In a time when discussions on religon and politics has split America in half; Jon Meachem has taken the high rode and explains how, to some extent, everyone is right. Religon was expected to play a vital role in the day-to-day life of America, but that religon was a central focus on God and not to one particular religon.
Meachem is masterful in bringing out the arguments in how the Founding Fathers wanted God to be a unifying focus of our lives, but were able to avoid the paradox of its dividing properties. Most Americans can rally behind the belief of God, but once that belief is broken down to a variety of sects - Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Judaism and so forth - this is where get our anger/angst from the divisions of doctrine. We become divided and argumenative in the "rightness" of our individual beliefs.
What Meachem effectively argues is that the Founders saw of this coming and therefore placed the seperation of church and state. Meachem also points out that in a treaty in 1790's the United States proclaimed that it "Was not a Christian Nation but a nation that accepts all faiths". While I am sure that some will say that this is an attack on Christianity, I say that this is Meachem effectively proving that Jerry Fallwell (and most of the extreme CHrisitan right) is a liar (And by the way - I am a Baptist!)
Why is this important in today's world? With the likes of Michael Moore and Ann Coulter each spewing their hate (and Coulter expecially) using religon to wedge our citizens further and further apart, we must be reminded of how we got here. Meachem shows us that great men have always kept the spheres of these two entities apart- he points to Billy Graham as a man of unquestioned faith who has mostly stayed out the political scene (here is a quick question who has Billy Graham endorsed in the last three elections? Answer: No one - he doesn't publicy support any canidate). What has this done for his ministry...? It has allowed him to UNITE his congregation behind his message without the nastiness that is involved with politics. Is there ANY question at all that Billy Graham has been the GREATEST evangelist of the last 100 years? There is a reason for that - his message is of God, Jesus, the Bible, and love - and not on why Bill Clinton is immoral. Why judge Clinton and his supporters and divide them away from his message about Christ? Graham realizes that if everyone follows the Bible and the teachings of Christ then Gay mariage ceases to be an issue.
In short- while Meachem's book reads as 250 page essay and is NOT filled with humorous anectdotes or side stories it does hit the mark. It may not be a quick read but it is a very important read. Today like no other time in the last 60 years America needs to be united we need to move away from the wedge issues that keep on dividing us through our individual beliefs. For that I feel that everyone who "American Gospel" will be indebted to Jon Meachem for giving us an insightful glimpse into the role religon plays and has played in our country.
Meacham is managing editor of Newsweek, and subsequently it is perhaps not surprising that this reads like nothing so much as an extended news-magazine op-ed piece--vaguely pluralistic, moderately researched, mostly meatless middle-of-the-road pseudo-philosophical claptrap. Extensive additional quoting and analysis in the end notes appears to be either unneeded padding or undigested parts of the argument that should have been thought through and incorporated in the body of the book.
When I read the riveting prose of "American Gospel" my second thought was, "This is sure to infuriate diehards on both sides of the "religion in America" debate. If Amazon reviews are any indication, my second thought was correct. Fortunately, "experts" on "both sides" such as David McCullough and Elaine Pagels, hardly naive historians, offer a more balanced assessment. My first thought? "God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation" is a well-written and well-research … more
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Historian and Newsweek editor Meacham's third book examines over 200 years of American history in its quest to prove the idea of religious tolerance, along with the separation of church and state, is "perhaps the most brilliant American success." Meacham's principal focus is on the founding fathers, and his insights into the religious leanings of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Co. present a new way of considering the government they created. So it is that the religious right's attempts to reshape the Constitution and Declaration of Independence into advocating a state religion of Christianity are at odds with the spirit of religious freedom ("Our minds and hearts, as Jefferson wrote, are free to believe everything or nothing at all-and it is our duty to protect and perpetuate this sacred culture of freedom"). Meacham also argues for the presence of a public religion, as exemplified by the national motto, "In God We Trust," and other religious statements that can be found on currency, in governmental papers and in politicians' speeches. Subsequent chapters consider a wartime FDR and a Reagan who grew increasingly enamored of Armageddon. All are well-written, but none reach the immediacy and vigor of the chapters on the nation's birth. Two extensive appendices reprint early government documents and each president's inaugural bible verses. Meacham's remarkable grasp of the intricacies and achievements of a nascent nation is well worth the cover price, though his consideration of...