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A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State Hardcover – September 1, 2006
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"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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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. Piety is typically equated to external forms of worship in the Lord’s Day setting. Completely absent is the notion of faithful witness in relationship to “two kingdoms.” John the Baptist addressed Herod’s unlawful marriage (by Jewish standards). One ponders why an obvious New Testament scenario like this was absent from the book. Did John the Baptist die needlessly? He was a preacher of the kingdom, so one would expect that the man who paved the way for Jesus’ ministry would have been included. Unfortunately, the preacher of the kingdom didn’t meet Hart’s primary concern.
The logic Hart employs is strained. On the one hand, we don’t live in a theocracy, and we should not try to impose one. I’m not sure how many Evangelicals are actually trying to do this. Who is the target these arrows are aimed at? There’s no clear target, so the reader is left wondering if Hart sleeps with a flashlight worried the bogeyman is lurking beneath his bed. As a result, Hart envisions a secular kingdom based on his understanding of particular passages of Scripture to keep the theocratic bogeyman at bay. Ironically, by basing his contrivances on Scripture, he unwittingly affirms a strange form of theocracy. A hyphenated one.
I recommend the book to readers desiring to see the errors of “radical” two kingdom views. Hart fails to provide citations in the book, although he offers a word on the sources he used at the end. The book reads like a reconstructionist history loaded with anachronism. Perhaps including citations would have curbed this strong tendency. The result is helpful, however, since it tends to demonstrate that Hart’s two kingdoms view is a private one where he attempts to reconstruct history to agree with him while imposing it on the rest of us. To this end, we are thankful for the transparency, but also ask that Hart keep his hyphenated theocracy to himself.
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. However, Hart makes a distinction between the individual social action that Jesus asks of his followers and official church support of political social justice programs that seemingly destroys the transcendent quality of Christianity.
The book contains nine chapters, each analyzing a facet of the relationship between church and state in American history. Hart provides thorough historical context, illustrates the various interpretations of each issue and proposes his argument in comparison to previous opinions. Hart discredits the supposition that the fundamental ideas of liberty and rights in American democracy were rooted in Christianity, specifically New England Puritanism and Calvinism. He maintains that Christian denominations had no political motives and that religious principles were not integral to the basis of American government though they had a definite influence on society. He denounces the revivalist movements for their blatant endorsement of democracy that crossed the line between the responsibilities of church and state. In his analysis of more recent examples, Hart discusses parochial education controversies and criticizes the compassionate conservative movement for tying Christian duty with political activism, thus replacing the church's higher spiritual duties with the more mundane and ultimately less important matters of the material world.
Since his opinions counter the social teachings of numerous Protestant denominations as well as the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, Hart admits that his ideas are more suggestions than assertions. Therefore, he does not defend the theological basis for his suggestions, since other Christian denominations base their counter-arguments on different doctrine. Though unorthodox, Hart's new perspective is strong enough to contend with the previously established views of church and state and worth serious consideration.
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.