The U.S. Supreme Court's opinions about the relationship between religion and the state have been increasingly separationist, argues Phillip Hammond, a distinguished sociologist of religion and contributor to the so-called civil religion discussion. Although the nation "began as a de facto Protestant society," it has since the close of the Civil War moved toward greater and greater government neutrality not only toward differing religions but also toward the difference between religion and irreligion. This is as it should be, Hammond thinks. Behind the Constitution, he contends, is a "constitutional faith," and separationism, rightly understood, is its legal or judicial expression.
Vincent van Gogh, Still Life With French Novels and Rose, oil on canvas, 1887.
One of the best things about William Willimon's new book is that he introduces us to serious, spiritually significant works of fiction and makes us want to read them. One of the worst is that we might be tempted to take Willimon's book as a shortcut, using his summaries of great novels as a substitute for reading them.
Everyone seems to agree that America's moral fabric is being undermined by the unwise proliferation of consumer credit. We readily believe those who claim that easy credit fuels rampant hedonism and leads many to bankruptcy. Wistfully, we compare ourselves to ancestors who supposedly controlled their spending and never went into debt. We believe that our present affluence is a bubble that will surely burst.
What kind of book is Herman Melville's Moby Dick? Is it a book about whaling? In some ways it is—full of empirical information on the subject. Is it a novel about the perennial mystery of evil and its impact on the human spirit? It is that too.