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.