cover image Pagans & Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac

Pagans & Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac

Stephen D. Smith. Eerdmans, $48 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7631-7

Smith (The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom), professor of law at UC San Diego, has an elegant take on T.S. Eliot’s proposition that a contest between Christianity and “modern Paganism” would decide the West’s future, arguing that Eliot’s thought experiment can illuminate contemporary American culture wars. Defining paganism as a persistent religious worldview that locates the sacred in the world rather than in God’s realm is key to Smith’s position; progressive lawyers, in his estimation, have successfully turned the “neutrally agnostic” Constitution into a “partisan weapon” that respects the sacred values of modern paganism while denying authority to the views of Christians. He argues that this is most visible in the “public annexation of the marketplace,” where Christian workers are required to abide by pagan values, such as acceptance of nontraditional conceptions of sexual orientation and gender identity. The book’s early musings on human nature and religion are well-reasoned and draw on a wide range of sources from antiquity to the present. This makes Smith’s avoidance of discussing Christian sexual ethics and the vast array of Christian communities that subscribe to many “pagan practices” particularly frustrating. Evangelical readers will enjoy this work, but others will likely remain skeptical of Smith’s grand claims. (Nov.)