Israel and the American Left: A History

Here is a new book from Stanford University Press that explores the history of the American Left’s relationship to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As everyone knows, that conflict has created real tensions in progressive politics in the US and the UK as well. The book is The Movement and the Middle East: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Divided the American Left, by historian Michael Fischbach (Randolph-Macon College). The publisher’s description follows:

The Arab-Israeli conflict constituted a serious problem for the American Left in the 1960s: pro-Palestinian activists hailed the Palestinian struggle against Israel as part of a fundamental restructuring of the global imperialist order, while pro-Israeli leftists held a less revolutionary worldview that understood Israel as a paragon of democratic socialist virtue. This intra-left debate was in part doctrinal, in part generational. But further woven into this split were sometimes agonizing questions of identity. Jews were disproportionately well-represented in the Movement, and their personal and communal lives could deeply affect their stances vis-à-vis the Middle East.

The Movement and the Middle East offers the first assessment of the controversial and ultimately debilitating role of the Arab-Israeli conflict among left-wing activists during a turbulent period of American history. Michael R. Fischbach draws on a deep well of original sources—from personal interviews to declassified FBI and CIA documents—to present a story of the left-wing responses to the question of Palestine and Israel. He shows how, as the 1970s wore on, the cleavages emerging within the American Left widened, weakening the Movement and leaving a lasting impact that still affects progressive American politics today.

A Comparative Study of Religion and Politics

Politics in America increasingly divides on the question of religion. Religious Americans tend to gravitate to the Republican Party; secular Americans, to the Democrats. Religion also figures prominently in the politics of other countries. Later this year, Routledge will release a collection of essays on the ways religion and politics intersect across the world: The Routledge Handbook to Religion and Political Parties. The editor is Jeffrey Haynes (London Metropolitan University). Here’s the description from the Routledge website:

As religion and politics become ever more intertwined, relationships between religion and political parties are of increasing global political significance. This handbook responds to that development, providing important results of current research involving religion and politics, focusing on: democratisation, democracy, party platform formation, party moderation and secularisation, social constituency representation and interest articulation.

Covering core issues, new debates, and country case studies, the handbook provides a comprehensive overview of fundamentals and new directions in the subject. Adopting a comparative approach, it examines the relationships between religion and political parties in a variety of contexts, regions and countries with a focus on Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism. Contributions cover such topics as:

Religion, secularisation and modernisation

Religious fundamentalism and terrorism

The role of religion in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

Religion and its connection to state, democratisation and democracy, and

Regional case studies covering Asia, the Americas, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa.

This comprehensive handbook provides crucial information for students, researchers and professionals researching the topics of politics, religion, comparative politics, secularism, religious movements, political parties and interest groups, and religion and sociology.

Around the Web

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Christianity & Political Theory

Earlier this month, InterVarsity Press released a new edition of David Koyzis’s survey of contemporary political theory from a Chrtistian perspective, Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies. The last edition was published in 2003. A lot sure has happened since then. Here’s the publisher’s description:

What you believe about politics matters. The decades since the Cold War, with new alignments of post–9/11 global politics and the chaos of the late 2010s, are swirling with alternative visions of political life, ranging from ethnic nationalism to individualistic liberalism.

Political ideologies are not merely a matter of governmental efficacy, but are intrinsically and inescapably religious: each carries certain assumptions about the nature of reality, individuals and society, as well as a particular vision for the common good. These fundamental beliefs transcend the political sphere, and the astute Christian observer can discern the ways—sometimes subtle, sometimes not—in which ideologies are rooted in idolatrous worldviews.

In this freshly updated, comprehensive study, political scientist David Koyzis surveys the key political ideologies of our era, including liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democracy, and socialism. Koyzis gives each philosophy careful analysis and fair critique, unpacking the worldview issues inherent to each and pointing out essential strengths and weaknesses, as well as revealing the “narrative structure” of each—the stories they tell to make sense of public life and the direction of history. Koyzis concludes by proposing alternative models that flow out of Christianity’s historic engagement with the public square, retrieving approaches for both individuals and the global, institutional church that hold promise for the complex political realities of the twenty-first century.

Writing with broad international perspective and keen analytical insight, Koyzis is a sane and sensible guide for Christians working in the public square, culture watchers, political pundits, and all students of modern political thought.

Sheen, King, and Falwell

Later this spring, Penn Press will publish Religion in the Public Square: Sheen, King, Falwell, by Ave Maria politics professor James Patterson. The book covers three preachers–not often linked–who influenced American public policy in the 20th Century. I wonder about Patterson’s point about Falwell: did Falwell instigate a breakdown in the post-war Judeo-Christian consensus or did he simply reflect it? Anyway, looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description

In Religion in the Public Square, James M. Patterson considers religious leaders who popularized theology through media campaigns designed to persuade the public. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rev. Jerry Falwell differed profoundly on issues of theology and politics, but they shared an approach to public ministry that aimed directly at changing how Americans understood the nature and purpose of their country. From the 1930s through the 1950s, Sheen was an early adopter of paperbacks, radio, and television to condemn totalitarian ideologies and to defend American Catholicism against Protestant accusations of divided loyalty. During the 1950s and 1960s, King staged demonstrations and boycotts that drew the mass media to him. The attention provided him the platform to preach Christian love as a political foundation in direct opposition to white supremacy. Falwell started his own church, which he developed into a mass media empire. He then leveraged it during the late 1970s through the 1980s to influence the Republican Party by exhorting his audience to not only ally with religious conservatives around issues of abortion and the traditional family but also to vote accordingly.

Sheen, King, and Falwell were so successful in popularizing their theological ideas that they won prestigious awards, had access to presidents, and witnessed the results of their labors. However, Patterson argues that Falwell’s efforts broke with the longstanding refusal of religious public figures to participate directly in partisan affairs and thereby catalyzed the process of politicizing religion that undermined the Judeo-Christian consensus that formed the foundation of American politics.

Mahoney on the Religion of Humanitarianism

American politics is increasingly polarized along religious lines: the Democratic Party is increasingly secular, and the Republican Party increasingly religious. (I discuss this polarization, among other things, in a forthcoming article). But a religious left nonetheless exists: members of traditional faith communities who are committed to progressive causes. How strong the religious left is, and whether it will find a continuing place in the Democratic Party, is a matter of some debate.

I thought about the religious left when I saw the announcement for Daniel Mahoney’s new book, The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity (Encounter). Mahoney, a political philosopher at Assumption College, argues that progressivism is itself a kind of religion, one that divorces social justice from Christianity’s twin concern with transcendent truth. If Mahoney is right, then, at least with respect to Christianity, the attempt to harness Christianity to progressivism is doomed to fail. In any event, the book looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the Encounter website:

This book is a learned essay at the intersection of politics, philosophy, and religion. It is first and foremost a diagnosis and critique of the secular religion of our time, humanitarianism, or the “religion of humanity.” It argues that the humanitarian impulse to regard modern man as the measure of all things has begun to corrupt Christianity itself, reducing it to an inordinate concern for “social justice,” radical political change, and an increasingly fanatical egalitarianism. Christianity thus loses its transcendental reference points at the same time that it undermines balanced political judgment. Humanitarians, secular or religious, confuse peace with pacifism, equitable social arrangements with socialism, and moral judgment with utopianism and sentimentality.

With a foreword by the distinguished political philosopher Pierre Manent, Mahoney’s book follows Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in affirming that Christianity is in no way reducible to a “humanitarian moral message.” In a pungent if respectful analysis, it demonstrates that Pope Francis has increasingly confused the Gospel with left-wing humanitarianism and egalitarianism that owes little to classical or Christian wisdom. It takes its bearings from a series of thinkers (Orestes Brownson, Aurel Kolnai, Vladimir Soloviev, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) who have been instructive critics of the “religion of humanity.” These thinkers were men of peace who rejected ideological pacifism and never confused Christianity with unthinking sentimentality. The book ends by affirming the power of reason, informed by revealed faith, to provide a humanizing alternative to utopian illusions and nihilistic despair.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Leeman, “How the Nations Rage”

9781400207640.jpgThe identification of white Evangelicals with Donald Trump, and with right-wing politics generally, is a fact of contemporary American life. The situation is not as simple as many assume, however. The majority of white Evangelicals enthusiastically support Trump, it’s true, but many are lukewarm, supporting him because they worry about what a Democratic administration might mean for their institutions, and some (a smaller number, one has to admit), are entirely opposed. And some prominent Evangelicals worry that any identification of their movement with partisan politics is a danger–not an irrational worry, given statistics that show that many younger Americans say they are turned off by the political identification of conservative Christians. I heard Russell Moore recently give a lecture at Princeton in which he made this point.

Evangelicals who worry about such matters, and people who follow the sociology of contemporary American religion generally, will be interested in a new book from pastor Jonathan Leeman, How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson). Here is a description of the book from the publisher’s website:

How can we move forward amid such political strife and cultural contention?

We live in a time of division. It shows up not just between political parties and ethnic groups and churches but also inside of them. As Christians, we’ve felt pushed to the outskirts of national public life, yet even then we are divided about how to respond. Some want to strengthen the evangelical voting bloc. Others focus on social-justice causes, and still others would abandon the public square altogether. What do we do when brothers and sisters in Christ sit next to each other in the pews but feel divided and angry? Is there a way forward?

In How the Nations Rage, political theology scholar and pastor Jonathan Leeman challenges Christians from across the spectrum to hit the restart button. First, we shift our focus from redeeming the nation to living as a redeemed nation. Second, we take the lessons learned inside the church into our public engagement outside of it by loving our neighbors and seeking justice. When we identify with Christ more than a political party or social grouping, we avoid the false allure of building heaven on earth and return to the church’s unchanging political task: to represent a heavenly and future kingdom now. It’s only when we realize that the life of our churches now is the hope of the nation for tomorrow that we become the salt and light Jesus calls us to be.

%d bloggers like this: