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Archive for April 26th, 2013

American Gospel by Jon Meacham

This is an interesting book on the relationship and influence of religion upon the founding fathers in the political sphere. It is written by a capable author on American history. The author’s thesis is contrary to the opinions of twentieth first century secular humanists and atheists, since he argues that historically there has been a place for religion in the public square. He also balances this view by challenging the views adopted by some Conservative Christians that the United States’ founding fathers were thoroughly Christian or sectarian as it is expressed in the political realm. His view is approximately that of my current stance: No doubt Christianity has been influential in the lives of individuals who were involved with the American independence and the new United States government but there were other ideological influences as well such as the Enlightenment, rational theism, etc. I was eager to read this book to learn more about the non-Christians among our Founding Fathers and to see where they stood theologically. Since my undergraduate studies I have concluded that Benjamin Franklin was not quite the ideal Deists as some propagandists makes him out to be especially concerning the issue of God’s providence. The book reinforces my view when it quoted Franklin saying, “I have lived sir a long time, the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affair of men.” Though he was not a Christian, Franklin was far from being the modern militant secularist today since he wrote, “He that spit against the wind, spit in his own face” against someone who was going to publish a tract against Christianity. Concerning Thomas Jefferson I thought it was ironic that as he was approaching his death Jefferson would comfort himself with the portion of the Gospel of Luke that he edited out of his own Bible version from the Song of Simeon. I also found it intriguing that the No Establishment Clause in the Constitution, seemed to be interpreted contrary to the current interpretation today when we read of instances such as the case of a Jew name Jacob Henry whose attempt to enter into state political office was challenged, indicating that the First Amendment was not invoked or understood historically as implying that there must be a ban against religious test for office at the state level. I also enjoyed reading in the book John Jay boldly stating he believed in Jesus Christ at a party in France before philosophers mocking the faith. Over all a good, informative and captivating read. The title was a bit misleading since it went beyond the founding fathers to talk about the role of public religion in the lives of later presidents such as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Kennedy, Nixon and Ronald Regan. I was surprised to read that Eisenhower would pray in every cabinet meeting. One criticism I did have was the author’s wrongful assumption that the Bible teaches Earth was the center of the universe. While one gets the sense that the author leans more left especially with his treatment of Christian conservatives, nevertheless I think discerning readers who are Christian conservative can learn from this book that yes, there is an influence of Christian heritage among America’s founding fathers. There’s plenty of ammo here against the New Atheists types and Brights concerning the nature of America’s public religion. However, the book rightly points out that the public religion in America’s political landscape is not thoroughly Christian and is quite ecumenical. I believe Christians ought to be careful of ecumenicalism lest it changes and compromises the Christian faith and the Gospel message with this Americanized public religion.

Purchase: Amazon

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