The Culture of Disbelief
“Our public culture,” writes Yale University legal scholar Stephen L. Carter, “more and more prefers religion as something without political significance, less an independent moral force than a quietly irrelevant moralizer, never heard, rarely seen.” In zealously preventing the imposition of religion, Carter believes, Americans have silenced public expression of religion too much for their own good.
As Carter understands religion, it finds its primary location in traditions of group worship. Religion is essentially a social and public activity, not just a private and individualistic matter. Religion assumes the existence of a reality—most, but not all, Americans would call that reality God—which is more than human. In Carter’s view, this reality is not bounded by the observed principles and limits of natural science. Even more important, this reality and the traditions it inspires make demands on their adherents.
Religious belief and practice require acting in some ways and not in others; they entail convictions about right and wrong, good and evil, that must find public expression. Those convictions must do so because no person’s life is ever a purely private affair—we all live in public—and because the demands that religion enjoins rarely, if ever, are purely private matters, either. Thus, Carter fears trends that he sees: Americans endanger both religion and the ideal of democratic liberty to the extent that their...
(The entire section is 386 words.)
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