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Archive for Sunday, August 27, 2006

Church + State

Authors this fall explore religion in politics

August 27, 2006

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— This fall, former Sen. John C. Danforth will tour the country in support of his new book, "Faith and Politics," an attempt, he says, to start a discussion about the role of religion in elections and government.

Danforth will not be alone.

Religion in politics, a key topic of the 2004 presidential campaign and possibly 2008, is the subject of numerous books over the next few months, including Mel White's "Religion Gone Bad," Dan Gilgoff's "The Jesus Machine," Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and the Rev. Barry W. Lynn's "Piety & Politics."

Most of the authors have harsh criticism for religion's impact, with Dawkins writing in disgust about "a system of morals which any civilized modern person, whether religious or not, would find ... obnoxious." Dawkins' book has an announced first printing of 75,000, and his editor at Houghton Mifflin, Eamon Dolan, says that "The God Delusion" reflects a "rising unease with the current state of the world."

"I feel that there's a growing sentiment among thoughtful people in general, whether they're religious or not, that religious belief has gotten us into many of the problems we now find ourselves in - from 9/11 to the Israel-Lebanon conflict to the ban on stem cell research," says Dolan, Houghton Mifflin's vice president and editor in chief.

Others, such as Jonathan Miller, a Democrat and Kentucky's state treasurer, see a positive, unifying role for religion. His "The Compassionate Community" advocates a "values-based policy agenda," based in part on biblical writings, and includes an afterword by former Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, and a blurb from Republican Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and head of the Environmental Protection Agency.


Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth leans on a stack of his latest book, "Faith and Politics," in his St. Louis office.

Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth leans on a stack of his latest book, "Faith and Politics," in his St. Louis office.

Danforth's book may remind readers of Whitman's "It's My Party Too," published in 2005 and a call for GOP moderation. Danforth, an Episcopal priest and former Republican senator from Missouri, says he was inspired to write "Faith and Politics" by the dispute over Terry Schiavo, the irreversibly brain-damaged Florida woman who became a favorite cause of the religious right, and leading Republicans.

"That was the 2-by-4 that hit me over the head. I felt that was totally inappropriate and out of hand," says Danforth, whose book is being published by Viking with a first printing of 100,000.

"The question is whether religion is a reconciling participant in world affairs and American life, or whether it's divisive. To the extent that there has been a marriage of the Republican party with the Christian right, I think religion has been a divisive factor in political life."

Diverse movement

Jonathan Karp, publisher of the Warner Twelve imprint at Warner Books, notes a related trend among other books coming out, what he calls the "feeling among blue state writers that they are out of touch with America and their need to go into that part of America themselves."

Karp cites Brian Mann's "Welcome to the Homeland," coming from Steerforth Press and billed as an antidote to "the condescending conclusion that supporters of President Bush and the right wing Republicans who control Congress are either dumb or mean." Similar works include Peter Feuerhard's "HolyLand USA," Lauren Sandler's "Righteous" and Jeffery L. Sheler's "Believers."

"We keep hearing about the evangelical movement, but many people don't know all that much about it," says Carolyn Carlson: executive editor of Viking Penguin, which is publishing Sheler and Sandler. "It's a much more diverse movement than we're often led to believe."

Bush tales

President Bush still has more than two years left in office, but authors aren't waiting to write his history. Two best-sellers from the summer, Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco" and Ron Suskind's "The One Percent Doctrine," offered inside stories of the administration's handling of the war on terror. That continues in the fall with Bob Woodward's "Inside the Bush White House, the Second Term" and Michael Isikoff's and David Corn's "Hubris."

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James MacGregor Burns assesses the leadership of Bush and other recent presidents in "Running Alone." Frank Rich's "The Greatest Story Ever Sold" reviews how the administration has shaped its own narrative. Lewis Lapham's "Pretensions to Empire" examines the president's actions and offers a two-word conclusion: impeach him.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell will have his say in Karen DeYoung's "Soldier," an authorized biography. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft looks back in "Never Again" and John Yoo, the lawyer who helped shape the Bush administration's guidelines for its war on terror, presents his case in "War by Other Means."

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