[The cathedral is] nominally Episcopal but I’ve always thought of it as the beating heart of ceremonial deism, so no surprise that it would shift as the wider public does.
Say this for [Dean Gary Hall], too: He makes no bones about his political intentions. Although if you’re head of the National Cathedral and reaching out to press a hot button, why bother doing that? Why pretend it’s a purely religious decision when it’s not?
Allahpundit is obviously right about the ceremonial deism part. And I’ll be the first to admit that this strange American habit is bad for church and state alike.
But it’s absurd to suggest that the National Cathedral is only “nominally Episcopal.”
Political leaders in the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of the upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation’s constitution that says “religion shall remain above politics.”
John F. Kennedy's famous
Houston speech on church and state during
the 1960 presidential campaign elicited Rick Santorum's after-the-fact disgust. Though Santorum
misrepresents the speech in some ways--Kennedy didn't say anything about
limiting religious institutions and leaders from speaking on public issues--he
is right to find the speech theologically lame.
Vice-President Al Gore chose a safe venue—a Salvation Army gathering in Atlanta—to start talking about religion. But he knew he had to go beyond such comfortable surroundings if he was to make a serious case that "without values of conscience, our political life degenerates."
The Ten Commandments may soon, by decree, be posted on public school walls. Burnt into wood or graven as images in stone, or merely inked, they will contribute to American moral security. Soft-headed liberals react by pointing out how many Americans are left out by such government endorsements of a particular faith. Many schools have Muslim majorities.
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.
In the current culture wars, religious liberals tend to ally themselves with the educational establishment against those on the Religious Right who are attacking the public schools. In politics and theology, I line up with the left. Nonetheless, I believe with the right that public education is hostile to religion—not least to liberal religion. The problem isn't the absence of school prayers.
The often uninformed and partisan climate of the current dialogue about religion and public education makes this book, which provides a sane historical context for the debate, especially valuable. James W. Fraser succeeds in shedding light rather than heat on this potentially contentious issue.