Sunday, June 28, 2015

Steven K. Green: "God is not on our side: The religious right’s big lie about the founding of America"

The author has a new piece out at Salon. A taste:
... Ever since the nation’s bicentennial, conservatives have raised claims about America’s Christian heritage in their efforts to gain the moral (and political) high ground in the ongoing culture wars. These arguments take on several forms, from asserting that the Founders relied on a pervasive Calvinist ideology when crafting notions of republicanism to claiming that the Founders were devout Christians and were guided in their actions by divine providence. As evidence, proponents point to public statements and official actions during the founding period—for example, thanksgiving day proclamations—that purportedly demonstrate a reliance on religious principles in the ordering of the nation’s political and legal institutions. A plethora of books have been published that attest to the Founders’ religious piety and to their belief about the role of religion in civil government. Although these books are usually weak on historical scholarship, they project a degree of authority by frequently  “disclosing” previously “unknown” historical data, purposely ignored (allegedly) by professional historians....

Connected to this central theme is a second common claim: that scholars, judges, and the liberal elite have censored America’s Christian past in a conspiracy to install a regime of secularism. Public school textbooks and college history courses generally avoid references to America’s religious heritage, creating the impression in the minds of students that that past did not exist....

... For years, the scholarly historical canon maintained that the Founders relied chiefly on rational Enlightenment norms, not religious ones, when fashioning the nation’s governing principles. Lawyer and historian Leo Pfeffer led the way for the “secularist” interpretation in the 1950 and 1960s, to be followed by scholars such as Leonard Levy, Gordon Wood, Jon Butler, Frank Lambert, Geoffrey Stone, and Isaac Kramnick and R. Lawrence Moore in their popular book, The Godless Constitution. While these scholars acknowledge the importance of religious thought and movements during the revolutionary period, they see a variety of ideological impulses that influenced the founding generation....

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

A plethora of books have been published that attest to the Founders’ religious piety and to their belief about the role of religion in civil government. Although these books are usually weak on historical scholarship, they project a degree of authority by frequently “disclosing” previously “unknown” historical data, purposely ignored (allegedly) by professional historians....

This is rather all heat and no light. James Byrd's

was very well received by scholars.

"Marvelously researched and historically compelling an achievement of the first order."--Reviews in American History

"Short but potent It will be foundational for all future studies of the Bible and the American Revolution, and it will be of great interest and relevance for broader studies of religion in late colonial America." --Reviews in History

"Excellent and trailblazing It is impossible to do justice to the richness of the book's findings and insights in a short review fascinating, important, and insightful." --Journal of American History

"With its remarkable research and deft insights, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War represents a major breakthrough in the study of religion and the American Founding. Never before have we had such a systematic investigation of how the Patriots actually used the Bible. Anyone interested in the Revolution will have to contend with Byrd's book." -- Thomas S. Kidd, author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution

"Historians believe they know why Founders such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became revolutionaries, but the reasons why most common people supported the American Revolution, and were willing to fight and die for American independence, has remained something of an enigma. By studying how the Bible and the clergy inspired patriotism, historian James Byrd has provided answers that unravel some of the mystery. Byrd has written a good and important book that enriches our understanding of the American Revolution." -- John Ferling, author of Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free

"It is no secret that the Bible is the quintessential text in American political and cultural history. Its cadences soar in presidential addresses and in America's greatest novels. Until recently, the central role the Bible has played in American wars has been less clear. Now, thanks to James Byrd, scholars have a thoroughly narrated index of the American Revolution that shows just how pervasive the Bible was to patriots pursuing their war for independence. Richly detailed and beautifully written, this book makes a major contribution to the literature on America's religious destiny, which was forged in the travail of revolution." -- Harry S. Stout, author of The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England

"By far the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of how revolutionary Americans defended their patriotic convictions through scripture." - Christianity Today

"Byrd mines his dataset of wartime sermons during the long eighteenth-century to great effect...adds immeasurably to our understanding of the Bible's function during wartime and the ways in which American patriots understood the Revolution." - Religion in American History

"A convincing, first systematic analysis of how early American preachers and authors used the Bible to interpret Americans' engagement in war... Recommended." --CHOICE