January 22, 2012


Denis Lacorne, Religion in America: A Political History, translated from the French by George Holoch, with a Foreword by Tony Judt (New York: Columbia U. Press, 2011) ("There is general agreement that the United States is the most religious of advanced Western democracies. The level of religious observance in the country is unusually high and political language is imbued with religious values and religious references. . . . And yet this reality is the source of major misunderstandings, cliches, and misperceptions between the United States and other Western nations regarding the proper role of religion in a modern democracy." "Nowhere is this more evident than in France, where contemporary writers . . . are particularly disturbed by what they see on the American political scene: the proliferation of religious slogans and allegories; the frequency of worship services prayer meetings, and thanksgiving celebrations organized by public authorities, the inordinate use of a Manichean rhetoric opposing of Good tot he forces of Evil. Such belief that the United States is an aggressively and apologetically Christian nation, Its political creed, it is argued, has remained fundamentally Anglo-Protestant, despite an increasing influx of Asian and Latino immigrants whose cultural values are by definition outside the ambit of Anglo-Protestantism." Based on these assumptions, numerous French observers have concluded that there is no escape form religion in American politics and that, despite its well-established republican framework, American democracy is less advanced because it has not completed its process of secularization, The French, they argue, are more authentically 'republican' than the Americans, because they have enshrined a secular ideal in the first article of their constitution and have established a long-lasting separation between church and state." "Against the background of these widely accepted continental cliches, I have attempted to do two things in this book. The first is to trace the broad outlines of the rile of religion in the formation of a distinct American national identity. The second is toe examine against this background, how key French thinkers, from Voltaire and Tocqueville to Sartre and Bernard-Henri levy, have tried to explain the place and significance of religion in American politics." Id. at xv-xvi. Perhaps. if American wants to be a moral and political leader, rather than a mere military or economic leader, on the global stage, American needs to get past religion and become more secular. "By 'secularism,' I do not simply mean the absence of religious belief, which is fairly rare in America. I refer to a larger phenomenon, a gradual 'disenchantment of the world' in Weber's sense--that is, a gradual rationalization of public life, accompanied by a noticeable disentanglement of religious and lay natters. In that respect, American secularism preceded the French process of laicization and served as a model." Id. at 147. Unfortunately, there is an a competing American tradition that causes us to backslide away from our secular, and more enlightened, tradition.).