With all due respect to baseball, America’s real national pastime is, and has long been, arguing about the place of religion in politics. In the USA, religious faith has always played a role in shaping policy and inspiring citizens, and those same citizens have always wondered, and sometimes worried, about this influence.
From the outset, we have believed that church and state are and should be distinct and also have known that faith and public policy are not and cannot be entirely separate. Finding and maintaining the right balance ”” avoiding both a reduction of religion to politics and an elevation of politics to religion ”” has been and remains a challenge.
One of the most important political stories of the past 25 years ”” one in which this challenge has been at center stage ”” is the emergence, energy and electoral success of the so-called Religious Right. This development unsettled what had become the comfortable consensus among many modern sociologists and suggested that their predictions of religion’s decline, like reports of Mark Twain’s death, were greatly exaggerated.