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Whatever your political or religious stance, this book will give you a different understanding of Christianity. If you're a Christian, it will help you to both examine and defend your faith. If you’ve been critical of the new religious right, you’ll be shocked at what you learn. Probing both secular and religious values, God and Government critiques each fairly, sides with neither, and offers a hopeful, fair-minded perspective that is sorely needed in today’s hyper-charged atmosphere.
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. -Blaise Pascal
Without Christian culture and Christian hope, the modern world would come to resemble a half-derelict fun fair, gone nasty and poverty-racked, one enormous Atlantic City. -Russell Kirk
"How did we get into this mess?" Our fictional president's anguished query echoes a cry heard across our country. For while this story of a decent, moral leader who lets the world slip to the brink of Armageddon would have seemed outrageous fiction just a few years ago, for millions today a similar scenario looms as a terrifying possibility. Equally disturbing to many is the realization that if this nightmare came true, millions of others would welcome it as a long-awaited consummation of human history.
These tensions run deep. On one side are those who believe that religion provides the details for political agenda. On the other are those who see any religious involvement in the public arena as dangerous. Not since the Crusades have religious passions and prejudices posed such a worldwide threat-if not through a religious zealot or confused idealist whose finger is on the nuclear trigger, then certainly by destroying the tolerance and trust essential for maintaining peace and concord among peoples.
Middle East terrorists, many religiously motivated, have spread panic throughout Europe and the United States. Ireland, Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia are grim examples of nations deeply torn by sectarian strife. Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike endure horrendous persecution under oppressive Marxist regimes. In the West, church-state confrontations are multiplying. As one prominent sociologist observed, this strife "has little to do with whether the state espouses a leftist or rightist political philosophy"; the fires rage amid a variety of political systems.
Diverse as they may seem, these tensions all arise from one basic cause: confusion and conflict over the respective spheres of the religious and the political. What Augustine called the City of God and the city of man are locked in a worldwide, frequently bitter struggle for influence and power.
Nowhere has this conflict been more hotly debated than in America. Throughout most of its history, the U.S. has enjoyed uncommon harmony between church and state. The role of each was regarded as essential, with religion providing the moral foundation upon which democratic institutions could function. As recently as 1954 the Supreme Court explicitly rejected the contention that government should be neutral toward religion. Justice William O. Douglas stated that "we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." But only nine years later, barbed wire was flung up on the "wall of separation" between the two as the court reversed itself in its landmark school-prayer decision. Though the expulsion of formal prayer from the schoolroom did not impede people's ability to talk to God wherever they wished, the decision reflected the shifting public consensus about the role of religiously based values in public life. It set off major tremors along long-dormant fault lines in America's political landscape.
At the same time the works of such writers as Camus and Sartre were enjoying enormous popularity on American college campuses. These existentialists argued that since there is no God, life has no intrinsic meaning. Meaning and purpose must be boldly created through an individual's actions, whatever they may be.
This relativistic view of truth perpetuated a subculture whose password was "do your own thing"-which for many meant a comfortable spiral of easy sex and hard drugs. Personal autonomy was elevated at the expense of community responsibility. Even as many pursued these new freedoms in search of fresh utopias, some acknowledged the void left by the vacuum of values. Pop icons like Andy Warhol spoke for the mood of a generation: "When I got my first TV set," he said, "I stopped caring so much about having close relationships ... you can only be hurt if you care a lot."
Liberal theologians eagerly adapted to the powerful trends of the day. Bishop Robinson's book Honest to God, published the same year as the school-prayer decision, gave birth to the God Is Dead Movement, popularized on the cover of Time magazine.
by the seventies, classical Judeo-Christian values were toppling as the fault line groaned almost daily. Religion was fast becoming an irrelevant, even an unwanted intruder in politics and public affairs. The Supreme Court often practiced what one dissenting justice in the school-prayer case had warned against: a "brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive or even active hostility to the religious."
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, was the final blow for traditionalists. Not only was it seen as a rejection of America's commitment to the sanctity of life, but as a repudiation of moral values as a factor in court decisions. For the first time the justices excluded moral and philosophical arguments from their determination.
Roe v. Wade triggered a counterreaction, sending tremors from another direction. Determined to preserve moral values in the public sphere, conservative church members who had long disdained politics began organizing furiously; the Pro-Life Movement spread quickly across the country. By 1976 evangelicals were flexing their muscles behind a "born-again" presidential candidate. In 1979 a group of conservative Christian leaders met privately in Washington; the result was the Moral Majority and the Christian New Right. Within only six years this movement became one of the most formidable forces in American politics, registering millions of voters, raising vast war chests for select candidates, and crusading for its "moral agenda" with the fervor of old-time, circuit-riding preachers.
In 1984 the fault line broke wide open with a presidential campaign that resembled a holy crusade more than an election.
First, the Democratic candidate for vice-president, Geraldine Ferraro, questioned whether President Reagan was "a good Christian" because of his policies toward the poor. Days later, the Catholic archbishop of New York challenged Mrs. Ferraro's faith because of her support for pro-choice legislation. At the Republican convention President Reagan told 17,000 foot-stomping partisans that "without God democracy will not and cannot long endure." His Democratic challenger, former Vice-President Mondale, said that faith is intensely personal, should never be mixed up with politics, and that Reagan was "trying to transform policy debates into theological disputes." Governor Cuomo of New York gave a widely heralded address at Notre Dame, in which he stated that as a Catholic he could personally oppose abortion, yet support it as governor as a "prudential political judgment," since he was following the will of the majority.
In thousands of precincts across the country, fundamentalist ministers organized voter-registration campaigns, equating conservative political positions with the Christian faith. New Right spokesmen trumpeted the call for God, country, and their hand-picked candidates, and compared abortion clinics to the Nazi holocaust.
Civil libertarians reacted with near hysteria. Some labeled Jerry Falwell an American version of the Ayatollah Khomeni. People of the American Way, a group organized to counter the Moral Majority, launched a slick media campaign attaching the Nazi slur to the religious right.
Never had religion become such a central issue in a presidential campaign; never had the church itself been so dangerously polarized.
The fissures that broke open in 1984 remain wide and deep today. On one side are certain segments of the Christian church, religious conservatives who are determined to regain lost ground and restore traditional values. "America needs a president who will speak for God," proclaimed one leader. Whether out of frustration or sincere theological conviction, the Christian New Right has become politicized, attempting to take dominion over culture through legislation and court decisions.
Those on the other side are no less militant. Believing Christian political activists will cram religious values down the nation's unwilling throat, they heatedly assert that faith is a private matter and has no bearing on public life. The New York Times, for example, accused Ronald Reagan of being "primitive" when he publicly referred to his faith: "You don't have to be a secular humanist to take offense at that display of what, in America, should be private piety."
The real tragedy is that both sides are so deeply entrenched that neither can listen to the other. Invective and name calling have replaced dialogue. Nothing less than obliteration of the enemy will suffice; either Christianize or secularize America. Many citizens feel that they must choose sides; either enlist with Norman Lear and People of the American Way, or join up with the Moral Majority (now the Liberty Federation) and the Christian New Right.
Excerpted from Kingdoms in Conflict by Charles W. Colson Copyright © 1989 by Zondervan . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted October 22, 2009
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