The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America / Edition 2

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The author's "central metaphor, the naked public square, refers to thepublic forum in American life, which is perceived as naked or empty because religion and religious values have been systematically excluded from consideration in the determination of public policy. {He believes that} the enemy that accomplished this, the ideology of secularism, has thus far been successful despite the fact that most Americans, whose ultimate values are deeply religious, never debated or assented to such an exclusion."
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Editorial Reviews

George F. Will
The book from which further debate about church-state relations should begin.
New York Times Book Review
"A substantial book. It should be read by anyone concerned with the current debates over the emergence of the "new Christian right.""
For those interested in the role of religion in American life, this book is a must.
Wall Street Journal
Richard John Neuhaus addresses the relationship of religion and democracy with a steadiness and vitality rare in such discussions....The Naked Public Square challenges us to consider afresh the relationship of religion and public life. This book is elegant in execution and sweeping in scope.
This is a large-minded book, and its sophistication and intelligence advance our understanding of the religion/politics issue far beyond the confusions and incomprehensions that dominate most discussions of the subject.
Theology Today
Whether readers support or oppose his major contentions, Neuhaus has skillfully produced a lively forum for our moral discourse regarding church-state relations and democratic values.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802800800
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/28/1986
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 693,466
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Misreading the Signs of the Times (from pages 3-19)

THE STORY IS TOLD OF A PREACHER WHO IN A SUNDAY SERVICE began with the prayers this way: 'O Lord, have you read this morning's New York Times?' The Lord has seen the comings and goings of many things that at the time impressed his creatures as being of inordinate moment. We are all susceptible to the imperiousness of the present. I say 'all' advisedly, even though many of us try to resist the claims of immediacy by, as we say, keeping things in historical perspective. The proposition is nonetheless compelling that the past is past and the future is not yet and therefore the present is all we have. On the Christian view of things, that is a highly dubious proposition. In truth, it is false. It is false, that is, if God is the Power of the Future who lovingly holds close to himself every past moment as he leads us through the present to the promise of what is to be.

Failing to participate fully in our own lives, we seek participation in realties constructed by others. To the extent a person has a life of her own, it is a life defined by limits. With respect to innumerable things that are happening we are 'out of it,' thank God. Engagement in everything that is happening is an impossible imperative. That is why is has been attended to by God and is not our job. Our job, our vocation, if you will, is to attend to that to which we have been called. Readers of this book presumably are of the opinion that they are called—in one way or another, to a greater or lesser degree—to attend to what is happing in American religion, politics, and culture.

Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, 'Come, let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.' . . . And there was a trembling in the camp of the Philistines, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling.

Fanaticism is contagious. It tends to evoke a similar response from opponents not ordinarily given to being fanatical. When this happens, it becomes almost impossible to blunt the do-or-die edge of politics. Nothing so sharply hones that edge as the frictions of religious passion. Pascal said it more than three centuries ago: 'Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.' Little wonder that modern societies have tried to keep religion at one remove from the public square. History throws up too many instances in which the perfervid mix of religion and politics has destroyed the possibilities of civil discourse. That happened during the wars of religion in seventeenth-century Europe, and the memory of that devastation was a major factor in shaping the secularist doctrines of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. When politics is conflicted by putatively divine revelations, there is little room for reasonable argument and compromise.

is not because, being more respectable, they are better able to influence what is thought of as the religious and cultural mainline. It is because they bid fair to become the mainline. Capturing the emphatically mainline appellation 'evangelical' was a good beginning.

reasoning, such as it is, is circular; first accept the truth and then you will know it is true. Fundamentalist Bible prophecy is in accord with a classic Christian tradition in asserting that the gospel is a statement about public and universal reality. It is alien to that tradition in its refusal to engage the Christian message in conversation with public and universal discourse outside the circle of true believers.

Christian and in their appreciation of the spiritual dynamics of our time. Not least important, reductionist and dismissive explanations are profoundly anti-ecumenical. Whether or not the proponents of politicized fundamentalism recognize us as sisters and brothers in Christ, we must recognize them as such. No matter how convenient it would be or how strong the temptation to do so, we cannot write them off. The imperative to take them seriously is underscored, quite apart from theological considerations, by the fact that Christianity ranged along conservative-evangelical-fundamentalist spectrum may well become the largest and most vital constellation of religious forces in American life. An ecumenical movement that holds back from entering into conversation with millions of fellow believers has become pitifully sectarian.

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Table of Contents

  1. Misreading the Signs of the Times
  2. Public Religion and Public Reason
  3. "Turning America Around"
  4. Critical Patriotism and the Civil Community
  5. The Vulnerability of the Naked Square
  6. Denying Who We Are
  7. The Morality of Compromise
  8. Private Morality, Public Virtue
  9. The Purloined Authority of the State
  10. Christendom Reconsidered
  11. Invoking the Nightmares We Fear
  12. A Proposition on Trial
  13. The Captivities of the Mainline
  14. For the World against the World
  15. Class Warfare among the Saints
  16. Law and the Experiment Renewed
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