A brilliant and urgent appraisal of one of the most profound conflicts of our time
Even before George W. Bush gained reelection by wooing religiously devout "values voters," it was clear that church-state matters in the United States had reached a crisis. With Divided by God, Noah Feldman shows that the crisis is as old as this countryand looks to our nation's past to show how it might be resolved.
Today more than ever, ours is a religiously diverse society: Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist as well as Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. And yet more than ever, committed Christians are making themselves felt in politics and culture.
What are the implications of this paradox? To answer this question, Feldman makes clear that again and again in our nation's history diversity has forced us to redraw the lines in the church-state divide. In vivid, dramatic chapters, he describes how we as a people have resolved conflicts over the Bible, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the teaching of evolution through appeals to shared values of liberty, equality, and freedom of conscience. And he proposes a brilliant solution to our current crisis, one that honors our religious diversity while respecting the long-held conviction that religion and state should not mix.
Divided by God speaks to the headlines, even as it tells the story of a long-running conflict that has made the American people who we are.
Having examined Islam and democracy in his first book, “After Jihad,” Feldman, a law professor at N.Y.U., turns his attention to America’s own fraught religious-secular divide. Much of the book consists of an agile account of the evolution of church-state relations, from the creation of the First Amendment to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling against a public display of the Ten Commandments. Feldman identifies two polarized camps today: “values evangelicals,” who uphold religious values as integral to political decisions, and “legal secularists,” whose aim is to keep religion and government separate. He downplays the heterogeneity within these groups, perhaps in order to bolster his solution for reconciliation: sanctioning “public manifestations of religion,” while withholding government funding from religious institutions.