A philosophically sophisticated argument that American democracy has roots in Christian ideals.
Mammoser (co-author, Dealing with Media for the Church, 1999) swims against contemporary currents to make a case that the principles of our country’s democracy derive from evangelical concepts and that this works to its historical benefit. The scope of his analysis is ambitiously broad, investigating the remote origins of Christian thought in philosophers such as St. Augustine, Cicero and St. Thomas Aquinas and in the Enlightenment; he then gauges the collective impact of these meditations on the Founding Fathers. His argument runs contrary to the view that the U.S. government is based on a strict segregation of religious and public life, which is enshrined in several Supreme Court decisions. He says that the distinction between church and state was meant to mutually strengthen both—a view based on a controversial reading of the meaning of the First Amendment, although not one without powerful precedent. The book is at its best when it explores the intersection of early Christian philosophers and democratic theory, locating a common theme in the irreducible dignity of each person. Mammoser is to be commended for shifting the debate beyond appeals to scriptural authority, instead excavating the reasoning, or natural law, that underpins Christian doctrine. Sometimes he overlooks the possibility that some of the Founding Fathers weren’t very strongly Christian, or even religious, as when he says that “[James] Madison believed the Christian faith strong enough doctrinally, theologically, morally, and intellectually that it did not need the support of civil government.” Other sources have noted that Madison was, at heart, deeply skeptical about all theological claims. Also, although the author draws some powerful links, he doesn’t entirely clarify why evangelical thought, in particular, has a special claim to influencing democracy. As a whole, however, the book does a creditable job of articulating an often overlooked perspective.
A challenging contribution to the debate over the separation of church and state.