Richard John Neuhaus: The Naked Piblic Square: Religion and Democracy; William B. Eerdmans; Grand Rapids, MI.
The worst thing about the wonderful but secondary and nonsalvific blessings of Christianity is that once those who enjoy the divine bestowals have forgotten their source, these blessings are set up as objects of new and destructive forms of worship. The Scientific Revolution, for instance, could never have occurred without the Christian understanding of an ordered, beneficent creation performed by a transcendent Deity. Yet during the last century and a half naturalistic scientism has been one of the strongest foes of the faith that made science possible. Similarly, modem liberal democracy would have been impossible without the scriptural concepts of the sacred worth of the individual and the strict impartiality of divine justice. But in recent decades some political leaders and commentators have attacked religion, especially public religion, as incompatible with the kind of democracy to which it gave birth. In disingenuous and finally futile response to atheistic scientists or secularist democrats, some try to defend scriptural faith by making it look like the child, not the parent, of science and democracy: this way lies both “scientific creationism” and”liberation theology.” True friends of theocentric faith, as well as science and democracy, must frankly admit that religion is larger than and, in significant ways, different from, its terrestrial progeny. It is not essentially scientific, nor is it at heart democratic. As Hans Kindt, a Latter-day-Saint preacher, once put it: “God is not some celestial politician seeking your vote. God is to be found, and God is to be obeyed.”
God’s stubborn refusal to stand for office every four years, or to submit the Ten Commandments or Sermon on the Mount to popular referendum, has made Him a prime target for radical egalitarians bent upon making America “more democratic.” Tbe Naked Public Square, written by leading Lutheran pastor Richard John Neuhaus, director of The Rockford Institute’s Center on Religion & Society in New York, offers a cogent demonstration, however, that without public acknowledgment of the unelected King of kings, America’s liberal democracy could not have been born and cannot now survive. In prose that combines rigor and wit, Pastor Neuhaus argues that the moral legitimacy of democratic government is evident only beneath the “sacred canopy” of suprademocratic religious beliefs. In the absence of such a canopy, the strictly secular, “naked” public square speedily becomes a battlefield in the “civil war” of unprincipled interest groups. In these profane circumstances, democracy does not seem worth defending, and consequently power-hungry revolutionaries find it easy to turn the state itself into the new church and themselves into the totalitarian new gods.
Pastor Neuhaus is heartened to find “a deep and widespread uneasiness” about America’s increasingly naked public square among millions of “incorrigibly religious” Americans. But he is not optimistic as he scans the contemporary scene for a credible religious leadership for these millions. Whereas formerly the main-line Protestant denominations provided such leadership, they have now lost their sense of the “miraculous and transcendent” and become merely “a haven for refugees from radicalisms past.” The assertive religious right, in Neuhaus’s view, is too individualistic in its theology and too ‘undemocratic and unsophisticated in its cultural orientation to show the way for the country. His hope, hardly an ebullient one, is that some how an ecumenical union of Lutherans and Catholics can fill the leadership void.
Of course, many American Christians skeptical of ecumenicalism ( or Catholicism or Lutheranism) will find reasons for finding fault with Pastor Neuhaus’s ecclesiology and his plans for shoring up the American democracy. Given the unprecedented incidence of adultery, divorce, child abuse, pomography, and abortion, many may further wonder if it is not naive to suppose middle America to be as religious as it has ever been. But even if the new “Church militant” called for by Pastor Neuhaus requires different generals and more active recruitment of privates than he envisions, his study makes clear that only the public emergence of such an army can prevent antidemocratic and irreligious troops from seizing power. (BC)