by Frank Guliuzza III
State University of New York Press, 288 pages
Even a casual observer of American politics would be hard pressed to saythat religion is marginalized these days. Fleets of ministers passthroughthe White House to pray with Bill Clinton. Bill Bradley may not saywhere hegoes on Sunday, but he's happy to declare his opposition to gay marriagebecause it's a "religious sacrament as well as a legal state." Men oftheleft like Christopher Hitchens and Nat Hentoff concur that the religiouscase against abortion should be, well, taken seriously; the squarelyliberalmagazine The American Prospect ran a cover story about the importance of religion in political life. One presidential candidate after another professes life change after a born-again experience, and, of course, we'veheard that Christ is George W.'s favorite philosopher.
In such a climate, would it be so hard to imagine the president of the United States justifying a major expansion of foreign aid on the grounds that "God allows America to flourish" because "America is a giving nation"? "There is no crisis in the world," says the president in this hypothetical scenario, "which finds us unready to feed the hungry, give drink to thosewho thirst, clothe the naked, and do our level best to set the captives free." If we stop doing those things, "then, I tell you, I fear God will be finished with America!"
Frank Guliuzza III, the author of this bit of speechifying, spins it as farfetched. Religious arguments, Guliuzza contends, are "trivialized andoften demonized by the so-called cultural and intellectual elites," whogivereligious expression "short shrift in the public square." For somereasonAmericans -- especially those pesky intellectuals -- seem more interested ingeopolitical arguments than simple declarations of faith!
Guliuzza's new book, "Over the Wall: Protecting Religious Expression inthePublic Square." claims that "many academic and cultural elites dismissreligious-based argument from dialogic politics," and that as a result,"religious expression...[is] unwelcome in the marketplace of ideas."Nominally focused on Supreme Court rulings in freedom of religion cases,thebook manages to be pedantic yet hyperbolic at the same time.
Guliuzza believes that the legal doctrine of separation of church andstate is a thinly veiled attack on political activity among the faithful.Trottingout some shaky history, he attempts to prove that the separationdoctrine isreally "a vehicle for secularization." To top it off, he implies thattheAmerican Humanist Association -- an admittedly bizarre organization that seems to do little but put out odd community newspapers -- might somehow be behindthe whole thing. Guliuzza tends towards what Richard Hofstadter calledthe"paranoid style," complete with all the "experts, study groups,monographs,bibliographies and footnotes" beloved by the John Birchers.
Strangely, Guliuzza doesn't offer any examples of politiciansdenigratingChristianity, much less trying to prevent Christians from engaging inpolitical activism. The most serious examples of "anti-Christianbigotry" hecites -- a landlord (in Utah) who didn't want to rent to "f---ingMormons,"kids who've been told not to read the Bible during free time in school--have nothing to do with political expression.
He does, however, know a Mormon woman (again in Utah) who was in theroomwhile a few of her academic colleagues made some jokes at the expense ofJoseph Smith's people, and he's heard about some faculty members at theUniversity of Utah who drove by the Latter-Day Saints temple in SaltLakeCity and described it as "Utah's version of Disneyland." And he himselfhasbeen subjected to persecution: "I have had dinner conversations with friendsat academic conferences and listened as the conversation turned into averbal spanking of Christians." When you get down to it, Guliuzzadoesn'tseem to care so much about the public square as he does personal slightsandprivate grievances.
Perhaps Guliuzza focuses on the personal because deep down he'sdissatisfiedwith thecasual,self-serving invocations of faith so common in politics today. He may feel that, as David Frum put it, conservatives "habitually confuse the unyielding Calvinist faith thatshapedthecountry's heroic early years with theGod-will-make-you-rich/God-will-make-you-thin/God-will-improve-your-sex-life religion that fills American television sets and suburban churchestoday." Guliuzza might even be tempted to snicker himself when Al Gore tellsTheWashingtonPostthat when confronted with key decisions, he's taken to asking himself,"What Would Jesus Do?"
If so, the joke's on him. Like it or not, this season's candidates arepoliticians in Guliuzza's mold, falling all over themselves to propose agreater role for "faith-based organizations" in social services and todeclare, with Liddy Dole, their "deep personal faith and belief in thepower of prayer." Making Over the Wall look like it isn't so over the top, theex-president George Bush even said just last month that the UnitedStates is doing the "Lord's work" in bombing Iraq. Perhaps all Guliuzza needs to do is bite his tongue through a few more dinner conversations and wait until November.