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The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America Paperback – September 9, 1988

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Christianity TodayTop 100 Books of the 20th Century (2000)

George F. Will
"The book from which further debate about church-state relations should begin."

The 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."

The 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."

Commentary
"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."

Choice
"For those interested in the role of religion in American life, this book is a must."

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."

From the Back Cover

Underlying the many crises in American life, writes Richard John Neuhaus, is a crisis of faith. It is not enough that more people should believe or that those who believe should believe more strongly. Rather, the faith of persons and communities must be more compellingly related to the public arena. bThe naked public squareb--which results from the exclusion of popular values from the public forum--will almost certainly result in the death of democracy.

The great challenge, says Neuhaus, is the reconstruction of a public philosophy that can undergird American life and Americabs ambiguous place in the world. To be truly democratic and to endure, such a public philosophy must be grounded in values that are based on Judeo-Christian religion. The remedy begins with recognizing that democratic theory and practice, which have in the past often been indifferent or hostile to religion, must now be legitimated in terms compatible with biblical faith.

Neuhaus explores the strengths and weaknesses of various sectors of American religion in pursuing this task of critical legitimation. Arguing that America is now engaged in an historic moment of testing, he draws upon Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish thinkers who have in other moments of testing seen that the stakes are very high--for America, for the promise of democratic freedom elsewhere, and possibly for Godbs purpose in the world.

An honest analysis of the situation, says Neuhaus, shatters false polarizations between left and right, liberal and conservative. In a democratic culture, the believerbs respect for nonbelievers is not a compromise but a requirement of the believerbs faith. Similarly, the democratic rights of those outsidethe communities of religious faith can be assured only by the inclusion of religiously-grounded values in the common life.

"The Naked Public Square" does not offer yet another partisan program for political of social change. Rather, it offers a deeply disturbing, but finally hopeful, examination of Abraham Lincolnbs century-old question--whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans; 2 edition (September 9, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802800807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802800800
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #780,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Richard Neuhaus' The Naked Public Square can be summed up no better than the quote that is on the front of the book: "The book from which further debate about church-state relations should begin."

The book's contents are not for the young or those with short attention spans: however, his point is excellent, and twenty years after the writing of this book, Richard Neuhaus appears to have hit the nail square on the head.

The primary purpose of The Naked Public Square is to alert the reader to the coming of a new era in the United States. The era is not good or new: instead it is an evil that, here, now, sweeps across portions of the world. Europe, Russia and China seem to have already fallen victim to it, and the United States is the last great world power to meet it.

The terror is, of course, this naked public square. It is naked because it is without overarching belief, consensus, personal morality, or real, organized religion. It's a place where God cannot be mentioned, where vicious revenge is taken on any individual or group that may attempt to bring their religion or worldview into the mainstream. It's a place where the law needs only the justification of power to hold it's place, where the authority of the Bible, the church, God, and all other things that lay claim to authority not of this world are scorned as "intolerant." This naked public square indoctrinates every man to believe everything spiritual is relative, and that it is wrong, pointless, rude or all three to convince another individual to think his way. Religion is prevented from becoming solidly organized as a force that could challenge the moral legitimacy of the government or the culture-forming, powerful elite of society.
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For $ 1 in a clearance bin I found a signed copy of Richard John Neuhaus' famous 1986 book The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (2d. ed.). This is one of those books I had seen cited hundreds of time in legal scholarship on religious freedom but hadn't actually read until now, though I enjoyed reading (and completely disagreeing with) Neuhaus' work in First Things until his recent death.

The central thesis of the book is that liberal democracies cannot survive with a "public square" (i.e., public debate and discourse about political and social issues) that is divorced from religion. According to Neuhaus, the shared conception of morality and values is what binds disparate people together and provides legitimacy to the results of the democratic process. In the absence of this shared morality, something else will step in to fill the void: the state as a totalitarian project.

I think what I like most about the book is that Neuhaus really strives to be fair. The book is not a polemic against liberalism and Neuhaus has a great sense of the internal debates that go on within liberalism, fundamentalism, and mainstream Christianity. The book is also deeper and more encompassing than you might think from citations made to it: it's as much a warning about the rise of the "new religious right" as it is about secularism.

It's definitely worth reading, even if you can't find it for a buck. The only disclaimer I'll make is that some chapters show an ugly anti-gay sentiment and (from my post-Cold War perspective) a surprising paranoia about Communism.
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By A Customer on February 10, 1997
No one writes like Neuhaus on current issues of religion and politics. A former Lutheran minister and now a Catholic priest, he has been on both sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide. This gives him a unique perspective on issues of common concern to all, and has placed him in the forefront of ecumenical efforts.

I highly recomend this book as an investigation of how religion has been marginalized by the modern misinterpretation of the First Amendment's "no establishment" clause, thus leaving our Public Square bereft of foundational values
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The late Richard John Neuhaus published this seminal work on religion and democracy in 1986 to disprove the myth of a "secular America" that leaves no room for religion or religious values in the public square. Considered by many to be Neuhaus's magnum opus, The Naked Public Square argues that America's values will not stand when they are divorced from religion.

Contemporary secularists, believing that the Constitution erects a wall of separation between the Church and State, argue that religion must be removed from the American public square in order to respect the intentions of the founders. If such a path of action is undertaken, an "ominous secular silence" will according to Neuhaus arise whenever we ask by what authority new laws are enacted (p. 248). The removal of religion from American public life will further undermine those absolute truths that have kept society together over the centuries, for "The assertion that binds together otherwise different causes is the claim that only a transcendent, a religious, vision can turn this society from certain disaster and toward the fulfillment of its destiny" (p. 79).

Neuhaus argues that the reforms that have been undertaken in America since the war for independence, including the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement, have been rooted in the religious thinking of leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln, the "foremost theologian of the American experiment" (p. 61). America could not be where it is today, and we would not enjoy the freedoms that we have today, without the inspiration of religion in the public square.

The Naked Public Square, together with the Institute on Religion and Public Life and its ecumenical journal First Things, which Neuhaus founded, is a seminal work that has advanced the place of religion in American public life.
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