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Book Review: American Grace
« on: October 05, 2011, 11:05:54 AM »
Peter Berkowitz on American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, with the assistance of Shaylyn Romney Garrett.

Religious toleration, according to the authors, is generally on the rise in the United States. Yet while relations between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews have never been better, not all interreligious tensions have been dissolved. Putnam and Campbell emphasize that one interreligious division, with implications for the 2012 elections, remains particularly potent — the tendency among evangelicals to hold negative views of Mormons. More generally, the authors report, “Three groups stand out for their unpopularity — Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims.”

Yet when all is said and done, America is far from a house divided. Indeed, given America’s exceptional religious devotion and diversity, the degree of unity the country exhibits is remarkable. One factor, according to the authors, is civil religion or the generally nondenominational view, inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, that individual liberty and human equality are rooted in God’s creation. Another is the Constitution, the First Amendment of which both prohibits an establishment of religion and protects its free expression, thereby providing believers of all faiths wide latitude, consistent with laws binding on all citizens, to worship as they deem appropriate. A third factor flows from the political institutionalization of toleration which, by bringing people of different faiths and no faith at all together, encourages habits of heart and mind that reinforce the spirit of toleration. Putnam and Campbell call this “religious bridging,” or the common practice in contemporary America of spending time with people of different faiths or nonbelievers. “Multiple strands of evidence point in the same direction,” they argue. “When Americans associate with people of religions other than their own — or people with no religion at all — they become more accepting of other religions.” And this has served the interests of liberal democracy in America: “Interreligious mixing, mingling, and marrying have kept America’s religious melting pot from boiling over.”
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