God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics
Stephen L. Carter
Basic, 288 pages, $26

During the 1992 Republican Convention, Vice President Dan Quayle shouted this question to a room full of delegates: "Who do we trust?"

The assembly yelled, "Jesus!"

Quayle had expected to hear, "George Bush!"

This anecdote appears early in God's Name in Vain by Yale law professor Stephen Carter. The question, of course, is whether this is a parable about Christians (a) selling their souls for a place at a worldly table or (b) bluntly confessing that eternal authority is more important than a political endorsement. The answer seems to be—both.

In this sequel to his breakthrough book, The Culture of Disbelief, Carter argues that believers—even fundamentalists and evangelicals—have every right to raise their voices early and often in the public square. He warns, however, that they will pay a high price for their covenants with political principalities and powers.

So, yes, the Religious Right has softened its rhetoric on moral and social issues in order to dance with the Libertarians in the GOP tent.

But what goes around comes around, notes Carter, who openly identifies himself as an evangelical believer in this book. Leaders on the Religious Left have also walked this tricky path. Long ago, the clergy who led the civil rights movement surrendered many of their most prophetic goals when they married the Democratic Party. How long has it been since anyone heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson preach a prolife sermon?

This would not have surprised C. S. Lewis, whose brief essay "Meditation on the Third Commandment" provides one of the central themes of this book. In it, Lewis argued against founding a "Christian" political party. If it were ...

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