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 oneis 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)