The Boy Who Cried Wolf Hypothesis (Further Thoughts in Response to Rob)

A couple of further thought in response to Rob Vischer, with whom I am greatly enjoying an exchange concerning perceptions of discrimination against Christians.

First, Rob writes that Christians are “lead[ing] the charge” against Muslims in some communities, citing conservative Christian support for so-called anti-Sharia laws and for the denial of zoning permits for the construction of mosques. I wonder if this is true. No doubt some conservative Christians do support these policies. But some say that those leading the charge today against immigrants, and those most hostile toward Muslims (and African Americans, and others, too), from the right tend to be non-Christians, not Christians. Rob suggests that the failure of some conservative Christians to advocate against, e.g., anti-Sharia laws might “smooth the way for the demonization of conservative Christians.” Perhaps that is true, but the point assumes that politics rewards a kind of principled, rational consistency (I have disagreed with Tom Berg in a similar way before, regarding his view that politics rewards reciprocality and consistency). Conservative Christians, the argument seems to say, are likelier to be rewarded with non-demonization if they support the non-demonization of another group. But it seems to me that the real reasons for Christian demonization are located in very different places than these, and that the question of whether Christians will or will not be demonized as a political and/or cultural matter depends on much more powerful political and cultural forces. To name two: the cultural desires and aspirations of the secular left and of religiously disengaged conservatism.

Second, Rob says that Christians should be “specific and restrained” in pointing out discrimination against Christians. The reason is that “our too-easy embrace of that narrative [of discrimination and/or persecution]…can limit its power when we need it most.” I don’t think I agree with this point, but whether I could agree with it or not would depend upon facts I don’t presently possess. The point being pressed by Rob could be called “the boy who cried wolf” hypothesis–the more frequently Christians point out episodes of discrimination and/or persecution against themselves, the more likely they are to be labeled “whiners” or some similarly dismissive appellation by their cultural and political opponents, and the less likely they will be to succeed when they invoke the charge of discrimination and/or persecution when it “really” happens. But why should one think that invoking discrimination is like this? To the contrary, why should one not think that the more one invokes the discrimination/persecution charge, the more powerful it becomes. And the less frequently one invokes it, the less plausible it seems (as, indeed, it seemed very implausible to the Washington State Supreme Court in the example Rob cites, notwithstanding what are to me the entirely persuasive arguments that Rob himself makes). You could call it the muscle hypothesis–the more you exercise, the stronger you get. There are many other examples of the power that the charge of discrimination can generate on behalf of a cause as a legal and political matter. Indeed, constitutional law (among other areas) is absolutely stuffed to the gills with them. If the objective is legal or political success, I’m not sure that I would accept the boy who cried wolf hypothesis as just self-evidently true, at least not without further evidence that this is, in fact, the likely outcome of “too many” claims of discrimination/persecution. In this instance, less may not be more. More may be more.

Dean Rob Vischer and I on Discrimination Against Christians

Dean Rob Vischer (U. St. Thomas) has a comment over at the Mirror of Justice site concerning discrimination against Christians, in which he concludes by arguing that:

religious liberty is only as strong as the degree to which it protects the most vulnerable among us.  If millions of Americans who (should) care deeply about religious liberty fundamentally misperceive where the most potent threats are aimed, religious liberty for all is on shaky ground.  This is an argument that some conservative Christians are championing — Robby George and Russell Moore are two leading examples — but it faces an uphill climb, in part because Christians have been hearing about our own persecution for a very long time.

Christian leaders and scholars need to cultivate a new commitment to discernment: distinguishing between the discomfort of holding increasingly unpopular beliefs and the real persecution that — thus far, at least — been far more prevalent in our lyrics than in our legal system.

I responded to Rob as follows:

I see things a little differently than Rob does in his latest post concerning discrimination against Christians. I hasten to add that I am neither an Evangelical conservative Christian nor have I ever listened to Christian rock. I also have not read the original piece to which Rob links. The disagreements run to a number of issues, and as to some I am not sure they are disagreements at all. But for purposes of this post, let me point out three:

Objection from demandingness: Rob says that “[i]f millions of Americans who (should) care deeply about religious liberty fundamentally misperceive where the most potent threats are aimed, religious liberty for all is on shaky ground.” I am not sure this argument is correct. A person could perceive certain threats to religious liberty and not others, and still make contributions to the protection of religious liberty. He or she could defend certain principles in certain contexts and not in others, and still help toward the defense of those principles. That person need not have to perceive all threats, as well as the relative strength of those threats, and make all possible defenses. But Rob seems to say that if one does not do this, then one is contributing to the weakening of religious liberty. That imposes a very high standard on people to perceive accurately the quality of all threats and defend religious liberty accordingly. Otherwise they are weakening religious freedom.

Global context: Rob may not have been saying this, but I also do not agree that Americans should recognize that discrimination and persecution of Christians is, at least as a global phenomenon, of lesser importance or significance or urgency than discrimination against other religious groups. In fact, if anything it is secular Americans, not Evangelical Christians, who fundamentally misperceive where the most potent threats to religious freedom are aimed. Those threats are aimed at Christians in the Mideast. The American political regime that preceded this one consistently, almost willfully, misperceived that threat to religious freedom. Many American Christians seem not to perceive the atrocities that have been and are occurring to their co-religionists, and that my colleague, Mark Movsesian (among others), has documented. But I am not sure that I blame them for this. Here again, I revert to the first point of disagreement. It will be very difficult to protect religious freedom if every person has to accurately assess the relative strength of various threats to religious freedom and protect them in corresponding proportion. Whose metrics will be used? What happens when we disagree about the relative power of the threats? Is it not better to allow for different constituencies to emphasize and advocate for different problem issues? Is it not a more realistic approach that might result in the collective strengthening of religious freedom?

Just Wait Until It’s Worse!: Finally, I disagree with an implication of Rob’s post: that until Christians in this country have it as bad as other constituencies, they need to recognize their own relatively insignificant lot and wait for things to get worse before they can really start to complain. Rob almost certainly did not mean to say this, but the argument he makes reminds me very much of the ‘now that’s real persecution‘ style of argument. It is of course true that people ought to be concerned with severe violations of religious freedom. But I do not think it is true that people ought to measure or evaluate the state of their own religious freedom only by comparison with its worst violations. There is inevitably a kind of recursion to the lowest common denominator in these kinds of arguments, a suggestion that until American Christians endure the same sorts of threats as others, they are just “whining.” I must say that this argument (as I’ve written before) has always been mysterious and borderline perverse to me. Assuming the threats to religious liberty (as in point 1) to be of differential urgency, why is it necessary for those threats to become much, much worse before we will acknowledge their legitimacy?

Rob has responded to me, in part agreeing, in part disagreeing. I’ll try to put up another post on two specific questions raised in his responsive post: (1) Does it in fact follow that advocating for religious freedom in one context but not in another makes it more likely that religious freedom in the first context is threatened?; and (2) Is the “boy who cried wolf” phenomenon described by Rob in fact an accurate description of the way in which claims for religious freedom succeed or fail. That is, is Rob right that Christians ought to save their complaints for really bad sorts of discrimination, lest they be ignored when those really bad sorts of discrimination arise? Suffice it to say for now that I am skeptical on both counts, but particularly the second.

Danish Blasphemy Prosecution for Koran Burning

Here’s a fascinating story in the New York Times about a prosecution in Denmark for blasphemy, against a man who burned a Koran and posted his burning to Facebook. It seems that blasphemy laws remain on the Danish books, notwithstanding that the country is, by all accounts, very secular. Though the decision to charge was made at the local level, it has been ratified by Denmark’s attorney general.

No one has been convicted under the Danish blasphemy laws since 1946, when the law was used to prosecute a man who dressed up as a priest and mock “baptized” a doll.

A few thoughts:

1. Apparently the defendant had been charged initially with a “hate speech” crime, but the charge was subsequently changed to blasphemy. Perhaps hate speech is a lesser included offense? The linear continuity of hate speech with blasphemy is itself worthy of a separate article. Indeed, as I have argued at length, but as Tocqueville said more pithily, freedom never governs without faith. The only real question for a society that enjoys some speech protections is for what ends speech will be restricted, not whether it will restrict it at all. Of course, it will. And it seems altogether natural that the proscription on hate speech would in the end find its fullest and most complete expression in the zealotry (I use the term neutrally) of an anti-blasphemy law. (Parenthetically, the man also stated that he hated children. That seems rather sweeping, and perhaps worthy of its own hate speech prosecution. Perhaps if he had said, “I hate some children,” one might be more sympathetic.)

2. Denmark of course has a recent history of conflict with Islam, as in the infamous Mohammed cartoon incident about 10 years ago that resulted in no charges, and, as the story says, “deadly riots, attacks on Danish embassies in the Middle East and a trade boycott against Denmark.” Perhaps, for these and other reasons, Denmark has come to a different conclusion today. Still, it’s clear from the story that the burning of a Bible is legal, since in 1997 a Danish artist burned a copy of the Bible on television and nobody batted an eye. Perhaps what Denmark really needs is to refine its blasphemy laws–to give more detailed guidance about which religious texts may be defiled with impunity and which must be let alone. One thing that Denmark should not do: abandon blasphemy laws. It will only send such laws underground, and similar policies will be enforced through other means without the honesty of calling them what they are (vide, e.g., hate speech).

3.  The defendant’s lawyer seems to be making the utterly bizarre claim that the man acted in “self-defense” in burning the Koran, because the Koran contains language about how Mohammed’s followers “must kill the infidel.” I don’t know the Danish law of self-defense, but this strikes me as a highly unusual principle of proportionality. But I suppose we need to know about the physical assaults committed by the Koran on this poor man in order properly to judge the self-defense claim.

4. Don’t miss the wonderful comments of Professor Per Mouritsen, who with one side of his mouth tells us that “blasphemy law is a thing of the past” and with the other tells the Times that in Denmark, “the very idea that religion is taken seriously is the antithesis of being a good citizen.” Perhaps Denmark should adopt laws authorizing the state-enforced (but nondiscriminatory, of course) burning of all holy books. It could be done on a state holiday. Call it “Conflagration Sunday.”

Symposium Papers on Law and Religion in an Increasingly Polarized America

The Lewis and Clark Law Review, with the guidance of Professor Jim Oleske, has put together a very nice symposium on Law and Religion in an Increasingly Polarized America. Very interesting papers by Kathleen Brady, Kent Greenawalt, Jessie Hill, Andy Koppelman, Ron Krotoszynski, Chip Lupu and Bob Tuttle, Jim Oleske, and Robin Wilson.

I’ve got a piece in there too, Religious Accommodation, Religious Tradition, and Political Polarization, which takes a somewhat critical look at the religious accommodation regime from, as it were, the other side.

Thoughts on Conference on “Faith, Sexuality, and the Meaning of Freedom”

I am just back from a conference at Yale Law School organized jointly by Professors Robin Wilson and Bill Eskridge on “Faith, Sexuality, and the Meaning of Freedom,” and I offer here some general thoughts about the presentations and the nature of the conference. While the conference’s rules do not permit me to get into specifics about who said what, my overall impression is that it was a gathering of academics, politicians, religious leaders, and practitioners drawn from a comparatively broad spectrum of political, religious, and cultural opinion. Robin and Bill are to be commended, in my view, for that balance–always difficult to achieve to everyone’s satisfaction.

One of the conference’s launch points was the fairly recent report by the US Commission on Civil Rights entitled, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles With Civil Liberties,” but which did not contain, in my view, very much sound advice for achieving peaceful coexistence or reconciliation. All of the panels concerned the topic of achieving modus vivendi arrangements for the proper legal accommodation of rights of religious liberty and rights of sexual freedom and equality. This has been a large and important part of Robin’s own policy work over the last few years, and the so-called Utah Compromise was studied and considered in this respect.

Two things stood out for me in particular.

First, one of the more interesting debates among the group, and, it seems to me, going forward, is about the baseline question of what constitutes the sort of discrimination that the law ought to proscribe in the first place. Once a particular judgment is found to be proscribable discrimination (I suppose the term is “invidious”), the result is all but foreordained. Some argued that the motivation for a particular discrimination is irrelevant; so long as the effect is adverse action against a person within a designated protected category, that ought to be sufficient. Others returned that this was in effect stacking the deck. The first question must be whether somebody has engaged in invidious discrimination at all, and that this is not a question about motivation but about how we properly describe the discrimination that the person has made. Barronelle Stutzman’s case is one example of this sort of debate, and this brief authored by Professor Steve Smith addresses the question. But the larger issue of the baseline affects many sorts of discriminations that people make in other contexts. Suppose, for example, that a hospital refuses to perform a surgery to remove the healthy uterus of a woman who identifies as transgender and desires to become a man. Is that the sort of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that the law should condemn? Or is it nothing of the kind–is it simply a judgment that hospitals do not remove healthy uteruses–and certainly nothing like a hospital’s refusal to perform heart bypass surgery on a woman who identifies as transgender?

Second, one of the pervasive themes of the conference was the conflict between perfectionist and anti-perfectionist accounts of liberalism, and whether perfectionist liberalism is in its ascendancy at the moment. As is well-known, Robin, in her work with others like Professor Douglas Laycock and some of our own MOJ colleagues, has worked tirelessly to hammer out compromises that reflect a judicious anti-perfectionist liberalism. But my sense, in some ways confirmed by this conference, is that perfectionist accounts of liberalism (indeed, perfectionist accounts of politics in general) cannot really ever be sidelined. My own inclinations have always been rather pessimistic when it comes to true pluralism in a liberal democratic nation, even as I deeply appreciate the work of Robin and others. I believe strongly that the expressive and symbolic power of the law is an extremely important feature of it–what the law says about its people, what its people are proud of it to say, always lurks as a sort of subtext beneath the surface of whatever modus vivendi arrangements we might achieve. It is a mistake to ignore that subtext, as it will otherwise only come frothing and bubbling up at unexpected moments.

My own presentation involved what is seemingly a somewhat esoteric topic–Article XI of the Treaty of Tripoli–which begins with the statement that “[T]he government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.” Part of my talk involved the history of Article XI (which is fascinating) but part suggested that the fight over American identity that the phrase (and many phrases like it) has come to represent–and the symbolic and expressive force of the law–is both a substantial impediment to anti-perfectionist liberal democratic governance and an inevitable and important feature of any government worth the name. More on this soon, I hope.

Four Pieces on Culture Warring–Inevitable, Interminable, Permanent

For one reason or another, a number of people in the blogosphere have been writing culture war posts in the last few days. Perhaps it’s the end of the year, or the looming political changes, or exam avoidance, or just the holiday cheer. For those who are interested, have a look at Mark Tushnet’s recent post, Paul Horwitz’s response, and this rather grim comment by R.J. Snell–all of them culture war related.

But the piece I really want to highlight is alluded to in the Snell post–Philip Rieff’s “The Newer Noises of War in the Second Culture Camp: Notes on Professor Burt’s Legal Fictions,” published in 1991 and in response to Robert Burt’s then-recent book, “Two Jewish Justices: Outcasts in the Promised Land.” I cannot do justice to the entire piece, but here is a fragment that is, in its way, responsive to each of the three posts above:

Let there be fight? And there was. And there is. James Joyce’s pun, on the words of Jewish second world creation, Genesis 1:3, is more than mildly amusing; it gives readers the most exact and concise account I know of the sociological form of culture. Culture is the form of fighting before the firing actually begins. Every culture declares peace on its own inevitably political terms. Unless a culture is defeated politically, as the Jewish was from the Roman conquest to the founding of Israel, it will assert itself politically. A living culture, even one that imitates life by politicizing its cultural impoverishment, works for itself. That cultural work is the matter and manner of disarming competing cultures, inside and outside its previously bounded self. In its disarming manner, a culture makes the ultimate political means of enforcement, armed force, unnecessary….

12) Kulturkampf. The German compound word for the disarming force/form of culture has an awkward English equivalent: culture/struggle. As I remarked in the first note, the punning polemical genius of Joyce brought him closer than any sociologist I know to both the formal fighting sense of culture and its superordinate creative sense. It is in that both/and that the historical task of culture is always and everywhere the same: the creation of a world in which its inhabitants may find themselves at home and yet accommodate the stranger without yielding their habitus to him. Here and now, pluralism has its price: a united front of second against third world assaults [for Rieff’s discussion of first, second, and third worlds, see earlier in the piece], which are often mounted in the name of pluralism.

13) Origins of kulturkampf. Law is the ultimate weapon, before any turn to harder ware, in a kulturkampf. That word first appeared in common German use in the early 1870’s during the struggle of the National Liberal political party to disarm by law the moral/educational authority, and political pulpitry, of a triumphalist Roman Catholic hierarchy, revitalized as it then was by its dogma of papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The aim of the National Liberals was to shift the German Catholic imagination away from the church to the state. The Pope responded to newly restrictive laws by forbidding clerical conformity to them. In turn, the state dismissed clerical resisters from their duties and, moreover, suspended their state salaries. Elites of the kulturstaat, both Catholic and Protestant, then learned a fatally rational and enduring lesson: the high price of being other than indifferent to the temptation of opposing the machtstaat.

On Bach’s B minor Mass

Here’s a fun article on J.S. Bach’s magnificent Mass in B minor, one of the magisterial and final pinnacles of his oeuvre, and yet in some ways puzzling. What, after all, was a faithful Lutheran doing setting an entire Roman Catholic Mass–a Missa Tota?

And for performances, stay away from the trendy and the faux HIP (Historically Informed Performances). Someday I will write a rancorous essay entitled, “Historically Informed Performances: The Living (and oh so HIP) Originalism of Classical Music.”

Instead savor the magnificently moody and measured performances of Furtwängler and Scherchen. Or, if you can’t get ahold of those, this version conducted by Herbert von Karajan will do.

The High Church Temptation

Among the many interesting features of church-state political and social relations probed by Anthony Trollope in his novels are the various temptations to which adherents of the several Anglican groupings in mid-19th century England might become prone. The following passage from “Barchester Towers,” which tells of the early scholarly and ecclesiastical career of one Reverend Francis Arabin (now rector of a small parish called St. Ewald’s), describes very effectively one of the chief temptations for High Churchmen…eventual collapse into Roman Catholicism. Note, in particular, Trollope’s reference to Sir John Henry Newman (and his favorable comments about schismatics!).

And what of Low Church temptations? In what might those consist? That is for another post. Here is Trollope on the Rev. Arabin (from Chapter XX):

He had been a religious lad before he left school. That is, he had addicted himself to a party in religion, and having done so had received that benefit which most men do who become partisans in such a cause. We are much too apt to look at schism in our church as an unmitigated evil. Moderate schism, if there may be such a thing, at any rate calls attention to subject, draws in supporters who would otherwise have been inattentive to the matter, and teaches men to think upon religion. How great an amount of good of this description has followed that movement in the Church of England which commenced with the publication of Froude’s Remains!

As a young boy Arabin took up the cudgels on the side of the Tractarians, and at Oxford he sat for a while at the feet of the great Newman. To this cause he lent all his faculties. For it he concocted verses, for it he made speeches, for it he scintillated the brightest sparks of his quiet wit. For it he ate and drank and dressed, and had his being. In due process of time he took his degree, and wrote himself B.A., but he did not do so with any remarkable amount of academical éclat. He had occupied himself too much with high church matters, and the polemics, politics, and outward demonstrations usually concurrent with high churchmanship, to devote himself with sufficient vigour to the acquisition of a double first. He was not a double first, nor even a first class man; but he revenged himself on the university by putting firsts and double firsts out of fashion for the year, and laughing down a species of pedantry which at the age of twenty-three leaves no room in a man’s mind for graver subjects than conic sections and Greek accents.

Greek accents, however, and conic sections were esteemed necessaries at Balliol, and there was no admittance there for Mr. Arabin within the lists of its fellows. Lazarus, however, the richest and most comfortable abode of Oxford dons, opened its bosom to the young champion of a church militant. Mr. Arabin was ordained, and became a fellow soon after taking his degree, and shortly after that was chosen professor of poetry.

And now came the moment of his great danger. After many mental struggles, and an agony of doubt which may well be surmised, the great prophet of the Tractarians confessed himself a Roman Catholic. Mr. Newman left the Church of England, and with him carried many a waverer. He did not carry off Mr. Arabin, but the escape which that gentleman had was a very narrow one. He left Oxford for a while that he might meditate in complete peace on the step which appeared to him to be all but unavoidable, and shut himself up in a little village on the sea-shore of one of our remotest counties, that he might learn by communing with his own soul whether or no he could with a safe conscience remain within the pale of his mother church.

Things would have gone badly with him there had he been left entirely to himself. Every thing was against him: all his worldly interests required him to remain a Protestant; and he looked on his worldly interests as a legion of foes, to get the better of whom was a point of extremest honour. In his then state of ecstatic agony such a conquest would have cost him little; he could easily have thrown away all his livelihood; but it cost him much to get over the idea that by choosing the Church of England he should be open in his own mind to the charge that he had been led to such a choice by unworthy motives. Then his heart was against him: he loved with a strong and eager love the man who had hitherto been his guide, and yearned to follow his footsteps. His tastes were against him: the ceremonies and pomps of the Church of Rome, their august feasts and solemn fasts, invited his imagination and pleased his eye. His flesh was against him: how great an aid would it be to a poor, weak, wavering man to be constrained to high moral duties, self-denial, obedience, and chastity by laws which were certain in their enactments, and not to be broken without loud, palpable, unmistakable sin! Then his faith was against him: he required to believe so much; panted so eagerly to give signs of his belief; deemed it so insufficient to wash himself simply in the waters of Jordan; that some great deed, such as that of forsaking everything for a true church, had for him allurements almost past withstanding.

Out with the old, in with the new!

I have said before that if you are interested in law and religion, you must read Anthony Trollope. I can’t think of many authors who are more intimately concerned with the quotidian working out of church-state arrangements. As Hawthorne once put it, “Trollope’s novels are solid, substantial, written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business and not suspecting they were being made a show of.”

Trollope’s Barsetshire Novels in particular are concerned with political and cultural change, or “evolution,” within the Anglican Church in English nineteenth century life. Here is a wonderful passage from “Barchester Towers” in which a “new man” representative of the progressively liberalizing episcopacy (Mr. Slope) informs an “old man” (Mr. Harding) about the changes coming to the Church and to English life more broadly:

“You must be aware, Mr. Harding, that things are a good deal changed in Barchester,” said Mr. Slope.

Mr. Harding said that he was aware of it. “And not only in Barchester, Mr. Harding, but in the world at large. It is not only in Barchester that a new man is carrying out new measures and casting away the useless rubbish of past centuries. The same thing is going on throughout the country. Work is now required from every man who receives wages; and they that have to superintend the doing of work, and the paying of wages, are bound to see that this rule is carried out. New men, Mr. Harding, are now needed, and are now forthcoming in the church, as in other professions.”

All this was wormwood to our old friend [Mr. Harding]. He had never rated very high his own abilities or activity; but all the feelings of his heart were with the old clergy, and any antipathies of which his heart was susceptible, were directed against those new, busy, uncharitable, self-lauding men, of which Mr. Slope was so good an example….

Mr. Harding was not a happy man as he walked down the palace pathway, and stepped out into the close. His preferment and pleasant house were a second time gone from him; but that he could put up with. He had been schooled and insulted by a man young enough to be his son; but that he could put up with. He could even draw from the very injuries, which had been inflicted on him, some of that consolation, which we may believe martyrs often receive from the injustice of their own sufferings, and which is generally proportioned in its strength to the extent of cruelty with which martyrs are treated….But the venom of [Mr. Slope’s] harangue had worked into his blood.

“New men are carrying out new measures, and are carting away the useless rubbish of past centuries!” What cruel words these had been; and how often are they now used with the heartless cruelty of a Slope! A man is sufficiently condemned if it can only be shown that either in politics or religion he does not belong to some new school established within the last score of years. He may then regard himself as rubbish and expect to be carted away. A man is nothing now unless he has within himself a full appreciation of the new era; an era in which it would seem that neither honesty nor truth is very desirable, but in which success is the only touchstone of merit. We must laugh at every thing that is established. Let the joke be ever so bad, ever so untrue to the real principles of joking; nevertheless we must laugh–or else beware the cart. We must talk, think, and live up to the spirit of the times, and write up to it too, if that cacoethes be upon us, or else we are naught. New men and new measures, long credit and few scruples, great success or wonderful ruin, such are now the tastes of Englishmen who know how to live.

Dreisbach, “Reading the Bible With the Founding Fathers”

I’m very pleased to give this notice of Professor Daniel L. Dreisbach’s new book, Reading the Bible With the Founding Fathers, which will be published by Oxford University Press in dreisbach-bookDecember. Professor Dreisbach is one of the most important scholars of religion in the founding generation. His earlier book, Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State, as well as his edited volumes, Religion and Politics in the Early Republic: Jasper Adams and the Church-State Debate, and The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life, offer vital and erudite insight about the relationship of church and state in the early republic. This volume looks to be essential reading for anyone interested in this area. The publisher’s description follows.

No book was more accessible or familiar to the American founders than the Bible, and no book was more frequently alluded to or quoted from in the political discourse of the age. How and for what purposes did the founding generation use the Bible? How did the Bible influence their political culture?

Shedding new light on some of the most familiar rhetoric of the founding era, Daniel Dreisbach analyzes the founders’ diverse use of scripture, ranging from the literary to the theological. He shows that they looked to the Bible for insights on human nature, civic virtue, political authority, and the rights and duties of citizens, as well as for political and legal models to emulate. They quoted scripture to authorize civil resistance, to invoke divine blessings for righteous nations, and to provide the language of liberty that would be appropriated by patriotic Americans.

Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers broaches the perennial question of whether the American founding was, to some extent, informed by religious-specifically Christian-ideas. In the sense that the founding generation were members of a biblically literate society that placed the Bible at the center of culture and discourse, the answer to that question is clearly “yes.” Ignoring the Bible’s influence on the founders, Dreisbach warns, produces a distorted image of the American political experiment, and of the concept of self-government on which America is built.

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