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God and Man and Politics

A Christian perspective on the public square.

Jul 4, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 40 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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The City of Man

Prayer Breakfast

Religion and Politics in a New Era

by Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner

Moody, 144 pp., $19.99

It is commonly supposed that liberal democracy gives rise to a dangerous and insuperable conflict between faith and politics. Many progressives, even as they regard democracy as an all-embracing belief system, contend that to respect the separation of church and state, it is necessary to banish not merely religion but also religiously inspired language, thought, and conduct from politics. Libertarian conservatives often adopt an adversarial stance toward religious faith because they identify it with a determination to expand government by authorizing it to implement a divinely sanctioned moral order. And not a few religious conservatives, by equating liberty with libertinism and equality with leveling, provide support for the view that liberal democracy and religious faith can at best enjoy a cold peace.

Our universities reinforce these common opinions. The liberalism of John Rawls—which has long dominated in philosophy departments, the theory wing of political science departments, and law schools—regards religious opinions as unwelcome in the public sphere because they rest on assumptions that not all citizens share. In the academy, Rawlsian liberalism’s most popular competitors, postmodernism and multiculturalism, also encourage the exclusion of religion from public life. Postmodernism purports to authoritatively and absolutely discredit all absolutes, foremost among them religious faith. Multiculturalism officially proclaims respect for all cultures but, in practice, treats Western civilization (and within it, Christianity) as uniquely corrupt and corrupting.

Add to all this the failure of our universities to make study of the fundamentals and history of religion an essential part of liberal education, and it is small wonder that the conviction that liberal democracy and religious faith must adopt an adversarial stance toward each other is especially strong among the educationally well-credentialed. 

Contrary to the common conviction, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner show in this succinct, measured, and incisive volume that Christian faith is compatible with, indeed can exemplify, the liberal and democratic spirit.  What’s more, Gerson and Wehner suggest—both by their supple argument and generous tone—that Christian faith, when true to its sacred sources, may provide indispensable support for liberal democracy.

The City of Man is part of the Moody Cultural Renewal series, which “brings biblical thought to bear on matters of contemporary concern.” One of the general editors of the series, Timothy Keller, senior pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and bestselling author of The Reason for God, observes in the foreword that “in each society, time, and place, the form of political involvement has to be worked out differently, with the utmost faithfulness to the Scripture, but also the greatest sensitivity to culture, time, and place.” Keller, as well as Gerson and Wehner, emphasize that the political moment is a challenging one for Christians: Progressive mainline Protestant churches are declining, conservative evangelical churches are growing, secularism remains on the rise, the leaders of the religious right of the 1970s and ’80s are fading from the scene, and conservatism is enjoying a popular renewal in significant measure in response to President Obama’s transformative domestic agenda.

The authors are experienced public officials and serious thinkers. Gerson, a former policy adviser and speechwriter to President George W. Bush, writes a syndicated column; Wehner, former deputy assistant to President Bush and director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, prolific blogger, and regular contributor to magazines and newspapers.

Gerson and Wehner are also evangelical Christians, and they have written The City of Man to address the challenges that conservative Christians, in particular, face in fulfilling both their religious obligations and civic duty. But their analysis will be of interest to all who wish to understand the place of religion in a free society.

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