Robert Benne – Good and Bad Ways to Think About Religion and Politics (Eerdmans, 2010)

In the Introduction, Benne explains that the impetus for the book was his ‘outrage… [at] so many wrongheaded “takes” on how religion and politics ought to be related’, so I was a little surprised that he produced something so moderate and restrained. The first half of the book critiques, with admirable brevity and clarity, the more extreme views on the topic from both the secular and religious camps, while the second half sets out his vision for a better approach.

He demonstrates how Christians have compromised their faith when either fusing religion and politics or separating the two entirely, à la the Amish or Mennonites. Likewise, the reaction of secularists to the Religious Right has vitiated their own liberal ideals. Benne insists that the integrity of Christian religion and even personal Christian faith demands an approach that allows the core principle of the faith to shape one’s response to political issues. He does not believe that Christianity necessitates a particular political ideology, but does think that Christianity naturally supports particular views on certain issues, such as abortion and freedom on religion.

It is with many reservations that he promotes direct political involvement by the Church, but promote it he does. However, he sees religion’s greater impact in the shaping of its adherents’ morals and ideology.

The topic is approached from an American, Lutheran perspective, but the conclusions are easily generalised. And as America’s history provides the basis rather than religious writings, the arguments are equally compelling from a religious or secular perspective.

It is with some discomfort that Benne moves from the descriptive and the proscriptive to the prescriptive, which made me feel certain things were left unsaid. But, on the whole, I think he provides a very wise response to the issue.

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