As I am wont to do, I checked the references on a talk I listened to given by Dallin H. Oaks. In 2011, Oaks gave a talk at a CES devotional titled Truth & Tolerance. Among the 17 sources he used, one was Stephen L. Carter's The Culture of Disbelief, which caught my attention. The subject matter has a special interest to me, and I was happy to find a serious work from an academic scholar on such an important topic as religious freedom.
Carter is a practicing Christian, as in he attends Church, sends his children to a religious school, etc., and, therefore, has a much more positive attitude toward religion than many academics. He forthrightly recognizes this disparity among academics and the greater society. He attempts to prove the value of religion as institutions of resistance which play a counter-balance to government and other secular institutions, which argument I found appealing and convincing. He provides a great deal of evidence showing America's attitude toward religion has deteriorated over time and needs a correction in order for the ideals of pluralism to thrive.
Carter brings a perspective which many other academics probably could not. Although he is far too eager to make sure the reader knows he sits comfortably on the Left of the ideological scale when discussing many topics, perhaps to not upset his academic colleagues or alienate himself, Carter does a fine job of providing a reason or possible reasons why people think the way they do. Especially within a religious context this is important because it's difficult for non-religious people to understand why believers act the way they do at times. In addition, Carter does a great job of showing the rationality behind religious belief, even though it appears irrational to non-believers and non-religious people. The difficulty in any society, especially one which has enshrined religious liberty as the first freedom in its constitution, comes with how to balance the several rights citizens have equal claim to. Carter's examination of those competing rights and how to appropriately balance them is persuasive and thought-provoking.
The Culture of Disbelief deals with some of the weightiest matters of our nation and society. From abortion, to euthanasia, to parental rights, the discussion in Carter's book is broad but also narrow. He does a fine job of providing insight into the competing belief systems, and I would readily recommend this book as a source for study when dealing with matters of religious freedom. The aforementioned matters are truly some of the most critical and consequential in society because the philosophies and moralities connected with them extend far beyond those individual topics. Carter has provided an engaging and interesting academic look at some very serious matters in our society, and I'm better off for having read what he had to say.
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Democracy in America
Reflections: Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture
Reflections: Temple and Cosmos