Book review: Faith in the Public Square
by Robert Cornwall
From the introduction: Nearly three decades ago Richard John Neuhaus wrote a book with an arresting title—The Naked Public Square. Neuhaus’ argument was simple—religion is in danger of losing its traditional place in the public square, or rather the public square was in danger of losing the leavening agency of religion.
The title of Cornwall’s new book intrigued me, and the writing didn’t disappoint. How is it that religion remains a constant presence in our public lives, yet is disappearing from public conversation? Robert helps out with this collection of short, two-page essays written for publication in the Lompoc Record (Lompoc, California). I can picture the Record lying open to his column on a Lompoc park bench, two men holding it down between them against the brisk wind. They are reading and discussing the day in 2007 when Congress convened, witnessing several American religious firsts, including the seating of two Buddhists and a Muslim as congressional representatives. Does this mean we’re witnessing the realization of America’s promise as a land of freedom for people of every religious background?
Cornwall’s passions seem to be religion and politics, and he loves writing about where the two overlap (whether beneficially or not), but the topics aren’t limited to this. Toward the end of the collection he strays to other controversial issues such as stem cell research, the source of sexual preference, and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture). Cornwall’s writing is piercing, yet engrossing because it’s both intelligent and balanced. Of religious differences, he is respectful, sharing his own beliefs without elaboration or evangelism.
I really enjoyed this one. But hopefully I’m allowed one complaint: Guys, when you put together an anthology of writings like this, could you please date each one? Our world is changing so fast, and I’m one of those readers who begins every book by noting the publication date, so I can match the writing to the atmosphere and knowledge of the day.