The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion

The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion

by Stephen L. Carter
     
 

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The Culture Of Disbelief has  been the subject of an enormous amount of media  attention from the first moment it was published.  Hugely successful in hardcover, the Anchor paperback  is sure to find a large audience as the  ever-increasing, enduring debate about the relationship of  church and

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Overview

The Culture Of Disbelief has  been the subject of an enormous amount of media  attention from the first moment it was published.  Hugely successful in hardcover, the Anchor paperback  is sure to find a large audience as the  ever-increasing, enduring debate about the relationship of  church and state in America continues. In The  Culture Of Disbelief, Stephen Carter  explains how we can preserve the vital separation of  church and state while embracing rather than  trivializing the faith of millions of citizens or  treating religious believers with disdain. What makes  Carter's work so intriguing is that he uses liberal  means to arrive at what are often considered  conservative ends. Explaining how preserving a special  role for religious communities can strengthen our  democracy, The Culture Of Disbelief  recovers the long tradition of liberal religious  witness (for example, the antislavery,  antisegregation, and Vietnam-era antiwar movements). Carter  argues that the problem with the 1992 Republican  convention was not the fact of  open religious advocacy, but the political  positions being advocated.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rational  argument rarely seems as warm, as human, as it  does in this book...Carter leads the reader to  contemplate the embattled constitutional wall between  the state and religion, and he does so without  furor, without dogma, with only the qualities he  envisions in the ideal public square: moderation,  restraint, respect." — The New  Yorker.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in his previous book on race ( Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby ), Yale law professor Carter offers a thoughful, cogent and ideologically subtle analysis of a divisive American issue. A deep believer ``in the importance of both religious tradition and liberal dialogue,'' Carter here suggests ways to maintain both. Our culture, he stresses, pressures people to ``treat religion as a hobby'' while the use of religion for political ends has further debased it. Criticizing Supreme Court decisions concerning the separation of church and state as enforcing ``public secularism,'' he argues for granting religious groups more latitude to participate in the welfare state, allowing proven church drug rehabilitation programs, for example, to compete for public funding. Carter does, however, reject organized prayer in public schools for fear of advancing ``the interests of one religious tradition over another.'' He suggests religious dialogue should be part of the debate over euthanasia and abortion and that pro-choicers would do better to argue positive constitutional rights rather than demeaning their opponents as ``zealots.'' In a postscript written after the events at Waco, Tex., Carter cautions that ``we must not make the mistake of confusing the Branch Davidians' sinfulness with their religiosity . . . Otherwise, the putative `fanaticism' of the Davidians becomes virtually indistinguishable from the `fanaticism' of Martin Luther King Jr.'' (Sept.)
Library Journal
Carter, a professor of law at Yale University and author of the acclaimed Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby ( LJ 9/15/91), advances the thesis that American law and politics ``trivialize'' religion by forcing the religiously faithful to subordinate their personal views to a public faith largely devoid of religion. Carter argues that religious faith can and must be a significant element of our public life, even as we affirm the importance of the separation of church and state. He accepts the place of prayer in education and in developing family values, and he questions accepted public policy in matters such as abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. As with Carter's earlier book, which questioned the utility of racial preferences, this book can be used in helping us examine accepted views. For another opinion, the careful reader might want to consider E. Forrester Church's God and Other Famous Liberals: Reclaiming the Politics of America (S. & S., 1991).-- Jerry E. Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals Lib., Oklahoma City
Booknews
In our (Americans) sensible zeal to keep religion from dominating our politics, argues Carter (law, Yale U.), we have constructed political and legal cultures that force the religiously devout to act as if their faith doesn't really matter. Carter goes on to explain how we can preserve the separation of church and state while embracing rather than trivializing the faith of millions of citizens. Written clearly, without jargon, for a wide audience including--yes--secular humanists. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
An important broadside attack on, as Carter (Law/Yale; Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, 1991) puts it, the "effort to banish religion for politic's sake." In this passionately argued polemic—which Carter, a black Episcopalian, backs with personal anecdote, historical research, and legal brief—the case is made that something has gone awry in American politics since the heyday of the civil-rights struggle. To wit: In the 1960's, Martin Luther King, Jr., was applauded for bringing religious convictions to the public arena and thus continuing an American tradition of Judeo-Christian moral activism. But today, Carter says, the media and the liberal establishment wish to tuck religious beliefs back in the closet (witness the dismay when Hillary Rodham Clinton wore a cross around her neck to some inaugural events). While Carter supports strict separation of church and state, he wonders at recent court decisions that seem to go for the religious jugular. Especially at risk, he believes, are minority religions, as evidenced by the recent judicial approval of logging on Native American sacred lands. This wide-ranging study offers discussions of creationism, classroom prayer, private funding for parochial schools, euthanasia, sex education, and the ultimate hot potato, abortion—all noteworthy for their patient analysis and moderate stance. While the law can never establish religion, concludes Carter, we would do well to reclaim the venerable idea that religious faith can be our best guide for political action. Sure to provoke much acclamation and dissent.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385474986
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/1994
Edition description:
1st Anchor Books ed
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
620,943
Product dimensions:
5.21(w) x 8.03(h) x 0.72(d)

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