July 23, 2005

Separation of Church and Church and Church and State


Has religion taken a chain saw to the vision of America?

In reading about NYT law professor Noah Feldman’s new book "Divided by God: America’s Church-State Problem — and What We Should Do About It," I’m not that sure how well the cover represents the contents.  Still, I couldn’t be more interested in the cover.

I’m interested in how you would pull apart (or, perhaps, put back together) this illustration. 

If Feldman is defining a split between American secular and religious interests, how representative are these slices?  Also, is he assuming that the "more fundamentalist" interests of Jews, Christians and Muslims are somehow coequal in opposition to the interests of the state?  (Wouldn’t the image be more accurate if two or maybe three sections sported crosses while the other symbols were grouped together on two different sections, or one quarter section?) 

Given that the book has the look of a bible, are the different religious factions tearing apart the spiritual fabric of our society — or somehow attempting to form separate but equal manifestations of the state? 

How come the "Christian section" is turned up (revealed? exposed?) in the lower left corner?  With the little fragment coming loose, is the "Jewish segment" reaching out to the Muslim one?  Is it simply by chance that the Federal and Christian portions are "on top?"  (What other dynamics can be found in the way the sections are arranged?) 

I guess I understand the Jews being signified by the ten commandments, but when symbolizing Islam, isn’t the crescent supposed to be accompanied with a star? 

If you consider that the illustration depicts a blank white background beneath the book’s cover, doesn’t the image subtlety discredit the idea that these different interests can be reconciled?  Does the fact the subtitle is cut in half also undermine Feldman’s proposed solution?

Because many of you like to know more about the content behind the images I present, I offer a brief summary  after the fold.  (Or, you can read the long excerpt from the NYT Magazine published July 3rd, or these reviews at Salon or the NYT.)

As I understand it, Feldman believes that the line between church and
state is so legally muddled that neither the secularist nor the
evangelicals are happy. Supposedly, the evangelicals seek harmony
through the common embrace of traditional values while the secularists
see unity as an expression of citizenship, with faith remaining a
private matter. Feldman proposes a compromise. He suggests that the
secularists allow the evangelicals open (or at least, equal
opportunity) expression of religious gestures and symbols (prayer in
the classroom; public and private display of Christian symbols and
rituals) in exchange for the removal of public funding or underwriting
of Christian institutions and initiatives (school vouchers, faith-based
charities). Feldman seems to win praise for elaborating the history of
the separation of church and state. His solution, though, earns
criticism as being overly naive.

Certainly, my sense of the evangelical position is one of "winner take all."

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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