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Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right Hardcover – January 27, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The latest from reporter and author Dionne (Why Americans Hate Politics) is a highly worthy alternative to polarizing arguments regarding religion, whether pro or con (neo-atheist tracts like Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great). It's also a smart rebuke of those who would divert the faithful with a narrow set of values rather than viewing religion in a broader political context. Declaring that the era of the religious Right is over, Dionne looks to history, tradition, teachers and texts (including recent religious scholarship) to reassert both progressive and conservative views on how religion can play a legitimate role in matters of economics, social justice and morality. Dionne explodes the myth that George W. Bush was elected by evangelicals (he says gains among moderates were far more important); demonstrates the absurdity and unfortunate consequences of restricting religious political concerns to abortion and gay marriage (though he fully explores both); and examines the fate of governmental faith-based initiatives past and present. Along the way, Dionne considers the current crop of presidential candidates and provides a stinging analysis of the president and Congress's intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. Rousing and wry, Dionne's sensible voice makes a powerful case for broadening religious vision and visibility in the public square. (Feb. 27)
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Liberal commentator Dionne foresees different relations between faith and politics now that the religious Right is declining. He doesn’t, however, think that a religious Left will arise, although he does point out that the connection between progressive politics, on the one hand, and mainstream Protestantism and modern Catholic social thought, on the other, is longstanding and deep in American history. From a close parsing of the entire Christian vote in recent federal elections, he argues that Christianity in politics is properly thought of not as either conservative or progressive but as both, that the conceptions of “culture war” and “values” promulgated by the religious Right are too restrictive and partisan, and that the religious Right has short-changed Christianity by focusing exclusively on abortion, gay marriage, and end-of-life issues (e.g., the Terry Schiavo brouhaha). He turns to recent developments in Catholicism since Vatican II and among liberal Catholics as a springboard to his concluding injunction that Christians continue to participate in politics, out of Christian hope rather than self-righteousness. (But is the religious Right really shrinking?) --Ray Olson
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I have read a number of political and religious titles in the past year and this is among the best in both categories. Dionne is a political analyst of the first rank, not at all like the many talking/shouting heads that populate cable news. He is also both knowledgeable and even pastoral when he discusses religion.
He definitely has opinions, but he never moves into attack mode. He can understand why many religious people are social conservatives, since religions are innately conservative. Again and again throughout the book, he not only gives the other side of an argument its due, but even declares how necessary his opponents are to a balanced viewpoint. Rather than try to use religion to support his views, he argues against any who do so without the humility to recognize the right on the other side. Religion deserves to be more than a tool for either political party.
Dionne provides a nuanced narrative of the use/misuse of religion by politicians. That doesn't mean he sees no role for faith based politics, both progressive and conservative. Indeed he says they both have a part to play. He deplores the restriction of religious fervor to gay marriage and abortion, without pretending that those issues are unimportant or irrelevant.
In case you think this all seems namby-pamby and wishy-washy, be prepared for his section on Terry Schiavo, which is scathing. He is not above a jeremiad, but the center of his book is pastoral, more pastoral than some pastors I've endured.
This is a book to rile you up and calm you down. To move you to action, but humility too. Simply the best book on religion and politics I have come across.
Readers, however, en route to accomplishing Dionne's purpose, are likely to find themselves overwhelmed with Dionne's recitation of unquestionable expertise on the role of religiosity in general, and find it tedious to extricate the current forces operating to not only strengthen even evangelical America but draw it away from its recent focus on sex.