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Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem--and What We Should Do About It Hardcover – June 23, 2005

4 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Divided By God, Noah Feldman examines the unique, fascinating balance the United States has pursued for well over 200 years now -- the attempt at democratic government by the people in a country made up of many religions, and many highly religious people. The novel principle enshrined to help make this a success was strong separation of church from state. The strain on the system has never been greater as polarization grows over the many hot-button topics of our day. Feldman also observes how the stakes have been raised in the last 50 years as the forces of secularism have fought a largely successful battle to remove religious symbolism from the public sphere, while at the same time the growing tide of religious conservatism has managed to forge a surprisingly close church-state relationship through government funding of religious priorities (faith-based initiatives and school vouchers, for example.)

Feldman, a law professor at New York University, delivers a timely book that attempts to move the discussion past rhetoric, by a careful examination of the history of church-state separation. The book's lively, conversational writing makes for a fascinating journey, starting with a precise analysis of exactly why our founding fathers debated and finally agreed to formally separate church and state, and then tracking the tests and challenges that separation has stood over the last two centuries. Perhaps the most refreshing current throughout is Feldman's lack of partisan bias, and his respect and understanding of the values, fears and goals that successive generations have brought to all sides of this never-ending debate.

It is that lack of partisanship that makes his conclusion all the more powerful -- a call to move beyond a battlefield where the secular and religious forces aggressively pursue their own mutually exclusive goals, and instead to seek a deeper understanding of what values we all hold in common, and to recognize the importance of engaging in constructive debate in order to find and define that commonality together. --Ed Dobeas

From Publishers Weekly

Feldman, a legal rising star and author of After Jihad (a look at democracy and Islam), turns his attention to America's battle over law and religious values in this lucid and careful study. Those Feldman calls "legal secularists" want the state wholly cleansed of religion, while "values evangelicals" want American government to endorse the Christianity on which they say its authority rests. Feldman thinks both positions too narrow for America's tastes and needs. Much of his volume shows how those needs have changed. James Madison and his friends, Feldman writes, hoped to "protect religion from government, not the other way round." Debates in the 19th century focused on public schools, whose culture of "nonsectarian Christianity" (really Protestantism) created dilemmas for Catholics, and in the 20th century faced challenges from secularists and evangelicals—the former won in the courts until very recently; the latter, often enough, won public opinion. Feldman proposes a compromise: that government "[allow] greater space for public manifestations of religion" while preventing government from linking itself with "religious institutions" (by funding them, for example). The "values" controversy, as Feldman shows, concerns electoral clout, not just legal reasoning. His patient historical chapters will leave readers on all sides far more informed as matters like stem-cell research and the Supreme Court's forthcoming 10 Commandments decision take the headlines.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (July 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281311
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,749,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Noah Feldman is currently Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard University. Esquire named him among 75 influential figures for the 21st century and New York magazine designated him as one of three top "influentials in ideas." In 2003, he served as senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and subsequently advised members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of an interim constitution. Feldman is the author of four previous books: The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (2008); Divided By God (2005); What We Owe Iraq (2004); and After Jihad (2003); as well as numerous articles for The New York Times Magazine.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Feldman's book is an intelligently written discussion of both the history of church-state law in the U.S. and the current debates that engage our society. Feldman works his way from the founding to the latest Supreme Court decisions of the last 15 years which have reshaped the interpretation of the Establishment Clause; the result is a fascinating overview of the legal and cultural evolution of America's ideas about church and state.

The great strength of this book is its focus on ideas and their development. Feldman does an excellent job laying out the reasoning used by various sides of the church-state debates over the last 200 years; he also frequently critiques these historical arguments, not as a partisan, but as more of a guide to these debates.

There are two larger issues that were problematic for me in this book:

First, I think Feldman's discussion of the church-state arguments made by the framers of the Constitution is too cursory and somewhat oversimplified. The Founding-era debates were arguably the most sophisticated and philosophically complex of all in American church-state history, and a bulkier, more rigorous chapter would have been better. After having read such great historical studies on this era as "The Sacred Fire of Liberty," "Original Meanings," and "The Founding Fathers and The Place of Religion in America," I was disappointed in this part of Feldman's book.

Second, I think Feldman overemphasizes the partisan divide over church and state in our contemporary culture. This sentence captures Feldman's outlook:

"...no single, unified theory or logical reason can explain the arrangements we now have. They are the product of an ongoing battle.
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Format: Hardcover
While I find Mr. Feldman solution to the Church-State problem overly simplistic and probably unworkable, I found the book in general to be very useful. It helps one to understand the series of events that have brought the United States to today's church/state quagmire. The history leading up to a situation is always useful in understanding that situation (and possibly finding solutions and compromises to solve problems.)

The majority of Mr. Feldman's book deals with the history of how we arrived at where we are today. It is readable, not overly verbose and easy to follow and understand. Mr. Feldman has written with little or no editorial content in describing the history of the church/state problem. He is to be congratulated for this effort and his book read in the context of the clear concise history he presents.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If the church - state debate interests you, you owe it to yourself to get informed. This book does an excellent job of blowing up all the talking points, from both sides of the political spectrum and helps the reader understand what happened and see both sides of this fascinating issue. Here's a list of interesting, historical observations which vary from the typical left and right talking points.

The nation was NOT founded by Christians. Most of the founders were deists who believed in a creator, but were NOT traditional christians.

Those who wrote the constitution did not think christian symbols, prayer in public ceremonies or other chrsitian trappings "established" religion.

Bible reading was prominent in public schools all the way into the middle of the 20th century and was viewed as a way of establishing public morality. It was NOT viewed as establishing religion.

The judges who created a more severe interpretation of the establishment clause were influenced by the events of World War II, where millions were killed on the basis of their religion alone. The idea that they might have been power hungry, liberal and secular judges is not strongly supported by the facts. Justice Black who wrote the first opinion in 1947 that called for a "high wall of separation" was a former klansman and was concerned about one religion holding sway, not with building a secular country.

The establishment clause was originally applied only to federal matters.

There are many more fascinating historical facts that will help inform and broaden your grasp of this issue.

I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Unlike the rest of the "reviewers", I think that this book:"Divided by God:America's Church-State Problem" addresses a very real problem within the culture of the United States. WE THE PEOPLE, who are Christians, regardless of theological stripe, want control of the nation and each other.

Feldman addresses the history of the problem extremely accurately. His recounting of that history may be a little dry but his conclusions are on target, in my humble opinion.

This is a book written for this time, for unlike any time previous to this, we are in national crisis attempting to determine who shall rule the "ways and means of our country". This book, and I would recommend its inclusion as a textbook in college religion courses or sociology/anthropology courses, is an avenue of addressing the issues ar large within our culture.

Read this book! This book is an indepth study of the history of the difficulties of our "balanced" church-state relationship. This book makes perfect sense in the context of our confused times.
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