cover image God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Relgion in Politics

God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Relgion in Politics

Stephen L. Carter. Basic Books, $26 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-465-00886-5

Religion can't be kept out of public life. Yale Law School's Carter, building on the argument he made in The Culture of Disbelief, says the only people who want religious people to abandon religion when they enter the public square are people who think religion isn't very important. Indeed, Carter contends, religious discourse very often enriches public debate. Drawing on such historians as Charles Marsh and Nathan Hatch, Carter argues that religion has long motivated social change in America, noting that Christianity undergirded the civil rights movement and crusades such as abolitionism, labor and temperance. But if religion is often good for politics, he says, it's sometimes been ""disastrous"" for people's religiosity. Black preachers, for example, have had to soften their ""prophetic ministry"" in order to play in the corridors of power. Carter not only mines the past, he also takes on contemporary policy issues such as school choice, suggesting that religious people should rally around a platform that elevates ""parental interest above the interest of the state."" Contra Amy Gutman (Democratic Education), Carter believes that religious parents should be able to raise religious children, and that children should not be coerced into a public school system hostile to their beliefs. These subtle arguments are cast in the elegant prose Carter fans have come to expect. His is a sane, fresh voice in the too-often stale debate about religion and public life. (Oct.) Forecast: Carter's The Culture of Disbelief altered America's debate on religion's role in public life, and there is no reason that this outstanding, thoughtful title shouldn't do the same particularly since its release is timed so perfectly with the presidential election.