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Polarization is a sad fact of contemporary public life in the United States as elsewhere. Perhaps the saddest fact is the way the word `Christian' is bandied about--proudly by some whose attitudes are a parody of what Christ proclaimed and derisively by those who see bigotry behind their words.

I wish that those with and without faith would read a book that was published last year but which in this election year deserves even more exposure. It searches for what it calls `sanity in America's culture wars'. Tom Sine's book, Ceasefire, is described by Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield as `an invaluable resource for Christians who desire political engagement but are apprehensive of the extremism on both ends of the political spectrum'.

Sine, who made a name for himself with his book, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, writes as a Christian who wants to put forward an alternative--God's `better way', he calls it--to this polarization. He feels uneasy about some excesses of what he terms the politically correct left who have `a congenital need to be on the cutting edge of whatever is seen as socially progressive at any moment', even abandoning their Christian faith in their determination to be inclusive. But he recoils at some of the alternatives offered by the religious right.

The assassination of a Jewish prime minister or the gunning down of an abortion clinic doctor would be proof for him that culture wars not only precede shooting wars but also provoke them. `Growing polarization,' he writes, `inevitably raises the stakes, first producing increasingly fiery rhetoric and then inducing violence.' Extreme speech is inextricably bound up with extreme acts.

Sine believes that many Protestants and Catholics, conservative as well as `progressive', are overlooking how far many on the religious right have strayed from the biblical faith their leaders claim as the basis of their activism and how much of their agenda and tactics contradict the principles of the Christian faith. At the same time the Christian left want to tolerate any aberrant belief system except for right-wing fundamentalism. He regards his book as an invitation to a biblical standpoint that rejects the political agendas of right and left and promotes responsible engagement.

He wants American Christians to replace the American dream of acquisition and selfinterest with biblical values of worship, community, healing, reconciliation, servanthood, justice and peace.

The tobacco lobby, the influence of the Rev Moon, the role of radio host Rush Limbaugh, conspiracy theory about the UN, vicious personal attacks on the president, language used by right and left to demonize opponents--almost every aspect of the public debate is looked at. He asks, `Isn't it time for progressive Protestants and Catholics who care very genuinely about others and their world to do their own analysis of what's wrong and draw on their own faith tradition and follow Christ's injunction to love their enemies?' Isn't it time to `cease fire'?

Interestingly, he also shows that the politicized evangelicalism so evident in the US seems to have largely been avoided in other countries.

While many readers might disagree with some of Sine's characterizations, we can all welcome the book's central contention that we must think for ourselves and not contribute to the insanity of America's culture wars.
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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