The Culture of Disbelief:
How American Law and Politics
Trivialize Religious Devotion

Professor Stephen Carter

328 pages, paperback

Anchor, 1994
ISBN: 0385474989

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Stephen Carter, The Culture of Disbelief

The Culture Of Disbelief has been the subject of an enormous amount of media attention from the first moment it was published. That media attention was only amplified when President Clinton praised the book while telling a group of religious leaders that America is too secular. Hugely successful in hardcover, the Anchor paperback is sure to find a large audience as the ever-increasing, enduring debate about the relationship of church and state in America continues.

In The Culture Of Disbelief, Stephen Carter explains how we can preserve the vital separation of church and state while embracing rather than trivializing the faith of millions of citizens or treating religious believers with disdain. What makes Carter's work so intriguing is that he uses liberal means to arrive at what are often considered conservative ends. Explaining how preserving a special role for religious communities can strengthen our democracy, The Culture Of Disbelief recovers the long tradition of liberal religious witness (for example, the antislavery, antisegregation, and Vietnam-era antiwar movements). Carter argues that the problem with the 1992 Republican convention was not the fact of open religious advocacy, but the political positions being advocated.


Rational argument rarely seems as warm, as human, as it does in this book...Carter leads the reader to contemplate the embattled constitutional wall between the state and religion, and he does so without furor, without dogma, with only the qualities he envisions in the ideal public square: moderation, restraint, respect.

The New Yorker

An important broadside attack on, as Carter (Law/Yale; Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, 1991) puts it, the ``effort to banish religion for politic's sake.'' In this passionately argued polemic which Carter, a black Episcopalian, backs with personal anecdote, historical research, and legal brief the case is made that something has gone awry in American politics since the heyday of the civil-rights struggle. To wit: In the 1960's, Martin Luther King, Jr., was applauded for bringing religious convictions to the public arena and thus continuing an American tradition of Judeo-Christian moral activism. But today, Carter says, the media and the liberal establishment wish to tuck religious beliefs back in the closet (witness the dismay when Hillary Rodham Clinton wore a cross around her neck to some inaugural events). While Carter supports strict separation of church and state, he wonders at recent court decisions that seem to go for the religious jugular. Especially at risk, he believes, are minority religions, as evidenced by the recent judicial approval of logging on Native American sacred lands. This wide-ranging study offers discussions of creationism, classroom prayer, private funding for parochial schools, euthanasia, sex education, and the ultimate hot potato, abortion all noteworthy for their patient analysis and moderate stance. While the law can never establish religion, concludes Carter, we would do well to reclaim the venerable idea that religious faith can be our best guide for political action. Sure to provoke much acclamation and dissent.

Kirkus Reviews

In our (Americans') sensible zeal to keep religion from dominating our politics, argues Carter (Professor of Law, Yale U.), we have constructed political and legal cultures that force the religiously devout to act as if their faith doesn't really matter. Carter goes on to explain how we can preserve the separation of church and state while embracing rather than trivializing the faith of millions of citizens. Written clearly, without jargon, for a wide audience including yes secular humanists.

Book News, Inc.


Stephen L. CarterStephen L. Carter is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University. Once a clerk to former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, today he is one of the nation's leading experts on constitutional law, and was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 50 leaders of the next century.

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