A brilliant account of religion's role in the political thinking of the West, from the Enlightenment to the close of World War II.The wish to bring political life under God's authority is nothing new, and it's clear that today religious passions are again driving world politics, confounding expectations of a secular future. In this major book, Mark Lilla reveals the sources of this age-old quest-and its surprising role in shaping Western thought. Making us look deeper into our beliefs about religion, politics, and the fate of civilizations, Lilla reminds us of the modern West's unique trajectory and how to remain on it. Illuminating and challenging, The Stillborn God is a watershed in the history of ideas.
This searching history of western thinking about the relationship between religion and politics was inspired not by 9/11, but by Nazi Germany, where, says University of Chicago professor Lilla (The Reckless Mind), politics and religion were horrifyingly intertwined. To explain the emergence of Nazism's political theology, Lilla reaches back to the early modern era, when thinkers like Locke and Hume began to suggest that religion and politics should be separate enterprises. Some theorists, convinced that Christianity bred violence, argued that government must be totally detached from religion. Others, who believed that rightly practiced religion could contribute to modern life, promoted a "liberal theology," which sought to articulate Christianity and Judaism in the idiom of reason. (Lilla's reading of liberal Jewish thinker Hermann Cohen is especially arresting.) Liberal theologians, Lilla says, credulously assumed human society was progressive and never dreamed that fanaticism could capture the imaginations of modern people assumptions that were proven wrong by Hitler. If Lilla castigates liberal theology for its na vet , he also praises America and Western Europe for simultaneously separating religion from politics, creating space for religion, and staving off "sectarian violence" and "theocracy." Lilla's work, which will influence discussions of politics and theology for the next generation, makes clear how remarkable an accomplishment that is. (Sept. 14)