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Pabst, Adrian (2013)
Publisher: Telos Publishing Press
Languages: English
Types: Article
Subjects: B, JC
According to Luciano Pellicani, the US culture wars are grounded in a perpetual struggle between the enlightening forces of reason and democracy, on the one hand, and the dark forces of faith and theocracy, on the other hand. Accordingly, he claims that the Puritans sought to establish a medieval collectivist theocracy, not a modern market democracy, and that the US ‘culture war’ between enlightened secular liberalism and reactionary religious conservatism ultimately rests on the perpetual battle between Athenian reason and the faith of Jerusalem.\ud \ud In this essay I contest Pellicani’s assertion that faith is diametrically opposed to reason and that America needs to abandon its Christian legacy in favor of Enlightenment secularism. My argument is that the modern separation of belief from rationality underpins both the secular rationalism and fanatical fideism which confront each other in the United States and across the West today.\ud \ud The only genuine alternative to these two extremes is not an attempt to repair the wreck that is the Enlightenment project but rather a proper synthesis of faith and reason that distinguishes political from religious authority without divorcing religion from politics. It is true that mainstream Protestantism in the USA is characterized by a vague ‘civil religion’ that is post-Christian, neo-pagan and Gnostic in outlook. But it is equally the case that the rapprochement of Evangelicals and Catholics around shared notions of the common good has the potential to transform the American polity, economy and society in the direction of a more Christian settlement.
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    • 1. Dmitry Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500–1453 (London: Sphere Books, 1974).
    • 2. David Martin, On Secularization: Towards a Revised General Theory (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), p. 27.
    • 3. For a longer exposition of this argument, see Adrian Pabst, “The Politics of Paradox: Metaphysics beyond ‘Political Ontology,’” Telos 162 (Winter 2012): 99–119.
    • 4. Michael Northcott, An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004); William Pfaff, The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of American Foreign Policy (New York: Walker and Company, 2010).
    • 5. Protestant secularism is compatible with the Evangelical awakening throughout the “long nineteenth century” (ca. 1800–1950) that coincided with a period of wholesale
    • 7. R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, rev. ed. and intro. Adam B. Seligman (1926; New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1998), pp. 79–132.
    • 8. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism, repr. (New York: Holt, 1957), pp. 94–95. Cf. William E. Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, American Style (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2008), pp. 17–68.
    • 9. See, inter alia, Menna Prestwich, ed., International Calvinism, 1541–1715 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985); Mark Valeri, “Religion and the Culture of the Market in Early New England,” in Peter W. Williams, ed., Perspectives on American Religion and Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), pp. 92–104.
    • 10. Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford UP, 2002), pp. 227–367.
    • 11. John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order. Faith, Reason, Geopolitics (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), p. 350.
    • 12. Thomas Frank, One Market under God. Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy (New York: Random House, 2000).
    • 13. Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Neoconservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
    • 14. I have argued this in greater detail elsewhere. See Adrian Pabst, “The Western Paradox: Why the United States is more religious but less Christian than Europe,” in Lucian Leustean, ed., Representing Religion in the European Union: Does God Matter? (London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 168–84.
    • 16. Marcia Pally, The “New Evangelicals”: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011).
    • 17. Mark Stricherz, Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party (New York: Encounter Books, 2007).
    • 18. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (New York: HarperCollins, 2005). As a community organizer who was trained in the tradition pioneered by Saul Alinsky, the young Barack Obama worked with local communities and different faith groups to help regenerate Chicago’s most deprived inner-city area—a “people’s politics” that differs markedly from the collusion of “big government” and “big business” since Nixon. As president, Obama had the opportunity to draw on the 26. Pope Benedict XVI, The Regensburg Lecture, trans. James V. Schall S.J. (Chicago: St. Augustine’s Press, 2007).
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