflicts does not achieve a consensus among the antagonists, the...

    • 1 Mixing Religion and Politics: The Case of the Ten Commandments
      (pp. 11-31)

      In contemporary arenas of public opinion and the public square, disquieting issues of religion and politics abound among private citizens and public officials. Unresolved ethical issues, such as those regarding embryonic stem-cell research, elective abortion, euthanasia, pornography, same-sex marriage, and the public acknowledgment of God, have inspired religious partisans to take to the streets. Failure to reach common agreement on these issues originates from incompatible cultural values and religious convictions. A growing number of religious believers perceive the presence of religious pluralism in society as an indication of a preference by the liberal democratic state for the secular over the...

    • 2 Religion, History, and Logic: The Genetic Fallacy
      (pp. 32-44)

      At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Pastors in 2005, former chief justice Roy S. Moore proclaimed, “We’ve been deceived by a government that tells us we cannot worship God—contradictory to history, contradictory to law, and contradictory to logic.”¹ This proclamation epitomizes Moore’s claim that history, law, and logic intersect to support his cause. While he had appealed to higher courts to uphold his courtroom prerogatives, Moore had also appealed to history to defend his legal argument: “All history supports the acknowledgment of God.”² But he admits that his defense must also withstand appeals to law and logic....

  6. Part Two The Foundation and Structure of the Modern State

    • [PART Two Introduction]
      (pp. 45-46)

      Founded on flawed logic, the universal Christian commonwealth of the medieval era collapsed, bringing suspicion on the efficacy of the medieval worldview. From the Scientific Revolution to the Protestant Reformation and the advent of liberal politics, doubts brought about a new axial period in history. The 350 years from the mid-sixteenth to the late nineteenth century produced critical commitments. Following the historical development of the ancient and Christian axes with regard to matters of faith, the commitments of this third or religious axis have shaped the character of contemporary liberal democracy, particularly as it wrestles with the religious question.


    • 3 Axes of History: Abandoning the Universal Christian Commonwealth
      (pp. 47-66)

      Historic periods and events are often used to defend or criticize the cultural values and politics of subsequent eras. In this way, the founding of a country and its national identity—including its religious heritage—serve as a standard of worthiness against which subsequent political decisions are measured. Nevertheless, those who reason from the fact of a religious heritage to an imperative to maintain that heritage as the foundation of public law have committed a genetic fallacy in their reasoning. They have derived an ethical conclusion solely from an empirical claim. To resolve the genetic fallacy, the religion of heritage...

    • 4 The Religious Axis: Rationality, Conscience, and Liberty
      (pp. 67-91)

      Governments and societies based on liberal democratic values and institutions vary in important ways. One of the more critical elements affecting the dynamics of liberal democratic regimes involves the expectations of and limits upon the role of religion in politics. The question of whether religion should be relegated to civil society or elevated to a privileged position in the state has sparked speculation, debate, and social turmoil. Speculation, debate, and even turmoil are the hallmarks of a vibrant liberal democracy, as civil society and the public square find common ground for the public expression of religious values and political activism....

    • 5 Constitutional Protection: America, Religious Liberty, and the Factional Imperative
      (pp. 92-122)

      To stand firm in the face of arguments for strong church–state relations based on flawed but emotionally powerful appeals to history, the three commitments of the religious axis require the cultural and institutional protection of liberal democracy. The culture of civil society inculcates and maintains in tension the competing values of individualism and the common good. The political institutions eschew any privileged position for a particular religion or religious denomination. The arrangement of political institutions is determined by constitutionally prescribed governmental functions and authorized procedures for making public policy decisions. Furthermore, the constitutional arrangement recognizes the role and limits...

  7. Part Three Challengers to Liberal Democracy and the Religious Axis

    • [PART Three Introduction]
      (pp. 123-126)

      Liberal democracy has evolved and developed in theoretical complexity and political sophistication since the religious axis. During the past 350 years, its cause has steadily gained converts, spreading around the globe to overthrow hereditary monarchies and replace totalitarian systems. Liberal democracy, in a variety of incarnations, now serves as the predominant regime of choice. From Western Europe to the Americas, Australia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia, liberal democratic regimes have been planted, nurtured, cultivated, and even vaguely imitated. Whether exhibiting congressional–presidential, parliamentary, or authoritarian governments, most liberal democracies have thrived; others have failed and then sprung up anew. The...

    • 6 Mormons and Evangelicals: Uneasy Coalitions in the Public Square
      (pp. 127-156)

      The political institutions of liberal democracy and the competition among sectarian interests in civil society serve to restrain the factional imperative of religion in the public square. Civil society inculcates acceptance of the three commitments of the religious axis—rational empiricism, individual conscience, and religious liberty over religious toleration—as a necessary condition for maintaining the appeal of religious pluralism. The public square permits religious activism in politics while precluding political privilege for any religious denomination or sect. By acknowledging and accepting the commitments of the religious axis, religious factions may then focus their attention and resources on attracting converts...

    • 7 Liberation Theology’s Methodological Insurgency: Confronting Liberal Democracy
      (pp. 157-183)

      After his narrow victory over Al Gore in the 2000 election, the popularity of U.S. President George W. Bush began to rise, in response to his strong military response to al-Qaeda’s assaults of September 11, 2001, and to his advocacy of “compassionate conservatism.” In the 2002 off-year election for open seats in the U.S. Congress, growing confidence in Bush and in the Republican party gave the election results a decidedly rightward turn. Ideological conservatism and especially evangelical Christian voters had united to sway the direction of politics in the Western Hemisphere’s largest liberal democracy north of the equator.

      In that...

    • 8 Islam and the State: Modifying Liberal Democracy
      (pp. 184-207)

      During the twentieth century, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics conducted a social experiment to resolve the persistent failures regarding liberty and justice that have plagued liberal democracies. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party in Russia, founders of the Soviet state, implemented policies based on political and economic critiques, similar to those that would emanate decades later from liberation theology. Both the liberationists and Bolsheviks observed that within a capitalist political economy with maldistributed economic wealth, interest-group pluralism yields skewed public policies perpetuating social injustice. During the next seven decades, Soviet domestic policies focused on the removal of perceived obstacles,...

    • 9 Christian Reconstructionism: Defying the Religious Axis
      (pp. 208-240)

      In addition to Muslim countries, predominantly Christian countries may also be tempted to establish a privileged position for the Christian faith or for a particular Christian sect. Succumbing to temptation, advocates of religious establishment directly challenge the legitimacy of the third commitment of the religious axis—religious liberty over religious toleration—in the philosophical foundation of liberal democracy. More ominously, the ultimate challenge to liberal democracy occurs from appeals to history that, in addition to undercutting the first commitment, undermine the other two commitments of the religious axis: reason and empiricism, and individual conscience and personal ethics.

      This challenge can...

  8. Part Four Conclusion

    • [PART Four Introduction]
      (pp. 241-242)

      Classical liberalism postulates innate rights promoting the value of individual and organizational freedom of conscience and association. Democratic theory focuses on the value of participatory politics to attain the common good. The triangular configuration of the three commitments of the religious axis provides the strength to maintain a tension between the two contrary sets of liberal and democratic values. Furthermore, exhibiting a fusion of the two sets of values, liberal democracy has set in motion a factional imperative that encourages religious expression in civil society and political participation in the public square. But religious organizations often emphasize one set of...

    • 10 The End of Civil Society
      (pp. 243-260)

      Religion is seldom a strictly private matter; most expressions of religion have been “deprivatized.”¹ The deprivatization of religion—the development of political theologies, emergence of prophetic movements in civil society, sectarian activism in the public square, mobilization of religious voters, and scattered irruptions of faith-based terrorism—has become a permanent feature of the modern world. Liberal democracies have contributed to the present state of religious deprivatization. They provide fertile soil for planting the breezes of religious liberty. In turn, the sown, nourished, and cultivated winds of religious expression have yielded a crop of religious whirlwinds that prophesy sweeping changes to...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 261-300)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-324)
  11. Index
    (pp. 325-342)