Edited by Leroy S. Rouner
American political life has long honored the separation of church and state as the best way to protect religion from control by the state, and the state from control by religion. Yet religion has been a critical resource for the moral foundations without which the state crumbles. The significance of religion for American political and economic life is everywhere evident, from the appeals to God in The Declaration of Independence to the appearance on our legal tender of the words, “In God We Trust.”
This same paradox is reflected in the relation between religion and peace. Religion has probably been the single most significant cause of warfare in human history; and, at the same time, the single most significant force for peace. The passion for a single Ultimate Truth which authorizes the slaughter of infidels, is also, simultaneously, a passion to feed the hungry and care for the afflicted, with “leaves for the healing of the nations.” The essays in Religion, Politics, and Peace will not untangle the paradox, even though they recognize it. For the most part, they are concerned to explore ways in which religion has both enhanced political life and served the cause of peace.
Spurred on by Stephen Carter’s influential study of The Culture of Disbelief, there has been a growing suspicion among thoughtful people of various political persuasions that the doctrine of church-state separation has too often been used to trivialize religion in society and marginalize it in politics. These authors, for the most part, follow Carter’s lead in arguing that religion has a valid voice in the political process, and sometimes even a healing role for the body politic.
Jurgen Moltmann, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Elie Wiesel believe that the transcendental religious themes of reconciliation and political hope are viable in contemporary politics, and—in spite of all the difficulties and limitation attending that viability—they ground that belief in personal experience. Elshtain has seen reconciliation at work in South Africa; Moltmann has seen glimpses of it in Germany and elsewhere in Europe; Wiesel may hope largely because despair is not an option for him, but the fact that he and others of his generation are still working for peace is testimony to the practical power of hope.
For Bhikhu Parekh, Stephen Darwall, John Clayton, and Ronald F. Theimann the issue is largely understanding how varieties of religious experience can coexist creatively in a political situation which has not regularly welcomed them. They are agreed that religion has a contribution to make to political life, although they are wary of claiming too much for that role. Liberals all—with various degrees of chastening—they support a secular state even as they tend to oppose the marginalization of religion in the political community.
John Hick, Stephanie Kaza, and Raimon Pannikar present a different view. They are visionaries and idealists. True, they make an occasional bow in the direction of the operational and the instrumental, but there are no pragmatists here. They focus less on what is than on what ought to be. Reinhold Niebuhr would remind them that we live in a sin-sick and weary world where ideals are not regularly realized, and they acknowledge that. But Kaza can go Niebuhr’s realism one better: No one really knows the future. And while Hick and Panikkar have not personally suffered the Holocaust, they have a right to their hope, as Wiesel has a right to his.
“Rouner and the 10 authors who contributed to this book hold that religion is inseparable from politics and peace. While religious commitments can lead to political division, without a religious basis the political arena lacks a theoretical and moral foundation. Similarly, religious beliefs can move people to violence, but they also provide the preconditions for peace and a humane way of life. The contributors recognize this phenomenon and explore the ways in which religion has enhanced political life and served the cause of peace.” —New Oxford Review