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Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome: A Reply to Luciano Pellicani

Adrian Pabst’s “Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome: A Reply to Luciano Pellicani” appears in Telos 162 (Spring 2013). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.

According to Luciano Pellicani, the U.S. culture wars are grounded in a perpetual struggle between the enlightening forces of reason and democracy, on the one hand, and the dark forces of faith and theocracy, on the other hand. Accordingly, he claims that the Puritans sought to establish a medieval collectivist theocracy, not a modern market democracy, and that the U.S. “culture war” between enlightened secular liberalism and reactionary religious conservatism ultimately rests on the perpetual battle between Athenian reason and the faith of Jerusalem.

In this essay I contest Pellicani’s assertion that faith is diametrically opposed to reason and that America needs to abandon its Christian legacy in favor of Enlightenment secularism. My argument is that the modern separation of belief from rationality underpins both the secular rationalism and fanatical fideism that confront each other in the United States and across the West today.

The only genuine alternative to these two extremes is not an attempt to repair the wreck that is the Enlightenment project but rather a proper synthesis of faith and reason that distinguishes political from religious authority without divorcing religion from politics. It is true that mainstream Protestantism in the United States is characterized by a vague “civil religion” that is post-Christian, neo-pagan, and Gnostic in outlook. But it is equally the case that the rapprochement of Evangelicals and Catholics around shared notions of the common good has the potential to transform the American polity, economy, and society in the direction of a more Christian settlement.

1 comment to Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome: A Reply to Luciano Pellicani

  • Jim Sheffield

    Since I was born and raised in Rhode Island,
    the Puritan Roger Williams is one of my heroes.
    A good book to read is
    Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty [Bargain Price] [Hardcover]
    John M. Barry (Author)

    Book Description
    Release date: January 5, 2012
    A revelatory look at how Roger Williams shaped the nature of religion, political power, and individual rights in America.

    For four hundred years, Americans have wrestled with and fought over two concepts that define the nature of the nation: the proper relation between church and state and between a free individual and the state. These debates began with the extraordinary thought and struggles of Roger Williams, who had an unparalleled understanding of the conflict between a government that justified itself by “reason of state”-i.e. national security-and its perceived “will of God” and the “ancient rights and liberties” of individuals.

    This is a story of power, set against Puritan America and the English Civil War. Williams’s interactions with King James, Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, and his mentor Edward Coke set his course, but his fundamental ideas came to fruition in America, as Williams, though a Puritan, collided with John Winthrop’s vision of his “City upon a Hill.”

    Acclaimed historian John M. Barry explores the development of these fundamental ideas through the story of the man who was the first to link religious freedom to individual liberty, and who created in America the first government and society on earth informed by those beliefs. The story is essential to the continuing debate over how we define the role of religion and political power in modern American life.