Born Again in the U.S.A.
TIMOTHY SAMUEL SHAH is Senior Research Scholar at Boston University's Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and a co-author, with Daniel Philpott and Monica Toft, of a forthcoming book on religion and global politics to be published by Norton in 2010.See more by this author
In international politics, religion has been the elephant in the room for most of the modern age. And in recent years, it has only grown larger and louder. Policymakers and political theorists have adopted the mostly unpromising strategies of ignoring it in the hope that rationality and modernity will eventually push it out; using laws, coercion, or public opinion to remove it from the political sphere; or pretending that it is only a matter of culture and treating it accordingly.
The authors of God Is Back are an exception. They admit that religion is here to stay and seek to find out what it is really all about. John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, its Washington bureau chief, work for a publication that has been notably dubious about religion's long-term viability in the face of modernization and economic globalization. The Economist boldly published God's obituary in its millennium issue, declaring that "the Almighty recently passed into history." Micklethwait and Wooldridge, for their part, were not so sure about God's demise. To investigate God's place in the world today, the two men traveled thousands of miles to talk to religious leaders and ordinary believers across the world and spent hundreds of hours visiting mosques and temples, attending religious services, sitting in on Bible-study groups, and picking the brains of theologians.
Micklethwait and Wooldridge entered dangerous territory. They faced the literal dangers of encountering real live religious radicals and investigating religion's impact in all kinds of tough neighborhoods -- from inner-city Philadelphia to the northern Nigerian city of Kano. And they faced literary dangers by walking into a field thick with theological crossfire between believers and nonbelievers, epitomized on one extreme by Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity and on the other by Christopher Hitchens' atheist manifesto, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The confessionally diverse duo of Micklethwait and Wooldridge -- the first is a Catholic and the second an atheist -- steers clear of polemics and focuses instead on reading God's vital signs rather than identifying his virtues or vices. What they find is that many of the forces that were supposed to consign the Almighty to the ash heap of history -- or to a quiet corner of the living room -- have only made him stronger.