19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Society, Religion, and Spiritual Ambiguity
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...
Published on June 12, 2002 by Robert Morris
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Polemic
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...
Published on April 20, 2000 by R. Albin
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Polemic,
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (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.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Society, Religion, and Spiritual Ambiguity,
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (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?" Not all readers will agree with the answers he has formulated, at least thus far, but I think everyone who reads this book will be much better prepared to consider basic issues which transcend legality in pursuit of justice, which transcend consensus in pursuit of fundamental human decency.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read from cover to cover.,
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This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)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.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Enough, but a Bit Muddled!,
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This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)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). In brief, the research was good and Carter brings up many good points; they are just packaged in a quite random, meandering, book.
The only other problem to speak of is that on the one hand, Carter chastises current politics (liberal politics) for discounting religious faith; on the other he chastises religious faith for often being too dogmatic and zeolous. BUT THAT IS WHAT RELIGIONS DO!
Not all, to be sure, but most any catholic sect, for instance, takes stands, believes sincerely in them, and is convinced that their take is the only right one. Quite simply, most religions firmly beleive that their way is right and others are wrong - that they have access to the 'truth as revealed through god' where the rest are mistaken. To suggest that religion can still be religion while saying, "But I may be completely wrong about divine revelation or commandment," seems to take the religion out of religion. Thus, I (and Stanley Fish has wisely said just this about Carter) think Carter is trying to let faith back into liberalism by telling religion to be more secular. (Be open minded about gay marriage; you might be wrong, after all, Mr. Robertson!). [Read the section on religion in Stanley Fish's "The Trouble With Principle" for these critiques.]
To conclude, the issue is one that needs to be addressed and Dr. Carter has produced a well-researched attempt to highlight what is wrong. Sadley, I did not come away from this book with a feeling that its direction and layout were strong, or that Dr. Carter's solutions were workable.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful and thought provoking argument,
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)I do want to emphasize that my five star rating does not mean I am in 100% agreement with the author. I doubt that any thoughtful reader will be in total agreement. However, as a book that presents a well thought out and well constructed argument that challenges the reader, this is top drawer.It does require thoughtful reading. Since most will find some points of disagreement, it is easy to be thrown of course and miss what Carter is truly saying. He speaks both from knowledge of constitutional law and from a belief in justice for religious and non-religious equally. He repeatedly illustrates that while a person should be allowed to practice the dictates of his religion, that religion can not be allowed control over non-believers. There will be disagreement as to the extent that a person is allowed to obey the laws of his religion. I have not disagreement with the argument that Native Americans should be allowed to use peyote in their worship, that Mormons should be allowed to practice polygamy, and some other issues. I do have trouble with the idea of allowing animal sacrifice. But my disagreement and any reader's individual disagreement doesn't lessen the value of being presented with an argument which causes the reader to think and to consider his or her own evaluation of the author's premise.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Culture of Disbelief,
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)Stephen L. Carter's The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (New York: Basic Books, c. 1993), is an astute assessment of a growing issue in this country. Carter is an African-American law professor at Yale University, a self-professed "liberal" Democrat who's grown restive at the sustained political pressure to drive religious belief from the public forum.
In Carter's judgment, "the effort to banish religion for politics' sake has led us astray: In our sensible zeal to keep religion from dominating our politics, we have created a political and legal culture that presses the religiously faithful to be other than themselves, to act publicly, and sometimes privately as well, as though their faith does not matter to them" (p. 3). In short: public officials listen respectfully and act with consideration when dealing with every segment of the populace except the devoutly religious.
For example, a Colorado public school teacher was ordered to remove his Bible from his desk at school, where students might perchance see it. "He was forbidden to read it silently when his students were involved in other activities. He was also told to take away books on Christianity he had added to the classroom library, although books on Native American religious traditions, as well as on the occult, were allowed to remain" (pp. 11-12).
Despite the clear presence of millions of committed Christians in America (some polls indicate some 85% of this nation's residents identify themselves thusly), their influence has been systematically excluded from the political processes. Gay activists and minority leaders, feminists and environmental advocates all have access to the corridors of power and are treated with respect by journalists and jurists. Whereas leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. once easily blended faith and politics, today religious convictions are ruled irrelevant to all but one's personal beliefs.
The thing that changed everything, Carter, argues, "can be captured in one word: abortion" (p. 57). The 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision changed all the rules. Suddenly those favoring "abortion rights" discovered that religious folks, in this case the "religious right," had anti-abortion convictions, and had no right to influence public policy. It was once in vogue to cite scrip¬ture's authority, declaring we are all created in the image of God and thus equal, when marching to protest segregation, but it is no longer permissible to cite it when marching to protest abortion.
This situation prods Carter to re-examine the vaunted "separation of church and state" in America. First, we must understand what the First Amendment to the Constitution actually says. It did not seek to exclude religion from interfering with politics but to protect religion from political interference. Our Founding Fathers wanted to insure the freedom of religion, listing it before freedom of speech and press, heeding Thomas Jefferson's assertion that freedom of religion is "the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights."
Until recently everyone understood that the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment protected, as it says, freedom of religion. In the words of a 19th century scholar, Philip Schaff, it was "'the Magna Carta of religious freedom,' representing as it did 'the first example in history of a government deliberately depriving itself of all legislative control over religion'" (p. 108). This well-established view was upended following WWII by some Supreme Court decisions, beginning with opinions written by Hugo Black, a militantly anti-Christian judicial warrior, who declared, in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), that "'The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach'" (p. 109). That the widely-cited "wall" cannot be found in the Constitution (it was lifted by Black from a letter of Thomas Jefferson) seems irrelevant to its advocates who today occupy prestigious posi¬tions in elite law schools and courts of America.
Many of those taking this position, many who adamantly oppose any government aid to private schools, apparently seek to impose a singularly secular worldview on the populace. "Perhaps," Carter says, "it is a way of ensuring that only one vision of the meaning of reality--that of the powerful group of individuals called the state--is allowed a political role. Back in Tocqueville's day, this was called tyranny. Nowadays, all too often, but quite mistakenly, it is called the separation of church and state" (p. 123).
Tyrannical educators seek to impose this singular vision, following John Dewey's "plainly stated view that one of the reasons for public schools was to remove the irrational religious influence that the children might otherwise retain from their parents" (p. 173). Thus public schools teach only one theory of origins: evolution by random natural selection. While Carter disagrees with the "scientific creationism" espoused by some fundamentalist Christians because he considers it bad science, he stoutly defends their concern that a theory of creation be considered alongside that of natural selection. Were apologists for a "multicultural" curriculum honest, they would be the first to support fundamentalists' cultural perspectives!
Carter, as a "liberal," basically urges fellow "liberals" to be truly liberal, tolerating the ideas and respecting the convictions of fellow Americans. Considering the millions of conservative Catholics, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, "What is needed is not a requirement that the religiously devout choose a form of dialogue that liberalism accepts, but that liberalism develop a politics that accepts whatever form of dialogue a member of the public offers. Epistemic diversity, like diversity of other kinds, should be cherished, not ignored, and certainly not abolished. What is needed, then, is a willingness to listen, not because the speaker has the right voice but because the speaker has the right to speak" (p. 230).
The Culture of Disbelief deserves the attention it's received, for it treats a momentous matter: the continued freedom of religion, and of religious associations, in our republic--a freedom which encourages religions to influence the life of the nation while protecting religious in¬stitutions and individuals from governmental controll.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Arguments,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)I had to read this book in one of my political science classes in the summer of 1994. It is one of my two most favorite books I had to read in school (the other being "The Complete Yes Minister", about the British government). "The Culture of Disbelief" was a joy to read. The liberal professor picked out four books we had to read and discuss, and this was one of them. Some of us in the class decided he had no idea this book would be so pro-religion because he wouldn't even discuss the book at the end of the semester like he did the other books. Many of us were laughing up our sleeves. lol This book is excellent in discussing and exposing how religion has been shoved out of public life, and some of the absurdities that go on in our classrooms today. For example, refusing to allow the Bible to be in a grade school classroom bookshelf, but allowing books on the occult and ancient indian religions. I mentioned this to my professor and he said "Well, they would try to influence you (meaning the Bible and whoever put it there)." Excuse me?? Its ok for the occult to influence our children, but not the Bible? This book and that professor's remark shows the insanity of what liberals are trying to do to this country today. If you are interested in the culture war raging in the U.S., this book is for you.
4.0 out of 5 stars Church and Religion where is the Line,
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)Carter is an Episcopalian, who once clerked for Thurgood Marshall. He is also a law professor at Yale. He writes like an attorney. Some of his sentences seem to be several pages long (not really, just seems like it). There were times when I wished he had provided an English translation from his legalize. He specializes in church/state issues.
The basic idea of the book is though the government should not be involved in religion, religious people have a constitutional right and a moral obligation to be involved in the political process--doesn't matter whether you a fundamentalist evangelical Christian or a Liberal Christian or a member of any other faith. He would say that the First Amendment and the issue of separation of church and state refer to protecting religion from the state, not the state from religion.
The issue of separating church and state is not so simple. There are laws prohibiting landlords from discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs or marital status. Does that mean a landlord would have to rent to someone who was a Satanist and plans to practice his "religion" on the property? Does that mean a landlord must rent to an unmarried couple even though the landlord believes having sex before marriage is a sin? (I always wondered how they would know they were having sex. That is a big assumption).
Does a church have a right to only hire people who share their religious beliefs? Would it matter, if the job was youth counselor versus plumber?
During the days of the draft, we gave an exemption to those whose religious beliefs prohibit them from serving in war. That has not always been the case. Do we then allow pharmacists, who have a religious objection to providing birth control or "morning after pills", an exemption from selling those products?
Should the government give money to religious schools or hospitals? And if they do, can they mandate that the school or hospital do something against their religious principles (i.e. perform abortions)?
There was an Irish group in New York, who has their annual parade on public streets. A gay group asked to participate. The Irish group said "no". Do they have a right to exclude a group, if they are using public property? What if the gay group wanted to exclude a group like NAMBLA (North America Man Boy Love Association) from their parade?
The Amish do not want their children to attend school beyond the 8th grade. Do we give them an exemption from laws indicating children should attend school through grade 12?
What about those parents who do not like part of a sex education curriculum? Do they have the right to exempt their children? What about those parents who object to evolution being taught in the schools?
Where does individual rights start and stop versus the rights of others to be true to their religious beliefs? Not an easy answer.
The courts have ruled on some of these issues and some they have not. It is important to truly understand what the courts have said on any particular topic. The U S Supreme Court said a teacher or a student in a public school couldn't lead students in prayer. The Court did not say children couldn't pray, in fact they said just the opposite. They can pray, read the Bible, have after school religious clubs. Though conservatives say that God has been banished from the classroom, which is a "metaphysical impossibility". Organized classroom prayer is not allowed because a public school authority figure can not tell children whether to believe in God or how to worship God.
He speaks about vouchers for public schools for those parents, who object to what public schools teach their children. I have always been against vouchers. Giving money to a religious school gets tricky. We would give it to a Catholic school, but would we give it to a Satanist school? How is providing a voucher for parents to use to take their children elsewhere different from those who feel they are not getting enough police protection. Should they get a voucher to get their own police service? Then there is also the argument private schools can cream off the top students and leave children with challenges. We would have to pay public schools teachers more money, because they would have the more difficult children. Private schools can mandate parental involvement, public schools can not. We all know more parental involvement the better the child does.
Those of us, who are supportive of the gay community, want schools to teach children to accept gay people as equals in society. Yet, what do we do with those parents, because of their religious belief, who want their children taught otherwise?
He speaks of those people within his own denomination, who do not believe women should be ordained as priests. Their argument is that Jesus picked only men as his disciples. By that logic then only circumcised men could become priests. He says the bottom line on this issue has little do to with women's rights as much as it should be what is the will of God. I would say that the will of God is to treat both genders equally. The Episcopal Church may now split because of the issue of ordaining gay people not only as priests but also as bishops. Who knows the sexual orientation of Jesus' disciples?
The author quotes a Jewish scholar "the trouble with America is not that it is a Christian nation, but that too often it is not". The message of Jesus was one of love and inclusion not one of hatred and exclusion. The author quotes another Jewish person, "I am deeply offended by Christians, who profess `love' of the Jewish people while trying to wipe them off the face of the earth by conversion or other methods". The same could be said about gay people.
Interesting book. These are all interesting questions. Trying to decide which group will have their rights protected is not always easy.
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful look at the poo-pooing of religion by secular American society,
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)I found this book while reading another book by Stephen L. Carter, one that I did not care for (Jericho's Fall). However, I am glad I read it because I found this book listed on a page of the author's other works.
Read the discussion boards on this site and any other site that attracts people from all walks of life and you will find a strong anti-religious bias. In fact, there is a rather insulting review of this book that does much the same. Carter takes a look at this relatively new fact of American life - the secularization of everything and the expectation that religious people treat "God as a hobby" and the expectation of people not to use their religious beliefs as a framework for their lives. Fear of someone "imposing" one's religion on another rules all.
Carter explores the history of this movement, looks at legal cases that have run roughshod over religion and discusses the irony of the fact that Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement was based on religious arguments against discrimination and highlighted the main strength of autonomous religion in a pluralistic society: it can serve as s counterweight to government (in more common terms, it can "speak truth to power."
Carter is far from advocating theistic government (he is, in my opinion, very liberal politically), he is merely pointing out that religion cannot be a tool of the state - they have different goals. He warns that "nearly everyone seems to operate with the general presumption that the government can and should regulate in whatever areas suit its constituents' fancy - unless opponents can interpose a claim of constitutional right. And as federal constitutional rights go, the right to exercise religion freely is quite near the bottom of the totem pole."(p. 138)
The only problem with this book is that it is dated. There are many, many references to the 1992 Republican Convention (one that I vaguely remember for a particularly vitriolic speech by Patrick Buchanan) which was the last big national event that involved religion and politics. I would love for Stephen L. Carter to re-write this book and include recent events such as the Jeremiah Wright controversy, the Schiavo case, Islam in America and so much more.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A compelling look at the role of religiosity...,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Culture of Disbelief (Paperback)Stephen Carter, distinguished Yale professor of Law, does a good job bringing the question of religious tolerance to light in this book. Carter's main point seems to focus on the revisiting of "open" religious dialogue (or religiously influenced) in the public square. To wit, religionists should not be condemned, maligned, or trivialized due to their religious convictions. Furthermore, religion is applauded as a necessary component of a democratic society. This writer applauds Mr. Carter for his work on this subject, since (as he states) religionists comprise a healthy majority in the United States-and to put it succintly, their beliefs motivate their political(and thus, public)aspirations. A word of caution is in order: Mr. Carter seems to dwell too heavily on the race issue. Using nearly every example that Mr. Carter levies against the mainstream treatment of "anti-religionists," large portions of the book become a "bully pulpit" to remind us how horrific the past has been to African-Americans. Overall, a fair treatment of his premise: not to trivialize religionists for their faith---no matter how extreme examples (such as the Christian Coalition and David Koresh) bring public scrutiny.
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The Culture of Disbelief by Stephen L. Carter (Paperback - September 1, 1994)