Here is an interesting looking new book about the renowned nineteenth century abolitionist and orator, Frederick Douglass: Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet (North Carolina Press), by D.H. Dilbeck. Douglass was both a believing Christian and a powerful critic of the hypocrisy of early American Christians who defended slavery. This book looks to be a comprehensive treatment of his prophetic witness.
From his enslavement to freedom, Frederick Douglass was one of America’s most extraordinary champions of liberty and equality. Throughout his long life, Douglass was also a man of profound religious conviction. In this concise and original biography, D. H. Dilbeck offers a provocative interpretation of Douglass’s life through the lens of his faith. In an era when the role of religion in public life is as contentious as ever, Dilbeck provides essential new perspective on Douglass’s place in American history.
Douglass came to faith as a teenager among African American Methodists in Baltimore. For the rest of his life, he adhered to a distinctly prophetic Christianity. Imitating the ancient Hebrew prophets and Jesus Christ, Douglass boldly condemned evil and oppression, especially when committed by the powerful. Dilbeck shows how Douglass’s prophetic Christianity provided purpose and unity to his wide-ranging work as an author, editor, orator, and reformer. As “America’s Prophet,” Douglass exposed his nation’s moral failures and hypocrisies in the hopes of creating a more just society. He admonished his fellow Americans to truly abide by the political and religious ideals they professed to hold most dear. Two hundred years after his birth, Douglass’s prophetic voice remains as timely as ever.
The two most prevalent ways of understanding the early American experience concerning religion might be styled as providential Christianity and Enlightenment secularism. But this new book by Christopher Grasso, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War (OUP), seems to describe a third possibility: doubt. It’s not crystal clear to me from the description below how the author distinguishes agnosticism from Enlightenment/secular skepticism. Guess I’ll have to read the book!
Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the dialogue of religious skepticism and faith shaped struggles over the place of religion in politics. It produced different visions of knowledge and education in an “enlightened” society. It fueled social reform in an era of economic transformation, territorial expansion, and social change. Ultimately, as Christopher Grasso argues in this definitive work, it molded the making and eventual unmaking of American nationalism.
Religious skepticism has been rendered nearly invisible in American religious history, which often stresses the evangelicalism of the era or the “secularization” said to be happening behind people’s backs, or assumes that skepticism was for intellectuals and ordinary people who stayed away from church were merely indifferent. Certainly the efforts of vocal “infidels” or “freethinkers” were dwarfed by the legions conducting religious revivals, creating missions and moral reform societies, distributing Bibles and Christian tracts, and building churches across the land. Even if few Americans publicly challenged Christian truth claims, many more quietly doubted, and religious skepticism touched–and in some cases transformed–many individual lives. Commentators considered religious doubt to be a persistent problem, because they believed that skeptical challenges to the grounds of faith–the Bible, the church, and personal experience–threatened the foundations of American society.
Skepticism and American Faith examines the ways that Americans–ministers, merchants, and mystics; physicians, schoolteachers, and feminists; self-help writers, slaveholders, shoemakers, and soldiers–wrestled with faith and doubt as they lived their daily lives and tried to make sense of their world.
I recently had occasion to speak to some 7th and 8th graders about some of the constitutional rules concerning the freedom of speech. One thing that struck me in talking to them is the comparative receptivity of this group to “hate speech” restrictions. Unlike many other countries, the United States has, thus far, resisted regulating such speech because of its assertedly “hateful” or “harmful” qualities. Here’s an interesting looking new study of the relationship of hate speech and religion, an area that is receiving new scholarly interest in light of increasing calls for government speech restrictions that are deemed “hateful”–Putting Faith in Hate: When Religion is the Source or Target of Hate Speech (CUP) by Richard Moon.
To allow or restrict hate speech is a hotly debated issue in many societies. While the right to freedom of speech is fundamental to liberal democracies, most countries have accepted that hate speech causes significant harm and ought to be regulated. Richard Moon examines the application of hate speech laws when religion is either the source or target of such speech. Moon describes the various legal restrictions on hate speech, religious insult, and blasphemy in Canada, Europe and elsewhere, and uses cases from different jurisdictions to illustrate the particular challenges raised by religious hate speech. The issues addressed are highly topical: speech that attacks religious communities, specifically anti-Muslim rhetoric, and hateful speech that is based on religious doctrine or scripture, such as anti-gay speech. The book draws on a rich understanding of freedom of expression, the harms of hate speech, and the role of religion in public life.
Here is an interesting-looking book arguing that the contemporary US-Israel alliance has less to do with recent phenomena and more to do with the historical identification Americans have had with Biblical Israel. The identification dates to the English Reformation. The Puritans brought with them a strong sense of commonality with the Israel of the Old Testament–consider all those Old-Testament names they gave their children–and that sense of identity has continued in American Protestantism, and therefore American culture more generally, ever since. In this way, contemporary Evangelicals really are the heirs of Cotton Mather.
The book is God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America (University of Pennylvania Press), by Samuel Goldman, a political scientist at George Washington University. The publisher’s description follows:
The United States is Israel’s closest ally in the world. The fact is undeniable, and undeniably controversial, not least because it so often inspires conspiracy theorizing among those who refuse to believe that the special relationship serves America’s strategic interests or places the United States on the morally correct side of Israel’s enduring conflict with the Palestinians. Some point to the nefarious influence of a powerful “Israel lobby” within the halls of Congress. Others detect the hand of evangelical Protestants who fervently support Israel for their own theological reasons. The underlying assumption of all such accounts is that America’s support for Israel must flow from a mixture of collusion, manipulation, and ideologically driven foolishness.
Samuel Goldman proposes another explanation. The political culture of the United States, he argues, has been marked from the very beginning by a Christian theology that views the American nation as deeply implicated in the historical fate of biblical Israel. God’s Country is the first book to tell the complete story of Christian Zionism in American political and religious thought from the Puritans to 9/11. It identifies three sources of American Christian support for a Jewish state: covenant, or the idea of an ongoing relationship between God and the Jewish people; prophecy, or biblical predictions of return to The Promised Land; and cultural affinity, based on shared values and similar institutions. Combining original research with insights from the work of historians of American religion, Goldman crafts a provocative narrative that chronicles Americans’ attachment to the State of Israel.
As Marc wrote last week, religious accommodations are the focal point of most of our law-and-religious controversies nowadays. When it comes to taxes, of course, the government accommodates religious organizations by exempting them (it does this for other charitable organizations as well). No doubt these exemptions, so much a part of American tradition, will come under increasing scrutiny in the years ahead.
A forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press, God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law, addresses the topic. The author is Loyola University Chicago Law Professor Samuel D. Brunson. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Seventy-five percent of Americans claim religious affiliation, which can impact their taxpaying responsibilities. In this illuminating book, Samuel D. Brunson describes the many problems and breakdowns that can occur when tax meets religion in the United States, and shows how the US government has too often responded to these issues in an unprincipled, ad hoc manner. God and the IRS offers a better framework to understand tax and religion. It should be read by scholars of religion and the law, policymakers, and individuals interested in understanding the implications of taxation on their religious practices.
Our sister institution, Università LUMSA in Rome, has announced that it will host a summer school in Vatican Law for two weeks this coming July. The program is open to students of international law, EU Law, canon law and law and religion, and will also appeal to those who work in institutions that have relationships with the Holy See. Topics will include: historical introduction of the Vatican City State; introduction to canon law; the relationship between Vatican Law and canon law; the Holy See and the Roman Curia; guarantees of freedom of the Holy See; relationship between the Holy See and the Vatican City State; constitutive and constitutional principles; proﬁles of international law; sources of Vatican Law; the judicial system; Vatican substantive and procedural civil law; Vatican substantive and procedural criminal law; labor law; administrative law; extraterritoriality; financial and monetary system; and money laundering legislation.
For further details, please check the link above.
This Friday, January 26, the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies (a publication of St. John’s University School of Law) will host a symposium on the new casebook Christian Legal Thought: Materials and Cases (2017) by Patrick M. Brennan (Villanova) and William S. Brewbaker III (University of Alabama). The symposium will take place at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan from 3 PM to 6 PM, with a reception at the Club following from 6 PM to 7 PM. It will feature as panelists both casebook authors, as well as Professors Randy Beck (University of Georgia), Angela C. Carmella (Seton Hall), Richard W. Garnett (Notre Dame), Michael P. Moreland (Villanova), and David A. Skeel, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania). The event is free and open to the public (please note the New York Athletic Club’s dress guidelines). More information, including whom to contact with questions, is available here. The January 19 deadline to RSVP has been extended to January 25.