Cover image for Religion, economics, and public policy : ironies, tragedies, and absurdities of the contemporary culture wars
Religion, economics, and public policy : ironies, tragedies, and absurdities of the contemporary culture wars
Walsh, Andrew D., 1965-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 156 pages ; 25 cm
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BR115.E3 W33 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As Americans seem bent on dismantling the safety net of the New Deal era, the most popular version of the culture wars' thesis paints an arguably cosmic battle between defenders of religious orthodoxy who embrace laissez-faire capitalism and secular elites who have imposed a Marxist welfare state upon an unsuspecting populace. Walsh shows that this thesis ignores the role of religious leaders in legitimizing the types of programs embodied in America's approach to the welfare state.

Walsh explores the arguments of William Jennings Bryan, America's foremost fundamentalist who opposed the Social Darwinism often associated with the defense of laissez-faire capitalism, John Ryan, the Catholic priest whose writings foreshadowed Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential mainstream Protestant leader who defended America's Cold War strategy of containment while opposing laissez-faire capitalism, and the arguments of influential African American Protestant and Jewish leaders. Finally he looks at the role of religious leaders in the contemporary debates over issues such as health care and welfare reform. Whenever possible, the relationship between the official views of the religious leaders is analyzed in light of the opinions and voting patterns of their constituents. The opinions and voting patterns of secular Americans are also contrasted to those of religious Americans. Of particular interest to scholars, students, and general readers concerned with the role of religion in American politics.

Author Notes

Andrew D. Walsh is Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Walsh (visiting professor of religious studies, Indiana Univ. Purdue Univ. Indianapolis) takes up the issue of the "culture wars" between competing camps of conservative and liberal believers across the spectrum of American religious traditions. It is Walsh's contention that previous analyses of the culture wars are too simplistic, failing to acknowledge the complexity and differences to be found among varieties of secularization theorists as well as evangelicals from William Jennings Bryan to Ralph Reed. He shows convincingly that conservative religious thinkers have often been economically and politically to the left of center and that many people who embrace a liberal, even secular, theological position have been rugged individualists. One of his more important theses is that Roman Catholicism might well prove to be particularly adept at mediating the culture wars because it has found a way to work out differences on a variety of political and moral positions within a common loyalty to a single tradition and institution (provided that Catholic leadership doesn't make abortion the overriding political issue). While some of the book goes too much over old ground (e.g., Nietzsche and Reinhold Niebuhr), it is a concise and well-argued analysis of its subject matter. General readers, all student levels, professionals and practitioners. F. G. Kirkpatrick; Trinity College (CT)

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introductionp. ix
Part I Ironies of the Twentieth Centuryp. 1
1 From the Economic Liberalism of William Jennings Bryan to Social Darwinism in the New Christian Rightp. 3
2 From the Realism of Reinhold Niebuhr to the Sectarian Stance of the National Council of Churchesp. 31
3 From Margin to Center: Catholics in Americap. 51
4 Liberal Christians, Secular Conservatives, and the Influence of Non-Christian Religionsp. 73
Part II Economic Policy Debates of the 1990sp. 101
5 Health Care Reformp. 103
6 Welfare Reformp. 119
Conclusionsp. 135
Selected Bibliographyp. 141
Indexp. 151