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January 25, 2008
There is has been much talk in recent years about whether America is going through—or has perhaps just completed—one of those tumultuous periods in which religion, society, and politics interact in powerful ways that leave all three decisively transformed. Historians call these periods Great Awakenings, though they often differ over how many there have been and exactly when they took place.
The first Great Awakening occurred in the mid-18th-century colonies, as popular Protestant church leaders such as Jonathan Edwards sparked a movement that shook up staid, institutionalized Congregationalism with a new emphasis on personal experience and born-again revivalism. Challenging established authority figures, and not just those in the church, this awakening encouraged the anti-authoritarian and individualistic tendencies of an increasingly independent-minded people and even supported the growth of a new, transcolonial American identity.
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January 18, 2008
Mike Huckabee is an evangelical with political ambitions, but he sure doesn't act like Pat Robertson. He plays the guitar. He drops witty one-liners on the late-night talk shows. He resists being pushy or judgmental. He voices as much concern for postnatal life as for prenatal life. He seems genuinely concerned about the less fortunate, including the children of illegal immigrants. Given those qualities, it's probably not surprising that many old-guard leaders of the religious right seem uneasy about the former Baptist minister and Arkansas governor—or at least about his surprisingly strong showing in the Republican presidential primaries.
Is Huckabee the political expression of something new in the evangelical Christian movement? Some analysts think so. Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay, writing in the the Immanent Frame, calls him a "new kind of evangelical that is less interested in 'taking back the country' for the faithful and more interested in his faith being seen as authentic, reasonable, and attractive." Dubbing this new type the "cosmopolitan evangelical," Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power, says that many who fit the label have become influential Washington players, still committed to the antiabortion and traditional marriage agenda but "also concerned about the environment and...federal support for the poor and suffering." Some of these cosmopolitan evangelicals are politically liberal, Lindsay explains, but just as many, if not more, are conservatives who favor a truly compassionate and less confrontational conservatism. Think Rick Warren goes to Washington. Or, for that matter, Mike Huckabee.
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January 11, 2008
The sound of publishers' envelopes and boxes dropping onto the office floor is a steady reminder that there is no end to the writing of books, including books about religion. So many words; so little time to ingest and savor. But I do my best to skim and sometimes even to peruse.
In a time of increased fascination with matters political, it is hardly surprising that books on religion and politics command immediate attention. Jacques Berlinerblau, a professor of Jewish studies at Georgetown University, couldn't be more timely with his wittily titled warning to presidential wannabes, Thumpin' It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today's Presidential Politics. The message here is that Oval Office hopefuls, all of whom are prone to quoting from the Good Book to support their positions, need to be more careful about those slippery, contradictory, and sometimes even nonexistent passages from the Bible. Try as one might, it's hard to make a compelling case against stem cell research from anything contained in the Old or New Testaments. But try pols most certainly will, on this and other matters, and the results of their efforts should come, Berlinerblau tongue-in-cheekishly suggests, with a candidate's disclaimer that his (or her) use of a particular passage may be subject to radically different readings.