The Wall Street Journal today (9/15/07) published an excerpt of Mark Lilla’s new book titled: ‘The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West’. Mark Lilla is a professor at Columbia University.
Judging from the WSJ excerpt, Mr. Lilla has done a credible job of taking the reader from ancient time to the present while examining religious thought, theory and practice as it applies to political systems. Despite the implication in his book title that ‘God is dead’ (“Stillborn”), Lilla does not (at least in the excerpt) come across as a take-no-prisoners, iconoclastic atheist, ala Christopher Hitchens. He acknowledges that different people approach the facts of their existence, in relation to whatever God(s) they do or do not believe in, in different ways. After acknowledging that, however, he does make it clear which side he leans toward with the statement that: “Religion is something that happens to human beings, arising out of ignorance and fear or as a mythical expression of a society’s collective consciousness”.
Mark Lilla’s religious beliefs are not, however, as important as the questions he poses and hopes to answer:
“Why do certain religious beliefs get translated into doctrines about political life?
What reasons do people give for appealing to God in their political thought?”
Judging from this excerpt, Lilla’s answers to those questions will be eloquent and well thought out — and are perhaps ‘hinted at’ by the following excerpt from the WSJ’s excerpt:
“. . . political theology is a way of thinking; it is an activity, not a psychological state. Subjectively viewed, religion is a choice, perhaps even a rational choice, for individuals and societies. We all face the implicit alternative between living in light of what we take to be divine revelation, or living in some other way.”
This will be a book worth reading if you live as a firm believer, an inflexible doubter or anywhere in between. Read, however, not to justify your personal beliefs but to to understand why personal religious beliefs often translate into public policy — and to, perhaps, answer the question that Lilla did not choose to pose: ‘under what, if any, circumstances is the confluence of religion and politics appropriate and desirable’.
And remember, as you read and interpret, that only a very small minority of religious people and a very small minority of the non-religious are completely inflexible in their belief (or disbelief), and the motivation for those who refuse to even attempt to understand their opposite number is simply insecurity. Mark Lilla shows no signs of insecurity — nor should his readers.
Wall Street Journal articles: BOOK EXCERPT: ‘The Stillborn God: Religion,
Politics, and the Modern West’ Contested Authority By PETER BERKOWITZ
New York Sun: The Age Of Political Theology
From the Blogosphere:
The Faithful Skeptic: the politics of God: Mark Lilla’s new book
Rumblings: The Political and the Divine