UNDER GOD: Religion and American Politics by Garry Wills (Simon & Schuster: $24.95; 424 pp.) . While the author's previous work, "Reagan's America," was most captivating for its tangents, here they multiply out of control, displaying the author's erudition but shedding little light. Wills' chapter on pornography, for instance, abounds with such arcana as how the sexual performance of the Marquis de Sade compares with that depicted in his novels, but leads only to the mundane conclusion that we should avoid censorship. Wills also serves a personal agenda in these pages; riled by Gary Hart's lack of moral compunction after the sex scandal in the '88 campaign, he is given to fashioning sentences like "Don Giovanni lives in a present of his own constant recreation."
"Under God" is impressive, however, for its sometimesmoving articulation of religious ideals. Some readers undoubtedly will be mystified when Wills criticizes a fundamentalist preacher's scholarship and not his chauvinistic convictions, but Wills' approach shows a deep respect for belief systems that is rare in American journalism.