The Culture Of Disbelief has been the subject of an enormous amount of media attention from the first moment it was published. Hugely successful in hardcover, the Anchor paperback is sure to find a large audience as the ever-increasing, enduring debate about the relationship of church and state in America continues. In The Culture Of Disbelief, Stephen Carter explains how we can preserve the vital separation of church and state while embracing rather than trivializing the faith of millions of citizens or treating religious believers with disdain. What makes Carter's work so intriguing is that he uses liberal means to arrive at what are often considered conservative ends. Explaining how preserving a special role for religious communities can strengthen our democracy, The Culture Of Disbelief recovers the long tradition of liberal religious witness (for example, the antislavery, antisegregation, and Vietnam-era antiwar movements). Carter argues that the problem with the 1992 Republican convention was not the fact of open religious advocacy, but the political positions being advocated.
As in his previous book on race ( Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby ), Yale law professor Carter offers a thoughful, cogent and ideologically subtle analysis of a divisive American issue. A deep believer ``in the importance of both religious tradition and liberal dialogue,'' Carter here suggests ways to maintain both. Our culture, he stresses, pressures people to ``treat religion as a hobby'' while the use of religion for political ends has further debased it. Criticizing Supreme Court decisions concerning the separation of church and state as enforcing ``public secularism,'' he argues for granting religious groups more latitude to participate in the welfare state, allowing proven church drug rehabilitation programs, for example, to compete for public funding. Carter does, however, reject organized prayer in public schools for fear of advancing ``the interests of one religious tradition over another.'' He suggests religious dialogue should be part of the debate over euthanasia and abortion and that pro-choicers would do better to argue positive constitutional rights rather than demeaning their opponents as ``zealots.'' In a postscript written after the events at Waco, Tex., Carter cautions that ``we must not make the mistake of confusing the Branch Davidians' sinfulness with their religiosity . . . Otherwise, the putative `fanaticism' of the Davidians becomes virtually indistinguishable from the `fanaticism' of Martin Luther King Jr.'' (Sept.)