Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

by Michael Bowen & r & American Gospel by Jon Meacham & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & omewhere between private expressions of faith and public-square politicking lies "public religion." Somewhere, that is, between the practice of religion guaranteed by the Constitution and secular wrangling over policy lies an acceptable middle path between Christian fundamentalists and hair-trigger atheists. That's the thesis of Jon Meacham's American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation (now in paperback from Random House).





According to Meacham, Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" (a notion that wasn't popularized until a 1947 Supreme Court decision) "is designed to divide church from state, not religion from politics."





Worship privately without state interference, in other words, but don't expect politicians to ignore religious tenets altogether. The church doesn't need the state: As Meacham asks, "What kind of God was so weak he needed the authorities ... to prop him up?" But politics does need religion -- or at least executives, legislators and judges can make use of the kind of humility rooted in awareness of supernatural power.





Forging through chapters on five American eras -- colonies, early Republic, Civil War, world wars, civil rights -- Meacham offers a quick sketch of political leaders invoking public religion during times of crisis. His academic approach necessitates 83 pages of footnotes, but it also offers the advantage of reprinting historical documents that rebut the claims of the religious right. A 1798 treaty, for example -- not debated at the time -- explicitly stated that America was not a Christian nation. In the 1840s, separation of church and state was much ballyhooed by Protestants who didn't want public funding for the Catholic schools of Irish immigrants. Meacham is also prepared for secularists with his demonstration that at every pivotal point in American history, political leaders have invoked God's assistance: Faith is woven into the fabric of the Republic.





He quotes his sources so extensively, however, that sometimes it feels as if he's simply emptying his notebook. After 250 pages of text, readers deserve more when it comes to religion's place in the public square than mere appeals to common sense. Meacham is better at compiling other writers' ideas than he is at advancing his own.

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Rich Man, Poor Men
  • Rich Man, Poor Men

    Can the wealthiest U.S. president ever help the poorest U.S. citizens?
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • La Resistance
  • La Resistance

    Michael Moore, Congressional Democrats and local progressives: How they are resisting Donald Trump's agenda
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • Must-See TV?
  • Must-See TV?

    Alternatives to the inauguration (and how to make watching more fun if you have to)
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Washington Idaho Symphony: Young Artist Concert

Washington Idaho Symphony: Young Artist Concert @ Pullman High School

Sat., Jan. 28, 7:30-9:30 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by n/a

  • Iron Upgrade
  • Iron Upgrade

    The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Seeing Gay
  • Seeing Gay

    A festival showing GLBT from all angles
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Get Out the Vote

    With all the uncertainty in the world these days, hot wings and cold beer are two things we can get behind
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • One Free Shave

    Donald Trump might have merited a honeymoon with voters had he managed his transition better
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • The Landed and the White

    How Americans followed tradition when they voted for Trump
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Comment


Briefs


marijuana


green zone


Politics


Readers also liked…

  • Homeless School
  • Homeless School

    As the number of homeless students in Spokane County keeps climbing, schools unite with nonprofits to seek solutions
    • Nov 12, 2015
  • Intervention Blues
  • Intervention Blues

    Publisher's Note
    • Nov 19, 2015

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation