Breezy, Self-Help Politics…Before It’s Too Late?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 29, 2012

An unusual book slid across my desk the other day. It is the “Ignatius Press Edition” of Indivisible by James Robison and Jay W. Richards. The purpose of the book is to provide a thumbnail guide to how we should understand and respond to many of the cultural and political challenges of our time. The subtitle sums up a set of extravagant expectations: “Restoring faith, family, and freedom before it’s too late.”

The book was published in partnership with FaithWords (Hachette Book Group), a publisher which serves a fairly generic Christian inspirational market. The Ignatius edition Catholicizes the book by providing a foreword by Father Joseph Fessio, which acknowledges that some readers may be concerned that the text has an insufficiently Catholic tone. Indeed, the book reads more as a Protestant than a Catholic text, both because of the frequent reliance on Scripture with little reference to Catholic social teaching, and because of its breezy, self-help style, which is so characteristic of the generically “inspirational” press.

Author Robison is a televangelist and founder of LIFE Outreach International, a Christian relief organization. Author Richards, who is Catholic, either works or has worked for the Acton Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Discovery Institute (conservative/religious think tanks). Unfortunately, despite the subject matter, you’ll have to look hard for a reference to papal teaching in the footnotes.

On the other hand, just because Catholic social principles are not identified, this does not mean they are absent. And as Fr. Fessio points out in his Foreword, Indivisible sometimes draws from the natural law too, a habit often foreign to the Protestant mind. Moreover, because there is a fairly clear political focus to this book, religious differences are generally less critical. The authors go through some twenty contemporary issues in about 15 or so pages each: freedom, law, God in the public square, government power and size, the life issues, marriage, education, private property, globalism, equality, immigration, and so on. The presentation is clear, the recommendations are typically constructive, and the Christian conservatism of the authors is thoughtful and intelligent rather than ill-informed or “knee-jerk”.

Indivisible is somewhat deeper and more Christian than a book such as Ameritopia by Mark R. Levin, who cannot even read Thomas More’s Utopia without warping it to justify his own thesis. Robison and Richards do not at all present the same stultifying predictability as a steady diet of material by a talk-radio host. But despite the many blurbs assembled on Amazon (which does not seem to carry the Ignatius Edition), in which everyone from governors to priests says it will change your life, the book lacks the spiritual and cultural depth users typically expect.

In the end, it is difficult to imagine Fr. Fessio latching onto the book if it were not an election year here in the USA. I'm pretty sure that this is what all the hype is about. Tellingly, if you buy it on Ignatius’ website, it comes with a “bonus CD”: Voting Guidelines for Catholics. That is not a bad thing, and it does introduce a more specifically Catholic focus, but I rest my case.

The bottom line is that if you find too philosophical and theological, and you need a quick way to acquire some basic organization and a few key talking points on a range of highly significant contemporary issues, Indivisible can serve a useful purpose. I could see taking high-schoolers through it to bring them up to speed, or using the book as a starting point in a discussion group, chapter by brief chapter. The book can provide both a stimulus to thought and a sort of rough and ready defense against the prejudices of our mainstream secular culture.

But unless you’ve never heard of the Bible or the natural law at all, reading Indivisible is unlikely to help you to think in a fundamentally richer way—still less a significantly more Catholic way—about the human person, contemporary culture, or modern public life. Doubtless it will reach more people than a deeper treatment would do, and it may sell quite well. But it really is an unusual—and ultimately disappointing—offering from Ignatius Press.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: the.dymeks9646 - Feb. 29, 2012 4:04 PM ET USA

    I haven't read this book,so I can't comment on it's content. What I can comment on though is that most Catholics probably aren't even aware of the depth of Catholic social resources. Unfortunately, many of the principles have been codified into a liberal doctrine that most Catholics just accept with guilt for not living up to these saintly standards. I welcome this development because it at least brings attention to a different Catholic way of looking at these principles.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Feb. 28, 2012 11:12 AM ET USA

    Okay, but there may be value in Ignatius affirming fundamental agreement with this Protestant authored book on politics by issuing an edition. Perhaps it contributes to civic solidarity among Christian electorate, emphasizes how we agree. The fact that it is not specifically from the Catholic Church also perhaps emphasizes the universality of the truth dimension, natural law dimension, when presented to a Catholic readership, some of whom have sadly been trained to skepticism of "Catholic rules"