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August19,2007

ThePoliticsofGod
ByMARKLILLA

I.TheWillofGodWillPrevail Thetwilightoftheidolshasbeenpostponed.Formorethantwocenturies,fromtheAmericanandFrench RevolutionstothecollapseofSovietCommunism,worldpoliticsrevolvedaroundeminentlypolitical problems.Warandrevolution,classandsocialjustice,raceandnationalidentitythesewerethe questionsthatdividedus.Today,wehaveprogressedtothepointwhereourproblemsagainresemble thoseofthe16thcentury,aswefindourselvesentangledinconflictsovercompetingrevelations,dogmatic purityanddivineduty.WeintheWestaredisturbedandconfused.Thoughwehaveourown fundamentalists,wefinditincomprehensiblethattheologicalideasstillstirupmessianicpassions, leavingsocietiesinruin.Wehadassumedthiswasnolongerpossible,thathumanbeingshadlearnedto separatereligiousquestionsfrompoliticalones,thatfanaticismwasdead.Wewerewrong. Anexample:InMayoflastyear,PresidentMahmoudAhmadinejadofIransentanopenletterto PresidentGeorgeW.Bushthatwastranslatedandpublishedinnewspapersaroundtheworld.Itstheme wascontemporarypoliticsanditslanguagethatofdivinerevelation.Afterrehearsingalitanyof grievancesagainstAmericanforeignpolicies,realandimagined,Ahmadinejadwrote,IfProphet Abraham,Isaac,Jacob,Ishmael,JosephorJesusChrist(peacebeuponhim)werewithustoday,how wouldtheyhavejudgedsuchbehavior?Thiswasnotarhetoricalquestion.IhavebeentoldthatYour ExcellencyfollowstheteachingsofJesus(peacebeuponhim)andbelievesinthedivinepromiseofthe ruleoftherighteousonEarth,Ahmadinejadcontinued,remindinghisfellowbelieverthataccordingto divineverses,wehaveallbeencalledupontoworshiponeGodandfollowtheteachingsofdivine Prophets.Therefollowsakindofaltarcall,inwhichtheAmericanpresidentisinvitedtobringhis actionsintolinewiththeseverses.Andthencomesathreateningprophecy:LiberalismandWestern styledemocracyhavenotbeenabletohelprealizetheidealsofhumanity.Today,thesetwoconceptshave failed.Thosewithinsightcanalreadyhearthesoundsoftheshatteringandfalloftheideologyand thoughtsoftheliberaldemocraticsystems....Whetherwelikeitornot,theworldisgravitatingtowards faithintheAlmightyandjusticeandthewillofGodwillprevailoverallthings. Thisisthelanguageofpoliticaltheology,andformillenniaitwastheonlytonguehumanbeingshadfor expressingtheirthoughtsaboutpoliticallife.Itisprimordial,butalsocontemporary:countlessmillions stillpursuetheageoldquesttobringthewholeofhumanlifeunderGodsauthority,andtheyhavetheir reasons.Tounderstandthemweneedonlyinterpretthelanguageofpoliticaltheologyyetthatiswhat wefindhardesttodo.ReadingaletterlikeAhmadinejads,wefallmute,likeexplorerscominguponan ancientinscriptionwritteninhieroglyphics. Theproblemisours,nothis.AlittlemorethantwocenturiesagowebegantobelievethattheWestwas onaonewaytracktowardmodernseculardemocracyandthatothersocieties,onceplacedonthattrack, wouldinevitablyfollow.Thoughthishasnothappened,westillmaintainourimplicitfaithina

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modernizingprocessandblamedelaysonextenuatingcircumstanceslikepovertyorcolonialism.This assumptionshapesthewayweseepoliticaltheology,especiallyinitsIslamicformasanatavism requiringpsychologicalorsociologicalanalysisbutnotseriousintellectualengagement.Islamists,evenif theyarelearnedprofessionals,appeartousprimarilyasfrustrated,irrationalrepresentativesof frustrated,irrationalsocieties,nothingmore.Welive,sotospeak,ontheothershore.Whenweobserve thoseontheoppositebank,wearepuzzled,sincewehaveonlyadistantmemoryofwhatitwasliketo thinkastheydo.Weallfacethesamequestionsofpoliticalexistence,yettheirwayofansweringthemhas becomealientous.Ononeshore,politicalinstitutionsareconceivedintermsofdivineauthorityand spiritualredemptionontheothertheyarenot.Andthat,asRobertFrostmighthaveputit,makesallthe difference. Understandingthisdifferenceisthemosturgentintellectualandpoliticaltaskofthepresenttime.But wheretobegin?ThecaseofcontemporaryIslamisoneveryonesmind,yetissosuffusedwithangerand ignoranceastobeparalyzing.Allweheararealiensounds,motivatingunspeakableacts.Ifweeverhope tocrackthegrammarandsyntaxofpoliticaltheology,itseemswewillhavetobeginwithourselves.The historyofpoliticaltheologyintheWestisaninstructivestory,anditdidnotendwiththebirthofmodern science,ortheEnlightenment,ortheAmericanandFrenchRevolutions,oranyotherdefinitivehistorical moment.PoliticaltheologywasapresenceinWesternintellectuallifewellintothe20thcentury,by whichtimeithadshedthemindsetoftheMiddleAgesandfoundmodernreasonsforseekingpolitical inspirationintheBible.Atfirst,thismodernpoliticaltheologyexpressedaseeminglyenlightened outlookandwaswelcomedbythosewhowishedliberaldemocracywell.ButintheaftermathoftheFirst WorldWarittookanapocalypticturn,andnewmeneagertoembracethefuturebegangenerating theologicaljustificationsforthemostrepugnantandgodlessideologiesoftheage,Nazismand Communism. Itisanunnervingtale,onethatraisesprofoundquestionsaboutthefragilityofourmodernoutlook.Even themoststableandsuccessfuldemocracies,withthemosthighmindedandcivilizedbelievers,have provedvulnerabletopoliticalmessianismanditstheologicaljustification.Ifwecanunderstandhowthat waspossibleintheadvancedWest,ifwecanhearpoliticaltheologyspeakinginamorerecognizable tongue,representedbypeopleinfamiliardresswithfamiliarnames,perhapsthenwecanremind ourselveshowtheworldlooksfromitsperspective.Thiswouldbeasmallsteptowardmeasuringthe challengewefaceanddecidinghowtorespond. II.TheGreatSeparation Whyistherepoliticaltheology?ThequestionechoesthroughoutthehistoryofWesternthought, beginninginGreekandRomanantiquityandcontinuingdowntoourday.Manytheorieshavebeen proposed,especiallybythosesuspiciousofthereligiousimpulse.Yetfewrecognizetherationalityof politicaltheologyorenterintoitslogic.Theologyis,afterall,asetofreasonspeoplegivethemselvesfor thewaythingsareandthewaytheyoughttobe.Soletustrytoimaginehowthosereasonsmightinvolve Godandhaveimplicationsforpolitics. Imaginehumanbeingswhofirstbecomeawareofthemselvesinaworldnotoftheirownmaking.Their worldhasunknownoriginsandbehavesinaregularfashion,sotheywonderwhythatis.Theyknowthat thethingstheythemselvesfashionbehaveinapredictablemannerbecausetheyconceiveandconstruct themwithsomeendinmind.Theystretchthebow,thearrowfliesthatiswhytheyweremade.So,by analogy,itisnotdifficultforthemtoassumethatthecosmicorderwasconstructedforapurpose,

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reflectingitsmakerswill.Byfollowingthisanalogy,theybegintohaveideasaboutthatmaker,abouthis intentionsandthereforeabouthispersonality. Intakingthesefewshortsteps,thehumanmindfindsitselfconfrontedwithapicture,atheologicalimage inwhichGod,manandworldformadivinenexus.Believershavereasonsforthinkingthattheylivein thisnexus,justastheyhavereasonsforassumingthatitoffersguidanceforpoliticallife.Buthowthat guidanceistobeunderstood,andwhetherbelieversthinkitisauthoritative,willdependonhowthey imagineGod.IfGodisthoughttobepassive,asilentforcelikethesky,nothinginparticularmayfollow. Heisahypothesiswecandowithout.ButifwetakeseriouslythethoughtthatGodisapersonwith intentions,andthatthecosmicorderisaresultofthoseintentions,thenagreatdealcanfollow.The intentionsofsuchaGodrevealsomethingmancannotfullyknowonhisown.Thisrevelationthen becomesthesourceofhisauthority,overnatureandoverus,andwehavenochoicebuttoobeyhimand seethathisplansarecarriedoutonearth.Thatiswherepoliticaltheologycomesin. Onepowerfulattractionofpoliticaltheology,inanyform,isitscomprehensiveness.Itoffersawayof thinkingabouttheconductofhumanaffairsandconnectsthosethoughtstoloftieronesaboutthe existenceofGod,thestructureofthecosmos,thenatureofthesoul,theoriginofallthingsandtheendof time.Formorethanamillennium,theWesttookinspirationfromtheChristianimageofatriuneGod rulingoveracreatedcosmosandguidingmenbymeansofrevelation,innerconvictionandthenatural order.Itwasamagnificentpicturethatallowedamagnificentandpowerfulcivilizationtoflower.Butthe picturewasalwaysdifficulttotranslatetheologicallyintopoliticalform:GodtheFatherhadgiven commandmentsaRedeemerarrived,reinterpretingthem,thendepartedandnowtheHolySpirit remainedasaghostlydivinepresence.Itwasnotatallclearwhatpoliticallessonsweretobedrawnfrom allthis.WereChristianssupposedtowithdrawfromacorruptedworldthatwasabandonedbythe Redeemer?Weretheycalledupontoruletheearthlycitywithbothchurchandstate,inspiredbytheHoly Spirit?OrweretheyexpectedtobuildaNewJerusalemthatwouldhastentheMessiahsreturn? ThroughouttheMiddleAges,Christiansarguedoverthesequestions.TheCityofManwassetagainstthe CityofGod,publiccitizenshipagainstprivatepiety,thedivinerightofkingsagainsttherightof resistance,churchauthorityagainstradicalantinomianism,canonlawagainstmysticalinsight,inquisitor againstmartyr,secularswordagainstecclesiasticalmiter,princeagainstemperor,emperoragainstpope, popeagainstchurchcouncils.InthelateMiddleAges,thesenseofcrisiswaspalpable,andeventhe RomanChurchrecognizedthatreformswereinorder.Butbythe16thcentury,thankstoMartinLuther andJohnCalvin,therewasnounifiedChristendomtoreform,justavarietyofchurchesandsects,most alliedwithabsolutesecularrulerseagertoasserttheirindependence.IntheWarsofReligionthat followed,doctrinaldifferencesfueledpoliticalambitionsandviceversa,inadeadly,viciouscyclethat lastedacenturyandahalf.ChristiansaddledbyapocalypticdreamshuntedandkilledChristianswitha maniacalfurytheyhadoncereservedforMuslims,Jewsandheretics.Itwasmadness. TheEnglishphilosopherThomasHobbestriedtofindawayoutofthislabyrinth.Traditionally,political theologyhadinterpretedasetofrevealeddivinecommandsandappliedthemtosociallife.Inhisgreat treatiseLeviathan(1651),Hobbessimplyignoredthesubstanceofthosecommandsandtalkedinstead abouthowandwhyhumanbeingsbelievedGodrevealedthem.Hedidthemostrevolutionarythinga thinkercaneverdohechangedthesubject,fromGodandhiscommandstomanandhisbeliefs.Ifwe dothat,Hobbesreasoned,wecanbegintounderstandwhyreligiousconvictionssooftenleadtopolitical conflictsandthenperhapsfindawaytocontainthepotentialforviolence.

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ThecontemporarycrisisinWesternChristendomcreatedanaudienceforHobbesandhisideas.Inthe midstofreligiouswar,hisviewthatthehumanmindwastooweakandbesetbypassionstohaveany reliableknowledgeofthedivineseemedcommonsensical.Italsomadesensetoassumethatwhenman speaksaboutGodheisreallyreferringtohisownexperience,whichisallheknows.Andwhatmost characterizeshisexperience?AccordingtoHobbes,fear.Mansnaturalstateistobeoverwhelmedwith anxiety,hisheartallthedaylonggnawedonbyfearofdeath,poverty,orothercalamity.Hehasno repose,norpauseofhisanxiety,butinsleep.Itisnowonderthathumanbeingsfashionidolstoprotect themselvesfromwhattheymostfear,attributingdivinepowerseven,asHobbeswrote,tomen,women, abird,acrocodile,acalf,adog,asnake,anonion,aleek.Pitiful,butunderstandable. Andthedebilitatingdynamicsofbeliefdontendthere.ForonceweimagineanallpowerfulGodto protectus,chancesarewellbegintofearhimtoo.Whatifhegetsangry?Howcanweappeasehim? Hobbesreasonedthatthesenewreligiousfearswerewhatcreatedamarketforpriestsandprophets claimingtounderstandGodsobscuredemands.ItwasaraucousmarketinHobbesstime,withstallsfor RomanCatholics,Anglicans,Lutherans,Calvinists,Anabaptists,Quakers,Ranters,Muggletonians,Fifth MonarchyMenandcountlessothers,eachwithhisownpathtosalvationandblueprintforChristian society.Theydisagreedwithoneanother,andbecausetheirverysoulswereatstake,theyfought.Which ledtowarswhichledtomorefearwhichmadepeoplemorereligiouswhich.... FreshfromtheWarsofReligion,Hobbessreadersknewallaboutfear.Theirliveshadbecome,asheput it,solitary,poor,nasty,brutish,andshort.Andwhenheannouncedthatanewpoliticalphilosophy couldreleasethemfromfear,theylistened.Hobbesplantedaseed,athoughtthatitmightbepossibleto buildlegitimatepoliticalinstitutionswithoutgroundingthemondivinerevelation.Heknewitwas impossibletorefutebeliefindivinerevelationthemostonecanhopetodoiscastsuspiciononprophets claimingtospeakaboutpoliticsinGodsname.Thenewpoliticalthinkingwouldnolongerconcernitself withGodspoliticsitwouldconcentrateonmenasbelieversinGodandtrytokeepthemfromharming oneanother.ItwouldsetitssightslowerthanChristianpoliticaltheologyhad,butsecurewhatmattered most,whichwaspeace. Hobbeswasneitheraliberalnorademocrat.Hethoughtthatconsolidatingpowerinthehandsofone manwastheonlywaytorelievecitizensoftheirmutualfears.Butoverthenextfewcenturies,Western thinkerslikeJohnLocke,whoadoptedhisapproach,begantoimagineanewkindofpoliticalorderin whichpowerwouldbelimited,dividedandwidelysharedinwhichthoseinpoweratonemomentwould relinquishitpeacefullyatanother,withoutfearofretributioninwhichpubliclawwouldgovernrelations amongcitizensandinstitutionsinwhichmanydifferentreligionswouldbeallowedtoflourish,freefrom stateinterferenceandinwhichindividualswouldhaveinalienablerightstoprotectthemfrom governmentandtheirfellows.ThisliberaldemocraticorderistheonlyoneweintheWestrecognizeas legitimatetoday,andweoweitprimarilytoHobbes.Inordertoescapethedestructivepassionsof messianicfaith,politicaltheologycenteredonGodwasreplacedbypoliticalphilosophycenteredonman. ThiswastheGreatSeparation. III.TheInnerLight Itisafamiliarstory,andseemstoconcludewithahappyending.ButintruththeGreatSeparationwas neverafaitaccompli,eveninWesternEurope,whereitwasfirstconceived.OldstyleChristianpolitical theologyhadanafterlifeintheWest,andonlyaftertheSecondWorldWardiditceasetobeapolitical force.Inthe19thandearly20thcenturiesadifferentchallengetotheGreatSeparationarosefrom

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anotherquarter.Itcamefromawhollynewkindofpoliticaltheologyheavilyindebtedtophilosophyand stylingitselfbothmodernandliberal.Iamspeakingoftheliberaltheologymovementthatarosein GermanynotlongaftertheFrenchRevolution,firstamongProtestanttheologians,thenamongJewish reformers.Thesethinkers,whoabhorredtheocracy,alsorebelledagainstHobbessvision,favoring insteadapoliticalfutureinwhichreligionproperlychastenedandintellectuallyreformedwouldplay anabsolutelycentralrole. Andthequestionstheyposedweregoodones.Whilegrantingthatignoranceandfearhadbredpointless warsamongChristiansectsandnations,theyasked:Werethosetheonlyreasonsthat,foramillennium andahalf,anentirecivilizationhadlookedtoJesusChristasitssavior?OrthatsufferingJewsofthe DiasporaremainedloyaltotheTorah?CouldignoranceandfearexplainthebeautyofChristianliturgical musicorthesublimityoftheGothiccathedrals?Couldtheyexplainwhyallothercivilizations,pastand present,foundedtheirpoliticalinstitutionsinaccordancewiththedivinenexusofGod,manandworld? SurelytherewasmoretoreligiousmanthanwasdreamedofinHobbessphilosophy. ThatcertainlywastheviewofJeanJacquesRousseau,whodidmorethananyonetodevelopan alternativetoHobbes.Rousseauwrotenotreatiseonreligion,whichwasprobablyawisething,since whenheinsertedafewpagesonreligiousthemesintohismasterpiece,mile(1762),itcausedthebook tobeburnedandRousseautospendtherestofhislifeontherun.Thisshortsectionofmile,whichhe calledTheProfessionofFaithoftheSavoyardVicar,hassodeeplyshapedcontemporaryviewsof religionthatittakessomeefforttounderstandwhyRousseauwaspersecutedforwritingit.Itisthemost beautifulandconvincingdefenseofmansreligiousinstinctsevertoflowfromamodernpenandthat, apparently,wastheproblem.Rousseauspokeofreligionintermsofhumanneeds,notdivinetruths,and hadhisSavoyardvicardeclare,IbelieveallparticularreligionsaregoodwhenoneservesGodusefullyin them.Forthat,hewashoundedbypiousChristians. RousseauhadaHobbesproblem,too:hesharedtheEnglishmanscriticismsoftheocracy,fanaticismand theclergy,buthewasafriendofreligion.WhileHobbesbeatthedrumsofignoranceandfear,Rousseau sangthepraisesofconscience,ofcharity,offellowfeeling,ofvirtue,ofpiouswonderinthefaceofGods creation.Humanbeings,hethought,haveanaturalgoodnesstheyexpressintheirreligion.Thatisthe themeoftheProfessionofFaith,whichtellstheparableofayoungvicarwholoseshisfaithandthenhis moralcompassonceconfrontedwiththehypocrisyofhiscoreligionists.Heisabletorestorehis equilibriumonlywhenhefindsanewkindoffaithinGodbylookingwithin,tohisowninnerlight (lumireintrieure).ThepointofRousseausstoryislesstodisplaythecrimesoforganizedchurchesthan toshowthatmanyearnsforreligionbecauseheisfundamentallyamoralcreature.Thereismuchwe cannotknowaboutGod,andforcenturiesthepretenseofhavingunderstoodhimcausedmuchdamageto Christendom.But,forRousseau,weneedtobelievesomethingabouthimifwearetoorientourselvesin theworld. Amongmodernthinkers,Rousseauwasthefirsttodeclarethatthereisnoshameinsayingthatfaithin Godishumanlynecessary.Religionhasitsrootsinneedsthatarerationalandmoral,evennobleoncewe seethat,wecanstartsatisfyingthemrationally,morallyandnobly.Intheabstract,thisthoughtdidnot contradicttheprinciplesoftheGreatSeparation,whichgavereasonsforprotectingtheprivateexerciseof religion.Butitdidraisedoubtsaboutwhetherthenewpoliticalthinkingcouldreallydowithout referencetothenexusofGod,manandworld.IfRousseauwasrightaboutourmoralneeds,arigid separationbetweenpoliticalandtheologicalprinciplesmightnotbepsychologicallysustainable.Whena

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questionisimportant,wewantananswertoit:astheSavoyardvicarremarks,Theminddecidesinone wayoranother,despiteitself,andprefersbeingmistakentobelievinginnothing.Rousseauhadgrave doubtsaboutwhetherhumanbeingscouldbehappyorgoodiftheydidnotunderstandhowtheiractions relatedtosomethinghigher.Religionissimplytooentwinedwithourmoralexperienceevertobe disentangledfromit,andmoralityisinseparablefrompolitics. IV.RousseausChildren Bytheearly19thcentury,twoschoolsofthoughtaboutreligionandpoliticshadgrownupintheWest. LetuscallthemthechildrenofHobbesandthechildrenofRousseau.ForthechildrenofHobbes,a decentpoliticallifecouldnotberealizedbyChristianpoliticaltheology,whichbredviolenceandstifled humandevelopment.Theonlywaytocontrolthepassionsflowingfromreligiontopolitics,andback again,wastodetachpoliticallifefromthemcompletely.ThishadtohappenwithinWesterninstitutions, butfirstithadtohappenwithinWesternminds.Areorientationwouldhavetotakeplace,turninghuman attentionawayfromtheeternalandtranscendent,towardthehereandnow.Theoldhabitoflookingto Godforpoliticalguidancewouldhavetobebroken,andnewhabitsdeveloped.ForHobbes,thefirststep towardachievingthatendwastogetpeoplethinkingaboutandsuspiciousaboutthesourcesoffaith. ThoughtherewasgreatreluctancetoadoptHobbessmostradicalviewsonreligion,intheEnglish speakingworldtheintellectualprinciplesoftheGreatSeparationbegantotakeholdinthe18thcentury. Debatewouldcontinueoverwhereexactlytoplacethelinebetweenreligiousandpoliticalinstitutions, butargumentsaboutthelegitimacyoftheocracypeteredoutinallbutthemostforsakencornersofthe publicsquare.Therewasnolongerseriouscontroversyabouttherelationbetweenthepoliticalorderand thedivinenexusitceasedtobeaquestion.NooneinmodernBritainortheUnitedStatesarguedfora bicamerallegislatureonthebasisofdivinerevelation. ThechildrenofRousseaufollowedadifferentlineofargument.Medievalpoliticaltheologywasnot salvageable,butneithercouldhumanbeingsignorequestionsofeternityandtranscendencewhen thinkingaboutthegoodlife.WhenwespeculateaboutGod,manandworldinthecorrectway,weexpress ournoblestmoralsentimentswithoutsuchreflectionwedespairandeventuallyharmourselvesand others.ThatisthelessonoftheSavoyardvicar. IntheaftermathoftheFrenchRevolution,theTerrorandNapoleonsconquests,Rousseauschildren foundareceptiveaudienceincontinentalEurope.Therecentwarshadhadnothingtodowithpolitical theologyorreligiousfanaticismoftheoldvarietyifanything,peoplereasoned,itwastheradicalatheism oftheFrenchEnlightenmentthatturnedmenintobeastsandbredanewspeciesofpoliticalfanatic. Germanswereespeciallydrawntothisview,andawaveofromanticismbroughtwithitgreatnostalgia forthereligiousworldwehavelost.IteventouchedsoberphilosopherslikeImmanuelKantandG.W. F.Hegel.KantadoredmileandwentsomewhatfurtherthanRousseauhad,notonlyacceptingthe moralneedforrationalfaithbutarguingthatChristianity,properlyreformed,wouldrepresentthetrue universalChurchandembodytheveryideaofreligion.Hegelwentfurtherstill,attributingtoreligion analmostvitalisticpowertoforgethesocialbondandencouragesacrificeforthepublicgood.Religion, andreligionalone,istheoriginalsourceofapeoplessharedspirit,whichHegelcalleditsVolksgeist. TheseideashadanenormousimpactonGermanreligiousthoughtinthe19thcentury,andthroughiton ProtestantismandJudaismthroughouttheWest.Thiswasthecenturyofliberaltheology,atermthat requiresexplanation.InmodernBritainandtheUnitedStates,itwasassumedthattheintellectual,and

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theninstitutional,separationofChristianityandmodernpoliticshadbeenmutuallybeneficialthatthe modernstatehadbenefitedbybeingabsolvedfrompronouncingondoctrinalmatters,andthat Christianityhadbenefitedbybeingfreedfromstateinterference.NosuchconsensusexistedinGermany, wheretheassumptionwasthatreligionneededtobepubliclyencouraged,notreinedin,ifitwasto contributetosociety.Itwouldhavetoberationallyreformed,ofcourse:theBiblewouldhavetobe interpretedinlightofrecenthistoricalfindings,beliefinmiraclesabandoned,theclergyeducatedalong modernlinesanddoctrineadaptedtoasofterage.Butoncethesereformswereinplace,enlightened politicsandenlightenedreligionwouldjoinhands. ProtestantliberaltheologianssoonbegantodreamofathirdwaybetweenChristianorthodoxyandthe GreatSeparation.TheyhadunshakenfaithinthemoralcoreofChristianity,howeverdistorteditmay havebeenbytheforcesofhistory,andunshakenfaithintheculturalandpoliticalprogressthat Christianityhadbroughttotheworld.Christianityhadgivenbirthtothevaluesofindividuality,moral universalism,reasonandprogressonwhichGermanlifewasnowbased.Therecouldbenocontradiction betweenreligionandstate,oreventension.ThemodernstatehadonlytogiveProtestantismitsduein publiclife,andProtestanttheologywouldreciprocatebyrecognizingitspoliticalresponsibilities.Ifboth partiesmettheirobligations,then,asthephilosopherF.W.J.Schellingputit,thedestinyofChristianity willbedecidedinGermany. AmongJewishliberalthinkers,therewasadifferentsortofhope,thatofacceptanceasequalcitizens. AftertheFrenchRevolution,afitfulprocessofJewishemancipationbeganinEurope,andGermanJews weremorequicklyintegratedintomodernculturallifethaninanyotherEuropeancountryafateful development.ForitwaspreciselyatthismomentthatGermanProtestantswerebecomingconvincedthat reformedChristianityrepresentedtheirnationalVolksgeist.WhiletheliberalJewishthinkerswere attractedtomodernenlightenedfaith,theywerealsodrivenbytheapologeticneedtojustifyJudaisms contributiontoGermansociety.TheycouldnotappealtotheprinciplesoftheGreatSeparationand simplydemandtobeleftalone.TheyhadtoarguethatJudaismandProtestantismweretwoformsofthe samerationalmoralfaith,andthattheycouldshareapoliticaltheology.AstheJewishphilosopherand liberalreformerHermannCohenonceputit,Inallintellectualquestionsofreligionwethinkandfeel ourselvesinaProtestantspirit. V.CourtingtheApocalypse Thiswasthehousethatliberaltheologybuilt,andthroughoutthe19thcenturyitlookedsecure.Itwasnt, andforreasonsworthpondering.Liberaltheologyhadbeguninhopethatthemoraltruthsofbiblical faithmightbeintellectuallyreconciledwith,andnotjustaccommodatedto,therealitiesofmodern politicallife.YettheliberaldeityturnedouttobeastillbornGod,unabletoinspiregenuineconviction amongayoungergenerationseekingultimatetruth.ForwhatdidthenewProtestantismofferthesoulof oneseekingunionwithhiscreator?Itprescribedacatechismofmoralcommonplacesandhistorical optimismaboutbourgeoislife,spicedwithdeeppessimismaboutthepossibilityofalteringthatlife.It preachedgoodcitizenshipandnationalpride,economicgoodsenseandtheproperlengthofagentlemans beard.ButitwastooashamedtoproclaimthemessagefoundoneverypageoftheGospels:thatyoumust changeyourlife.AndwhatdidthenewJudaismbringtoayoungJewseekingaconnectionwiththe traditionalfaithofhispeople?Ittaughthimtoappreciatetheethicalmessageatthecoreofallbiblical faithandpassedoveringenteelsilencethefearsomeGodoftheprophets,hiscovenantwiththeJewish peopleandthedemandinglawshegavethem.Aboveall,ittaughtayoungJewthathisfirstobligationwas

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toseekcommongroundwithChristianityandfindacceptanceintheonenation,Germany,whosehighest culturalidealsmatchedthoseofJudaism,properlyunderstood.TothedecisivequestionsWhybea Christian?andWhybeaJew?liberaltheologyofferednoansweratall. Bytheturnofthe20thcentury,theliberalhousewastottering,andaftertheFirstWorldWarit collapsed.Itwasnotjustthebarbarityoftrenchwarfare,thesenselessslaughter,thesightofburnedout townsandmaimedsoldiersthatmadeatheologyextollingmoderncivilizationcontemptible.Itwasthat somanyliberaltheologianshadhastenedtheinsanerushtowar,confidentthatGodshandwasguiding history.InAugust1914,AdolfvonHarnack,themostrespectedliberalProtestantscholaroftheage, helpedKaiserWilhelmIIdraftanaddresstothenationlayingoutGermanmilitaryaims.Otherssigned aninfamousprowarpetitiondefendingthesacrednessofGermanmilitarism.Astonishingly,even HermannCohenjoinedthechorus,writinganopenlettertoAmericanJewsaskingforsupport,onthe groundsthatnexttohisfatherland,everyWesternJewmustrecognize,revereandloveGermanyasthe motherlandofhismodernreligiosity.YoungProtestantandJewishthinkerswereoutragedwhenthey sawwhattheirreveredteachershaddone,andtheybegantolookelsewhere. ButtheydidnotturntoHobbes,ortoRousseau.Theycravedamorerobustfaith,basedonanew revelationthatwouldshakethefoundationsofthewholemodernorder.Itwasathirstforredemption. Eversincetheliberaltheologianshadrevivedtheideaofbiblicalpolitics,thestagehadbeensetforjust thissortofdevelopment.Whenfaithinredemptionthroughbourgeoisproprietyandcultural accommodationwitheredaftertheGreatWar,themostdaringthinkersofthedaytransformeditinto hopeforamessianicapocalypseonethatwouldagainplacetheJewishpeople,ortheindividual Christianbeliever,ortheGermannation,ortheworldproletariatindirectrelationwiththedivine. YoungWeimarJewswereparticularlydrawntothesemessianiccurrentsthroughthewritingsofMartin Buber,wholaterbecameaproponentofinterfaithunderstandingbutasayoungZionistpromotedacrude chauvinisticnationalism.InanearlyessayhecalledforaMasadaofthespiritandproclaimed:IfIhad tochooseformypeoplebetweenacomfortable,unproductivehappiness...andabeautifuldeathina finaleffortatlife,Iwouldhavetochoosethelatter.Forthisfinaleffortwouldcreatesomethingdivine,if onlyforamoment,buttheothersomethingalltoohuman.Languagelikethis,withstrongand discomfortingcontemporaryechoesforus,drewdeeplyfromthewellofbiblicalmessianism.YetBuber wasanamateurcomparedwiththeMarxistphilosopherErnstBloch,whousedtheBibletoextolthe utopiathenunderconstructionintheSovietUnion.ThoughanatheistJew,Blochsawaconnection betweenmessianichopeandrevolutionaryviolence,whichheadmiredfromadistance.Hecelebrated ThomasMntzer,the16thcenturyProtestantpastorwholedbloodypeasantuprisingsandwas eventuallybeheadedhealsopraisedthebrutalSovietleaders,famouslydeclaringubiLenin,ibi JerusalemwhereverLeninis,thereisJerusalem. ButitwasamongyoungWeimarProtestantsthatthenewmessianicspiritprovedmostconsequential. Theywereledbythegreatesttheologianoftheday,KarlBarth,whowantedtorestorethedramaof religiousdecisiontoChristianityandrejectedanyaccommodationoftheGospeltomodernsensibilities. WhenHitlercametopower,Barthacquittedhimselfwell,leadingresistanceagainsttheNazitakeoverof theProtestantchurchesbeforehewasforcedintoexilein1935.Butothers,whoemployedthesame messianicrhetoricBarthdid,chosetheNazisinstead.AnotoriousexamplewasEmanuelHirsch,a respectedLutherantheologianandtranslatorofKierkegaard,whowelcomedtheNaziseizureofpower forbringingGermanyintothecircleofthewhiterulingpeoples,towhichGodhasentrustedthe

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responsibilityforthehistoryofhumanity.AnotherwasFriedrichGogarten,oneofBarthsclosest collaborators,whosidedwiththeNazisinthesummerof1933(adecisionhelaterregretted).Inthe 1920s,GogartenrejoicedatthecollapseofbourgeoisEurope,declaringthatwearegladforthedecline, sincenooneenjoyslivingamongcorpses,andcalledforanewreligionthatattackscultureasculture... thatattacksthewholeworld.Whenthebrownshirtsbeganmarchingandtorchingbooks,hegothiswish. AfterHitlercompletedhistakeover,Gogartenwrotethatpreciselybecausewearetodayonceagain underthetotalclaimofthestate,itisagainpossible,humanlyspeaking,toproclaimtheChristofthe Bibleandhisreignoverus. AllofwhichservedtoconfirmHobbessironlaw:Messianictheologyeventuallybreedsmessianic politics.Theideaofredemptionisamongthemostpowerfulforcesshapinghumanexistenceinallthose societiestouchedbythebiblicaltradition.Ithasinspiredpeopletoenduresuffering,overcomesuffering andinflictsufferingonothers.Ithasofferedhopeandinspirationintimesofdarknessithasalsoadded tothedarknessbyarousingunrealisticexpectationsandjustifyingthosewhospillbloodtosatisfythem. Allthebiblicalreligionscultivatetheideaofredemption,andallfearitspowertoinflamemindsand deafenthemtothevoiceofreason.InthewritingsoftheseWeimarfigures,weencounterwhatthose orthodoxtraditionsalwaysdreaded:thetranslationofreligiousnotionsofapocalypseandredemption intoajustificationofpoliticalmessianism,nowunderfrighteningmodernconditions.Itwasasifnothing hadchangedsincethe17thcentury,whenThomasHobbesfirstsatdowntowritehisLeviathan. VI.Miracles TherevivalofpoliticaltheologyinthemodernWestisahumblingstory.Itremindsusthatthiswayof thinkingisnotthepreserveofanyonecultureorreligion,nordoesitbelongsolelytothepast.Itisan ageoldhabitofmindthatcanbereacquiredbyanyonewhobeginslookingtothedivinenexusofGod, manandworldtorevealthelegitimatepoliticalorder.Thisstoryalsoremindsushowpoliticaltheology canbeadaptedtocircumstancesandreassertitself,eveninthefaceofseeminglyirresistibleforceslike modernization,secularizationanddemocratization.Rousseauwasontosomething:weseemtobe theotropiccreatures,yearningtoconnectourmundanelives,insomeway,tothebeyond.Thaturgecanbe suppressed,newhabitslearned,butthechallengeofpoliticaltheologywillneverfullydisappearsolong astheurgetoconnectsurvives. SoweareheirstotheGreatSeparationonlyifwewishtobe,ifwemakeaconsciousefforttoseparate basicprinciplesofpoliticallegitimacyfromdivinerevelation.Yetmoreisrequiredstill.Sincethe challengeofpoliticaltheologyisenduring,weneedtoremainawareofitslogicandthethreatitposes. Thismeansvigilance,butevenmoreitmeansselfawareness.Wemustneverforgetthattherewas nothinghistoricallyinevitableaboutourGreatSeparation,thatitwasandremainsanexperiment.In Europe,thepoliticalambiguitiesofonereligion,Christianity,happenedtosetoffapoliticalcrisisthat mighthavebeenavoidedbutwasnt,triggeringtheWarsofReligiontheresultingcarnagemade EuropeanthinkersmorereceptivetoHobbesshereticalideasaboutreligiouspsychologyandthepolitical implicationshedrewfromthemandovertimethosepoliticalideaswereliberalized.Eventhen,itwas onlyaftertheSecondWorldWarthattheprinciplesofmodernliberaldemocracybecamefullyrootedin continentalEurope. AsfortheAmericanexperience,itisutterlyexceptional:thereisnootherfullydevelopedindustrial societywithapopulationsocommittedtoitsfaiths(andsuchexoticones),whilebeingequallycommitted totheGreatSeparation.Ourpoliticalrhetoric,whichowesmuchtotheProtestantsectariansofthe17th

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century,vibrateswithmessianicenergy,anditisonlythankstoastrongconstitutionalstructureand variousluckybreaksthatpoliticaltheologyhasneverseriouslychallengedthebasiclegitimacyofour institutions.Americanshavepotentiallyexplosivereligiousdifferencesoverabortion,prayerinschools, censorship,euthanasia,biologicalresearchandcountlessotherissues,yettheygenerallysettlethem withintheboundsoftheConstitution.Itsamiracle. Andmiraclescantbewilled.ForallthegoodHobbesdidinshiftingourpoliticalfocusfromGodtoman, helefttheimpressionthatthechallengeofpoliticaltheologywouldvanishoncethecycleoffearwas brokenandhumanbeingsestablishedauthorityovertheirownaffairs.Westillmakethisassumption whenspeakingofthesocialcausesoffundamentalismandpoliticalmessianism,asiftheameliorationof materialconditionsortheshiftingofborderswouldautomaticallytriggeraGreatSeparation.Nothingin ourhistoryorcontemporaryexperienceconfirmsthisbelief,yetsomehowwecantletitgo.Wehave learnedHobbesslessontoowell,andfailedtoheedRousseaus.Andsowefindourselvesinan intellectualbindwhenweencountergenuinepoliticaltheologytoday:eitherweassumethat modernizationandsecularizationwilleventuallyextinguishit,orwetreatitasanincomprehensible existentialthreat,usingfamiliartermslikefascismtodescribeitasbestwecan.Neitherresponsetakes usastepclosertounderstandingtheworldwenowlivein. Itisaworldinwhichmillionsofpeople,particularlyintheMuslimorbit,believethatGodhasrevealeda lawgoverningthewholeofhumanaffairs.ThisbeliefshapesthepoliticsofimportantMuslimnations,and italsoshapestheattitudesofvastnumbersofbelieverswhofindthemselveslivinginWesterncountries andnonWesterndemocracieslikeTurkeyandIndonesiafoundedonthealienprinciplesoftheGreat Separation.Thesearethemostsignificantpointsoffriction,internationallyanddomestically.Andwe cannotreallyaddressthemifwedonotfirstrecognizetheintellectualchasmbetweenus:althoughitis possibletotranslateAhmadinejadslettertoBushfromFarsiintoEnglish,itsintellectualassumptions cannotbetranslatedintothoseoftheGreatSeparation.Wecantrytolearnhislanguageinorderto createsensiblepolicies,butagreementonbasicprincipleswontbepossible.Andwemustlearntolive withthat. Similarly,wemustsomehowfindawaytoacceptthefactthat,giventheimmigrationpoliciesWestern nationshavepursuedoverthelasthalfcentury,theynowarehoststomillionsofMuslimswhohavegreat difficultyfittingintosocietiesthatdonotrecognizeanypoliticalclaimsbasedontheirdivinerevelation. LikeOrthodoxJewishlaw,theMuslimShariahismeanttocoverthewholeoflife,notsomearbitrarily demarcatedprivatesphere,anditslegalsystemhasfewtheologicalresourcesforestablishingthe independenceofpoliticsfromdetaileddivinecommands.Itisanunfortunatesituation,butwehavemade ourbed,MuslimsandnonMuslimsalike.Accommodationandmutualrespectcanhelp,ascanclearrules governingareasoftension,likethestatusofwomen,parentsrightsovertheirchildren,speechoffensive toreligioussensibilities,speechincitingviolence,standardsofdressinpublicinstitutionsandthelike. Westerncountrieshaveadopteddifferentstrategiesforcoping,someforbiddingreligioussymbolslike theheadscarfinschools,otherspermittingthem.Butweneedtorecognizethatcopingistheorderofthe day,notdefendinghighprinciple,andthatourexpectationsshouldremainlow.Solongasasizable populationbelievesinthetruthofacomprehensivepoliticaltheology,itsfullreconciliationwithmodern liberaldemocracycannotbeexpected. VII.TheOppositeShore Thisisnotwelcomenews.Formorethantwocenturies,promotersofmodernizationhavetakenitfor

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grantedthatscience,technology,urbanizationandeducationwouldeventuallydisenchantthecharmed worldofbelievers,andthatwithtimepeoplewouldeitherabandontheirtraditionalfaithsortransform theminpoliticallyanodyneways.TheypointtocontinentalEurope,wherebeliefinGodhasbeenin steadydeclineoverthelast50years,andsuggestthat,withtime,Muslimseverywherewillundergoa similartransformation.Thosepredictionsmayeventuallyproveright.ButEuropesrapidsecularizationis historicallyuniqueand,aswehavejustseen,relativelyrecent.Politicaltheologyishighlyadaptiveand canpresenttoeveneducatedmindsamorecompellingvisionofthefuturethantheprospectofsecular modernity.Ittakesaslittleforahighlytrainedmedicaldoctortofashionacarbombtodayasittookfor advancedthinkerstofashionbiblicallyinspiredjustificationsoffascistandcommunisttotalitarianismin WeimarGermany.Whentheurgetoconnectisstrong,passionsarehighandfantasiesarevivid,the trinketsofourmodernlivesareimpotentamuletsagainstpoliticalintoxication. Realizingthis,anumberofMuslimthinkersaroundtheworldhavetakentopromotingaliberalIslam. WhattheymeanisanIslammoreadaptedtothedemandsofmodernlife,kinderinitstreatmentof womenandchildren,moretolerantofotherfaiths,moreopentodissent.Thesearebravepeoplewho haveoftensufferedfortheirefforts,inprisonorexile,asdidtheirpredecessorsinthe19thcentury,of whichthereweremany.Butnowasthen,theireffortshavebeensweptawaybydeepertheological currentstheycannotmasterandperhapsdonotevenunderstand.ThehistoryofProtestantandJewish liberaltheologyrevealstheproblem:themoreabiblicalfaithistrimmedtofitthedemandsofthe moment,thefewerreasonsitgivesbelieversforholdingontothatfaithintroubledtimes,whenself appointedguardiansoftheologicalpurityoffermoreradicalhope.Worsestill,whensuchafaithisusedto bestowtheologicalsanctificationonasingleformofpoliticallifeevenanattractiveonelikeliberal democracythemoreitwillbeseenascollaboratingwithinjusticewhenthatpoliticalsystemfails.The dynamicsofpoliticaltheologyseemtodictatethatwhenliberalizingreformerstrytoconformtothe present,theyinspireacountervailingandfarmorepassionatelongingforredemptioninthemessianic future.ThatiswhathappenedinWeimarGermanyandishappeningagainincontemporaryIslam. Thecomplacentliberalismandrevolutionarymessianismweveencounteredarenottheonlytheological options.Thereisanotherkindoftransformationpossibleinbiblicalfaiths,andthatistherenewalof traditionalpoliticaltheologyfromwithin.Ifliberalizersareapologistsforreligionatthecourtofmodern life,renovatorsstandfirmlywithintheirfaithandreinterpretpoliticaltheologysobelieverscanadapt withoutfeelingthemselvestobeapostates.LutherandCalvinwererenovatorsinthissense,not liberalizers.TheycalledChristiansbacktothefundamentalsoftheirfaith,butinawaythatmadeit easier,notharder,toenjoythefruitsoftemporalexistence.Theyfoundtheologicalreasonstorejectthe idealofcelibacy,anditsfrequentviolationbypriests,andthusreturnedtheclergytoordinaryfamilylife. Theythenfoundtheologicalreasonstorejectotherworldlymonasticismandthealltooworldly imperialismofRome,offeringbiblicalreasonsthatChristiansshouldbeloyalcitizensofthestatethey livein.Andtheydidthis,notbyspeakingtheapologeticlanguageoftolerationandprogress,butby rewritingthelanguageofChristianpoliticaltheologyanddemandingthatChristiansbefaithfultoit. Today,afewvoicesarecallingforjustthiskindofrenewalofIslamicpoliticaltheology.Some,likeKhaled AbouElFadl,alawprofessorattheUniversityofCalifornia,LosAngeles,challengetheauthorityof todayspuritans,whomakecategoricaljudgmentsbasedonaliteralreadingofscatteredKoranicverses. InAbouElFadlsview,traditionalIslamiclawcanstillbeappliedtopresentdaysituationsbecauseit bringsasubtleinterpretationofthewholetexttobearonparticularproblemsinvariedcircumstances. Others,liketheSwissbornclericandprofessorTariqRamadan,arepublicfigureswhosewritingsshow

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WesternMuslimsthattheirpoliticaltheology,properlyinterpreted,offersguidanceforlivingwith confidenceintheirfaithandgainingacceptanceinwhathecallsanalienabode.Toreadtheirworksisto beremindedwhatariskyventurerenewalis.Itcaninvitebelieverstoparticipatemorefullyandwiselyin thepoliticalpresent,astheProtestantReformationeventuallydiditcanalsofosterdreamsofreturning toamoreprimitivefaith,throughviolenceifnecessary,ashappenedintheWarsofReligion. Perhapsforthisreason,AbouElFadlandespeciallyRamadanhavebecomeobjectsofintenseand sometimesharshscrutinybyWesternintellectuals.WepreferspeakingwiththeIslamicliberalizers becausetheyshareourlanguage:theyaccepttheintellectualpresuppositionsoftheGreatSeparationand simplywantmaximumroomgivenforreligiousandculturalexpression.Theydonotpracticepolitical theology.Buttheprospectsofenduringpoliticalchangethroughrenewalareprobablymuchgreaterthan throughliberalization.Byspeakingfromwithinthecommunityofthefaithful,renovatorsgivebelievers compellingtheologicalreasonsforacceptingnewwaysasauthenticreinterpretationsofthefaith.Figures likeAbouElFadlandRamadanspeakastrangetongue,evenwhenpromotingchangeswefindworthy theirreasonsarenotourreasons.ButifwecannotexpectmassconversiontotheprinciplesoftheGreat SeparationandwecannotwehadbetterlearntowelcometransformationsinMuslimpolitical theologythateasecoexistence.Thebestshouldnotbetheenemyofthegood. Intheend,though,whathappensontheoppositeshorewillnotbeuptous.Wehavelittlereasonto expectsocietiesinthegripofapowerfulpoliticaltheologytofollowourunusualpath,whichwasopened upbyauniquecrisiswithinChristiancivilization.Thisdoesnotmeanthatthosesocietiesnecessarilylack thewherewithaltocreateadecentandworkablepoliticalorderitdoesmeanthattheywillhavetofind thetheologicalresourceswithintheirowntraditionstomakeithappen. Ourchallengeisdifferent.Wehavemadeachoicethatisatoncesimplerandharder:wehavechosento limitourpoliticstoprotectingindividualsfromtheworstharmstheycaninflictononeanother,to securingfundamentallibertiesandprovidingfortheirbasicwelfare,whileleavingtheirspiritualdestinies intheirownhands.WehavewageredthatitiswisertobewaretheforcesunleashedbytheBibles messianicpromisethantotryexploitingthemforthepublicgood.Wehavechosentokeepourpolitics unilluminatedbydivinerevelation.Allwehaveisourownlucidity,whichwemusttrainonaworldwhere faithstillinflamesthemindsofmen. MarkLillaisprofessorofthehumanitiesatColumbiaUniversity.Thisessayisadaptedfromhisbook TheStillbornGod:Religion,PoliticsandtheModernWest,whichwillbepublishednextmonth.
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