A Christian defense of the church-state divide.



Harker (Youth Ministry in Crisis, 2004, etc.) warns of threats to the separation of church and state in this examination of America’s religious climate.

Many believe that the United States’ tradition of separating government and religion is the key to its greatness. Others believe that it’s holding the country back. In this book, Harker asserts that the latter position has been gaining strength in American politics and is poised to bring about lasting damage to the republic: “the theocratic impulse is not only alive and well in America but flourishing in ways that could barely have been imagined half a century ago.” He takes as his central issue the idea of Sunday legislation, or “blue laws,” that enforce traditional notions of Sunday as a day of worship and rest, while also defending the secular, constitutional foundations of American liberty. From the first Sunday legislation passed at Jamestown to the evangelical-backed rise of Donald Trump, Harker attempts to identify those strands within American Protestantism that tend toward theocracy and to counter them with biblical quotes, church history, Catholic perspectives, and Enlightenment-influenced Protestant values. Harker writes in a scholarly, sometimes-knotty prose that moves comfortably through the realms of history, politics, theology, and philosophy: “The autonomy of reason is a Greek legacy within Roman Catholicism that gives ultimate shape to Catholic natural law.” However, his train of thought may not always be crystal clear to readers who may occasionally become confused about how particular arguments relate to his thesis; for example, at one point, it’s initially unclear how a discussion of Vatican II and Catholic “higher values” relates back to the evangelicals he’d discussed earlier. The specialized nature of the material suggests the author is writing for other religious thinkers and not a general audience. Still, the mere fact that Harker is making a theological case against theocratic laws, however, is notable in itself, and the depth of his knowledge is impressive and authoritative. Whether such a strategy will change minds remains to be seen, but the author’s ideas will hopefully help to bring the debate into new territory.

A Christian defense of the church-state divide.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5437-4366-1

Page Count: 248

Publisher: PartridgeSingapore

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.


New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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