These two volumes reveal the virtue of prudence, particularly how difficult it is to practice in the intersection of politics and religion. That difficulty underlines the utility of Paul Marshall's achievements. For this prudence or calculated action is not some lukewarm spittle but rather the classical virtue of making good political judgments—good for both the polity as a whole and for the souls of its citizens.
Marshall has written an admirable defense of Christian activism in American politics and, together with two co-authors, an invaluable brief introduction to Islam. Marshall, a fellow of Freedom House and the Claremont Institute, is a clear voice for a principled and thus tolerant approach to Christian participation in politics. He displays an impressive command of all the relevant texts, from the Bible and documents of the American political tradition to current court cases. He is also well versed in contemporary controversies, articulately opposing abortion and homosexual rights, as well as pacifism and redistribution of wealth. Whatever their private religious views, Marshall's readers will discover sober guides based on the eternal truths from which they emanate. He dissolves clichÃ©s one regularly encounters in the media and other liberal circles and replaces them with muscular Christian principles and prudential judgment.
God and the Constitution strives to encourage Christians hesitant to enter the political fray, refine the understanding of those who misapply biblical texts to justify expansive government programs (except, of course, for national defense), and show secularists the strength that believers bring to the public square. For those who claim to be "liberals," Marshall notes how communities of strong believers facilitate limited government. From this perspective, we see the strength in Marshall's counsel: "Proper civil and political coexistence is not some departure from or dilution of the Christian faith, but should be a direct expression of that faith. It means that in many things we are called to be as patient as God is." At this point, people of faith must remain involved in the full range of democratic politics, confident in both the political and the Divine goodness of their activity. Marshall combines moderation and principle in matters of Christianity and politics because his study ultimately rests on the "laws of nature and of Nature's God" of the Declaration of Independence.
These same sobering qualities are found in abundance in Islam at the Crossroads. Its first chapter, "What Muslims Believe," is a comprehensive yet brief guide to the tenets of Islam, with useful comparisons and contrasts with Christianity. No one who reads this chapter will ever again make the mistake of referring to Islam as a religion of a common book and prophets with Christianity and Judaism. An historical survey of Islam through the present, a chapter on the growth of Islamic extremism, and reflections on the future complete this elegant volume. It draws from the best scholarship, including Bernard Lewis and Daniel Pipes, to produce this most useful brief book among the many published after September 11 for understanding the religious element of the current world crisis. Despite the evidence they present to the contrary, based on Islam's past and the radical tendencies of the 20th century, the authors conclude, "Islam is at a crossroads." That is, toleration of Islam in the West remains a possibility. Might the classical political philosophy of natural right, preserved for the West by the medieval Muslim philosophers Al-farabi and Averroes, yet give pause to the zeal of Muslims today?
Averroes is portrayed in Raphael's magnificent painting, "The School of Athens." While Christianity is not only capable of such toleration but is required to practice it, one can search in vain for the Islamic equivalent. Could Averroes possibly be the Muslim Thomas Aquinas? Marshall's God and the Constitution argues how the natural rights political philosophy of the United States Constitution led to the successes of Christianity in America. Marshall, Green, and Gilbert ultimately argue that the same reasoning must bring about a similar peace for Islam.