for RNS News Service on Jan. 15, 2011
Louisville, Kentucky—The recent shooting in a Tucson, Arizona supermarket has saturated the media the past few days, sparking accusations of political influence from the Tea Party and a rancorous political climate to explain why the shooter decided to open fire. Middlebury College professor James Calvin Davis, author of In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us (Westminster John Knox Press), commented on the tragedy today, urging for civil discourse in our debates.
"The tragedy in Arizona this weekend signals how desperately Americans need to commit to restoring some sanity and civility to our public discourse," Davis said. "It is inaccurate and offensive to attribute the actions of Jared Lee Loughner directly to the rhetoric of a specific political party. But it seems undeniable to me that the general viciousness, violent innuendos, and mutual loathing taken for granted in our political culture right now set the scene for this kind of act. Political violence is a powder keg that will keep going off until we figure out a different way of talking about our deepest disagreements. Americans need to learn how to disagree civilly and fruitfully, and now is the time for religious Americans to step in and lead the way."
In Defense of Civility debunks popular myths of both the political left and the political right. By dissecting the so-called impregnable wall between state and religion, Davis demonstrates how religion persists as a strong element of on both sides of political debate, how we can recognize and understand it, and why we need more of it.
"I wrote this book because I am—like many Americans—frustrated by American political debate," Davis said. "If you're on left, you're boxed in as having no religion at all. If you're on right, you're boxed in as having fundamentalist beliefs. I really think that most Americans aren't far left or far right. We're somewhere in the middle between the two extremes."
Davis's book explores this "muddled middle" and religion's role in public debate. His point-by-point discussion of such hot-button issues as abortion and gay marriage guides readers to articulate complex moral issues using more civil discourse.