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American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation

von Jon Meacham

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1,0201515,453 (3.79)24
Author Meacham tells the human story of how the Founding Fathers viewed faith, and how they ultimately created a nation in which belief in God is a matter of choice. At a time when our country seems divided by extremism, this book draws on the past to offer a new perspective. Meacham re-creates the history of a nation grappling with religion and politics--from John Winthrop's "city on a hill" sermon to Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence; from a proposed nineteenth-century Christian Amendment to the Constitution to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call for civil rights; from George Washington to Ronald Reagan. At the heart of the American experiment lies what Benjamin Franklin called "public religion," a God who invests all human beings with inalienable rights while protecting private religion from government interference. It is a great American balancing act, and it has served us well.--From publisher description.… (mehr)
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Horrifically boring, with shallow analysis. Look elsewhere. ( )
  mw724 | Jul 7, 2021 |
Brisk, informative and opinionated non-fiction. ( )
  jscape2000 | Feb 1, 2015 |
Meacham writes to clarify the place of religion in our political system. He posits that religion from the beginnings of our republic until today has played an important role in the cultural ethos that defines us as a society. In many ways, religious values anchor our civil relationships and bind us together in harmony and comity. Moreover, he contends, the boundary between religion and our political institutions is not as bright a line as is often portrayed by camps on both sides of the state v. religion ideological divide. He says that there is a "public" religion that heavily influenced the founding fathers and still today shapes our core values. The founding fathers certainly recognized that notions of Providential connections to and influence over us as a people greatly shaped who we are and how we should behave toward each other. That the founding fathers were believers is without question, although there was a diversity of thought about the nature of God and the divinity of Christ. Jefferson's deist views are illustrative of the range of thinking about the nature of God and religion.

While there is no doubt that the founding fathers were not secularists, it is also inarguably clear that they were determined to maintain a separation between religion and the public sphere. They had seen too many examples in history of the oppression that could result from sanction of particular religions by the state. They understood that the way maintain the allegiance of the people to the state was to favor no specific religion or even religious belief. The key to maintain civil ties was to expect tolerance of all manner of beliefs extending even to non-Christian beliefs and atheists. They believed that the rights of individuals derive from God, but a creator" God who bestowed on man "natural" rights, not those permitted by any government or any religious entity. In other words, God grants rights of liberty to people and such grant is not contingent on approval by any government or any religious institution. Hence, while religious belief were highly pertinent to our political compact, the endorsement of, or discrimination against, any religion by the state was not be be permitted.

His argument and reasoning is compelling. To say that religion and the values thereby expressed has no place in the ties that bind us is an error. Meachem gives many historical examples of how religion or religious beliefs influenced political outcomes. (Lincoln's considerations of God's involvement in the Civil War are most interesting, especially since Lincoln, clearly motivated by spiritual beliefs, belonged to no specific religious denomination.) Meacham makes a useful distinction between how religion, and the values it espouses, was, and continues to be, hugely influential is our polity, while making clear that overt endorsement of religions or religious tenants is beyond what the founders intended. ( )
2 abstimmen stevesmits | Dec 18, 2013 |
As a non-American, it has always been intriguing for me to grasp the understanding of "separation of church and state." The idea seems to mean differently for different people. Does it mean the church should not touch politics? Or, the state should leave religion alone? Or both? There is no doubt that the founding fathers as well as many historic, key political figures found their Christian belief had guided their thoughts and values. I am glad to have read this book. Jon Meacham has made a compelling argument to link Christian belief and the American history. ( )
1 abstimmen Simple.life | Dec 17, 2012 |
"In his American Gospel, Jon Meacham provides a refreshingly clear, balanced, and wise historical portrait of religion and American politics at exactly the moment when such fairness and understanding are much needed. Anyone who doubts the relevance of history to our own time has only to read this exceptional book.”–David McCullough, author of 1776 “ HCPL catalog ( )
Diese Rezension ist durch mehrere Mitglieder als Verstoß gegen die AGB (terms of service) gemeldet worden, und wird nicht mehr angezeigt.
  vsandham | Dec 17, 2009 |
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Author Meacham tells the human story of how the Founding Fathers viewed faith, and how they ultimately created a nation in which belief in God is a matter of choice. At a time when our country seems divided by extremism, this book draws on the past to offer a new perspective. Meacham re-creates the history of a nation grappling with religion and politics--from John Winthrop's "city on a hill" sermon to Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence; from a proposed nineteenth-century Christian Amendment to the Constitution to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call for civil rights; from George Washington to Ronald Reagan. At the heart of the American experiment lies what Benjamin Franklin called "public religion," a God who invests all human beings with inalienable rights while protecting private religion from government interference. It is a great American balancing act, and it has served us well.--From publisher description.

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