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A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State Hardcover – September 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this fascinating, well-documented historical exploration of religious expression in American life, Hart (The University Gets Religion) argues that while religion has long had a voice in the public square, its current influence is extraordinary. Hart moves smoothly back and forth through American history as he traces the substance of debates over America's providential role, religion and public education, what it means to be a nation "under God" and the dream of a unified national faith. His discussion of the 19th-century rise of anti-Catholicism and the evolution of Roman Catholic attitudes toward involvement in American political life (as exemplified in the campaigns of Al Smith and JFK) is particularly engaging, as is his critique of the current enthusiasm for "compassionate conservatism." Evangelicals have not only lost the idea that churches had a singular spiritual role, but have also surrendered the notion, argues Hart, "that the churches' task is ultimately more important than the state's." One only wishes that he could have made a stronger argument for his central premise-that the claims and character of Christianity mean that believers living in a democratic state must balance, not confuse and conjoin, their dual sets of duties, both as pilgrims and citizens.
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From Booklist

"My argument is that the basic teachings of Christianity are virtually useless for resolving America's political disputes," says religious historian Hart, and he demonstrates how nine familiar American concepts anent church-state relations confound Protestant doctrine, in particular. As a conservative Protestant, he declines to speak for Catholicism, but at least one major common doctrine proves vital throughout. That is Augustine's distinction of the holy city of God from the secular city of man. Christians are perforce citizens of both, but their only specifically Christian obligation concerning secular citizenship is to ensure that the laws do not injure faith and its practices. Hart cites Jesus even more frequently than Augustine to distinguish constitutional freedom of religion from specifically Christian freedom, to show why nineteenth-century Catholic bishops correctly objected to Bible reading in the public schools, to discriminate the individualism basic to democracy from the corporate identity required by the church, and to expose "compassionate conservative" policies, such as Bush II's faith-based initiative, as non-Christian. Although demanding to read, Hart's argument is blazingly enlightening. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee (September 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566635764
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566635769
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,560,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

D. G. Hart lives in Michigan with his wife, Ann, and their two cats, Isabelle and Cordelia, where he teaches history at Hillsdale College. Hart used to be an East-Coast snob (though he still roots for the Phillies) but while living in a small mid-western town he has learned that life exists outside the Northeast Corridor. He is currently completing a global history of Calvinism and plans to write books on H. L. Mencken and American religion, and on Roman Catholicism and American conservatism.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By M. C. Andwood on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Original, thought-provoking and oftentimes controversial, Darryl Hart's book, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State, presents a new perspective of the proper boundaries of the Christian Church in the political arena of the United States of America. Hart ardently supports the strict separation of church and state and he presents this much-debated topic as a study of the negative effects of American politics on the Christian religion, rather than the negative influence of religion on politics. Offering a rebuttal to those conservative Christians who believe the secularization of American society heralds its downfall, Hart declares that this secularization is saving Christianity from being misemployed and trivialized by supporting political agendas.

Hart assumes that Christianity is an apolitical faith whose realm of authority only concerns the personal and private matters of salvation for Christians. Christianity has no role in political machinations and its public advocacy is not necessary for moral or good government. Reiterating the Augustinian conceptualization of the City of God and the City of Man, Hart argues that politics should focus on the material and physical world and the church should focus solely on the spiritual Kingdom that is to come. Christianity, he posits, relates only to the spiritual realm and therefore cannot inform the organization of society, such as the endorsement of a certain polity, or sanction government programs, such as social-welfare reform. Christians, he believes, are called to live perpetually hyphenated lives in which they constantly struggle with their identities and responsibilities as Christians and as citizens.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By the frenchman on July 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an extended, and laborious (for the reader), discourse that asserts Christians ought to live “double lives”. If you are looking for a well-researched book attempting to bolster a “2-Kingdom” view similar to the likes of Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark, and David Van Drunen; you will get a book articulating the paradigm with a transparency the aforementioned lack as Hart attempts to baptize bifurcated Christian living as if it were obedience. For this transparency, Hart is to be commended.

For Hart, Christian faith must be relegated to the private life and should not be “worn on the sleeve”. Any breakdown of the privatized faith silo may result in confusion of the two kingdoms (at best), or actual harm to others (at worst, and more likely). Outside of formal worship settings and your home-made bunker, faith is dangerous. It’s in these settings that damage control can be used most effectively.

As Hart reasons: The love of God, tenacity about worship, defensiveness about sacred rites, aversion to false religion - all are parts of genuine faith that make it impractical if not damaging for public life. (pg 13)

Throughout the pages of the book, Hart crafts an American history where faith has regularly “intruded” upon the secular realm and argues that we should, instead of integrating faith throughout our lives, hyphenate our faith. So we need not be concerned about public policy. On its face, that sounds not terribly wrong. We don’t want the Church writing policies, do we? Of course, talking about public policy is not limited to paving roads: what about infanticide? Hart never takes the time to ponder what a Christian must do when the “secular” intrudes upon the “sacred”.

Hart fails to distinguish Church from faithful Christian witness as well.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Anne Rice on August 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We need this book right now. The arguments in America of 2007 over church and state are approaching delirium. We need Hart's well informed, well documented and decisive approach to the question. This is one of the best books I've seen on the issue, and one that is especially meaningful for Christians. Also recommended: the works of the great historian Mark Noll. --- anneobrienrice@mac.com
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8 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A SECULAR FAITH: WHY CHRISTIANITY FAVORS THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE outlines the foundations of a long-standing argument - and the divide between religious and secular America, which has been particularly pointed over the last few decades. Can Christianity be used for political and social ends? A SECULAR FAITH questions this approach and provides documentation of political and religious rivalries over the years.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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6 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Raymond E. Conroy on January 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am a Secular Humanist who is alarmed by the idea that government policy should be dictated by religious belief. The author's thesis is that religious persons should be concerned as well. I thought that the book was well written, but I doubt that it will convince those who want to remove the Bill of Rights from our courts so as to make room for the Ten Commandments.

Darryl Hart points out that this nation was not, in fact, established on a theological foundation. Furthermore, dynamiting the dam between church and state is an unpredictable affair, fraught with the potential for unintended consequences. It might do as much harm to

Will this persuade those who want to reduce abortion and the use of birth control? Who think that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice? Who believe that the Universe is 6,000 years old? I suspect not.
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