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The Culture of Disbelief Paperback – September 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby examines the role of religion in American society.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385474989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385474986
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a well written attack on the treatment of religion in American political and legal life. Carter attempts to show that religous motivations are disparaged in many aspects of American public life. He is particularly concerned with convincing individuals with liberal political views that religious motivations, per se, are not harmful or irrational. Carter's points are not, however, aimed solely at a liberal audience. He attacks our legal system, including the Supreme Court, for inadequate defense of minor religions, and excoriates conservative Christians for justifying a highly partisan political agenda. To Carter, religons function best as mediators between individuals and government and he sees them as essential components of civil society. He sees religions as carrying forward this function best when acting in a dissenting mode, such as abolitionism, the Civil Rights Movement, and the anti-abortion movement. One difficulty with this book is that it is relatively brief. This allows Carter to make a number of points in a relatively short text and Carter's writing is never curt. The defect is that a number of important issues receive somewhat unsatisfactory treatment. I was unconvinced, for example, by some of his treatment of creationism as an "alternative hermeneutic". Several of the topics in this book really deserve longer discussion. Still, this book was written to provoke thought and it is very successful in that respect. It is important to note that this is not a defense of conservative Christian views a al Pat Robertson. Carter is deeply religous (Episcopalian, not Catholic as stated in one of the reviews below) and rather liberal in his political beliefs.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
I found this to be an especially thought-provoking, at times unsettling book to read. Carter has obviously given a great deal of careful thought to the important issues he addresses. For example, he is deeply concerned about what he views as a deterioration of spirituality in American society. Ours is perhaps the most democratic of all capitalistic cultures, ensuring strict separation of church and state as well as the right to embrace any religion (or none). Carter fully supports that separation and indicates zero-tolerance of threats to that right. However, he repudiates efforts by those among the national media with a strong liberal bias who trivialize basic values which are, in fact, common to all of the world's major religions. He asserts that these values should guide and inform national policy (not the other way around), just as they once did when thirteen colonies declared war on the most powerful nation in the world and then reaffirmed the same values 12 years later in the new nation's Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In Christianity on Trial, Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett provide both a broad overview and a close analysis of various accusations against the Christian church over the centuries. Many of these accusations were valid; others were not. However, undeniably, the Hellenic-Hebraic values of Christianity are inextricably bound up in the fabric of American legal as well as political and social history. It's hard for me to believe but it has been more 40 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his associates began their efforts to achieve full and unqualified human rights for all Americans. Carter is hardly alone when asking "What has been accomplished since then? What remains to be done?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By zee1 on September 22, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While not possessing the wonderful immediacy of his masterpiece, "Civility", Dr. Carter's "The Culture of Disbelief" very artfully highlights an often latent national sentiment. Characteristically referenced meticulously, Carter cites specific instances, modern and historical, of the trivialization of religiousness to support virtually every statement he makes. At the same time, he maintains an easy and accessible style that transitions smoothly from the casual to the sobering. Carter attempts to inject an urgent tone at some points, and while reading one may find oneself nodding along in agreement, but the galvanic effect of "Civility" was not present. Nonetheless, an excellent read from cover to cover.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 27, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Stephen Carter's thesis is quite a noble one: he thinks that we as a society have taken religious freedom and morphed it into something of an anti-religion bias. The public square, for instance, seems to give less and less credence to arguments or ideas informed by religion. Pro-lifers or those opposed to gay marriage are written off as 'fanatics' or simply holders of weak, because religiously informed, positions. The establishment and free-exercise clause (which Carter DOES see as a wall of seperation between church and state) has increasinly been used to banish religion from the public square entirely.
This is all quite unique for me because I am an non-believer, probably unlike many reviewers here. Even as a non-believer (polite term for atheist) I can see the trivialization of religion in our culture and particularly in the political arena. As we speak, George W. Bush is being dismissed as a 'fundamentalist' because he, like most americans (according to current surveys) opposes gay marriage. Apperently opposing gay marriage ipso facto makes one a fundamentalist which ipso facto marginalizes the whole opinion.
Here's the problem: the three stars I've given this book are for the thesis and the very good research (especially in part 1, where the problem is surveyed). The other two stars that I did NOT give the book were for execution. Each chapter seems to be on a wholly new topic (a seperate essay unto itself) and Carter does little to hold them together. The first section diagnoses the problem, the second section discusses the 1st amendment religion clauses (and as a law scholar, Carter gives a VERY surface level account) and the third section (apperently) works at a solution (which I was still waiting for when I closed the book for the final time).
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