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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2007
Alan Dershowitz, celebrity lawyer and frequent cable news talking head, has in "Blasphemy" used his estimable legal skills to create a necessary answer to the Christian right (the so-called "religious right" in this country is almost entirely Christian, and Protestant at that), who have lately taken to claiming one of the nation's founding documents to be implicitly, if not overtly, Christian in nature. This, of course, is the legal front of their overall "wedge" strategy to finally make fundamentalism the law of the land. Needless to say, this would endanger the liberties (and maybe even the lives) of the vast majority of Americans, no matter their belief system, or lack thereof. Although in length (less than 200 pages) and often in tone, Mr. Dershowitz clearly intended this book as a broadside, he also wants to ask broader legal questions and examine the "morality" that should be inherent in a secular nation. In the end, he may be misinterpreting the overall strategy of his opponents, but this is still a worthwhile and thought-provoking read.

In the first section, he examines the history and creation of the Declaration of Independence, gathering in impressive yet concise detail, the evidence that the Founding Fathers, in particular Thomas Jefferson, clearly intended a radical break from British law, to the extent that America would refuse to establish itself as Church-based. They were Deists, who while perhaps believing in some sort of deity, didn't accept the Christian version at all. The wording of the Declaration, with its references to a "Creator" or "Nature's God," was in fact a way to avoid using specifically Christian iconography. This was eventually crystalized in the Constitution, which acknowleged no divine authority at all.

In the second section, Dershowitz examines the words and actions of the Christian right itself. In his view, they intend to re-establish America as a kind of democratic theocracy, where minority faiths are technically allowed, but effectively voiceless. Unfortunately, he focuses too much on Alan Keyes, who although a persistent advocate of faith-based government, is essentially not a major threat in terms of power or influece. Important players in the movement, such as James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and Paul Weyrich are barely even mentioned, much less examined. Although Mr. Dershowitz has a clear grasp of many of their legal arguments, this oversight is a troubling harbinger of his overall understanding of the movement itself (for a more comprehensive journalistic approach, read Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism).

It's in the final section of the book where Mr. Dershowitz attempts to contribute his own ideas to the debate. He looks at the language of the Declaration from a legal standpoint and asks critical questions about phrases like "Nature's God" and "Natural," as opposed to "Positive" law. He even goes so far as to critcize the founders themselves for not realizing the full implications of their words. He also goes back to a newspaper column he wrote in 1984 called "The Ten Commandments for Politicians," which laid out some suggestions for how candidates should address issues of faith. Many of these seem eerily prescient, considering the tone of the current campaign for president: "Do not publicly proclaim your religious devotion, affiliation or practices, or attack those of your opponents;" "Do not surround your political campaign with religious trappings or symbols;" "Do not seek the support of religious leaders who impose religious obligations on members of their faith to support or oppose particular candidates." Here, Dershowitz could be talking to or about anyone from Barack Obama to John McCain; Hillary Clinton to Rudolph Giuliani.

The problem I have with the book is that for all his legal acumen, Dershowitz finally fails to realize that the Christian Right doesn't actually care about the Declaration; they certainly have no interest in the "godless" Constitution. They just want to re-format their ideas to make them stand in court, whether they be local districts to possibly the Supreme Court itself (Justice Scalia can certainly be counted as one of their friends, even if he is Catholic). Frankly, it's almost comforting that they wish to stage only a legal coup, as opposed to something more physically demonstrative. Dershowitz's comeback, therefore, is designed with the courts in mind. Any counter-tactic he can offer will only be legal as well. The root question of how a pluralistic democracy can deal with anti-democratic fundamentalist ideologies is somewhat foreign to him, and his book suffers as a result. Nevertheless, this is still worth your time, given its size and considered within its scope.
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29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2007
The thoroughly ad hominem rant by FBRobertson completely misses the point. Dershowitz is not attacking Christians, but the encroachment of religious belief on a secular democracy. The Christian circles that Robertson claims to travel in may not champion a theocracy, but many other Christians do. Dershowitz points out the Bush administration's creation of an Office of Community and Faith-based initiatives--a federal program designed to give millions of dollars to mostly Christian organizations. Their abstinence only approach to sex ed was dangerously ineffective where so much money was spent and to such little effect. Intelligent Design proponents are attempting to inject their beliefs in the science classroom in places such as Dover, PA and Kansas. And graduates from a 4th tier school like Regent Law get top job in the Justice Dept a la Monica Goodling. Competance and experience clearly have taken a backseat to cronyism and religious considerations.

This persecuation mentality would be funny if it wasn't so hypocritical. Christians love to pretend they are under attack in this country. If anything, the opposite is true--secular values are being erroded by theistic beliefs. FBRobertson seems to believe that Christians are morally superior to anyone else. Read some research by born-again sociologist George Barna that shows believers are no better off. Indeed, more secularized nations have lower rates of socially undesirable characteristics.

Robertson's review quickly devolves into a pro-religious diatribe that accuses humanists and agnostics of bitterness and hatred after, ironically enough, falsely accusing authors like Harris and Dawkins of wanting to send Christians to concentration camps...espescially shameful considering Dershowitz's judaism.

Dershowitz's elegant prose shows the dangers of imposing a narrow view of morality. Our secular laws are based on the human principle of justice for all. Religious neutrality offends no one and protects everyone.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Alan Dershowitz has written a short, yet powerful book detailing the attempted hijacking of the American form of government (secular) by the Religious Right. That this is happening is hardly debatable, however the question remains as to how it's being accomplished and why people are obviously falling prey to incorrect historical statements.

Dershowitz starts by evaluating the writings of the author and a number of signers of the Declaration of Independence to point out what their world view was at the time the document was created. Were they Christians, or not? Did they believe they were creating a country that was Christian in origin or secular? By examining the writings of Jefferson, Adams, Paine and others, he comes to the conclusion that they were deists with no intention of forming a "Christian" nation.

The second section deals with the way the Religious Right is attempting to prove that the founders, were in fact, creating a Christian nation and then proceeds to debunk their arguments and point out the trickery being used to try to convince the public of the appropriateness of their views.

The third section is a discussion of "Nature's Law", what it means and whether it is applicable or not.

While I found the book to be excellent, it is written in a ponderous and verbose style (the author is however a lawyer, so this should be expected), making it more difficult to read than is needed. That, however, is his style of writing and just means the reader needs to more time when reading the book. The only other complaint (if you wish to call it that) is the failure by the author to explain why the Religious Right is trying to take control of the country and turn it into a Christian Nation. He nibbled at the edges, but never really fully gave his opinion on this important part of the debate.

I fully enjoyed the book, will keep it in my bookcase and read it again shortly. I think much knowledge can be gained from reading this book and it should be read by every voter before the next election. It would also be a wonderful addition to a reading club for discussion.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2008
Alan Dershowitz has written a marvelous evisceration of the shrill claims of so-called Christian Dominionists who want to revise history and turn the United States into a Protestant Theocracy. He accomplishes this goal by examining the text of the Declaration of Independence, which the Religious Right has recently turned to in the hopes of finding support for their unhistorical view of the early United States. Dershowitz painstakingly examines Thomas Jefferson's (He was, after all, the drafter of the Declaration) deist faith and cynicism towards organized religion and clearly explains to the reader that the "God" of the Declaration is not Yahweh but rather the watchmaker God of the Enlightenment deists.

Indeed, much of this book focuses of Jefferson's deist beliefs, though Dershowitz also examines the various beliefs of the other Founding Fathers (though none of them are discussed at the same length as Jefferson). He wryly notes that Jefferson himself, rather than being a fearsome Christian lion who intended to found a nation under Jesus, was derided as an atheist and heretic in his own time and would almost certainly fail any political litmus test that the modern political Right might administer to him. He further notes that many of the historical passages that are sometimes quoted to back up Dominionist claims are often presented woefully out of context and, indeed, sometimes cynically twisted in order to present a meaning wholly opposite of their original intent.

Later on in the book Dershowitz examines modern strategies that the Dominionists use to try and foist their propaganda on the public, including the dissemination of patently inaccurate curriculum materials in public schools. He further quotes some of the boldest of modern Dominionists, such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, to lay bare their own narrow interpretation of "religious freedom" - an interpretation under which all citizens are free to worship under any form of Protestant Christianity they choose.

Throughout the entire work Dershowitz attempts to maintain a delicate balance of standing firmly against the Dominionist revisers of history while not presenting the Founding Fathers as fearsome atheists. Indeed, he notes that Jefferson and many of the other Founders were profoundly spiritual men, and that Jefferson's vision of a wall of separation between church and state was originally intended to also protect the sanctity of religion from the machinations of politicians. Indeed, one should come away from this book with the understanding that the Founders didn't see matters of spirituality and conscience as trifling or trivial, but rather that they saw them as so intensely important on a personal level that they sought to secure and defend the right to freedom of conscience for all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation. Part of that defense meant separating religion from the coercive power of the state, for their experience with the Church of England left them keenly aware that any country with an officially established church is neither well-equipped nor well-disposed to protect the rights of members of other faiths.

If this book leaves anything to be desired, it is that the author occasionally relies too much on quotations. I suppose he does so for the sake of repeating key ideals, but it is sometimes a bit distracting. For example, he repeatedly notes Jefferson's contention that the Bible was written by "ignorant, unlettered men". Now, this is an important statement regarding Jefferson's sentiments on the subject, but it is repeated, in quotations, at least half a dozen times. I'm all for reinforcing the key points of one's argument, but looking down at a page an catching sight of a veritable sea of quotation marks virtually guarantees a jagged read. Nonetheless, this book is of great value to anyone seeking a clearer understanding of our Founder's views on religion and the state. I recommend reading this book along the also excellent work by Kramnick and Moore entitled The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State
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22 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2007
I have to praise this author, in that he has made a statement that is sure to make those who wrongly think that this nation holds some special place in the Realm of Heaven, or in the mind of God, that this is just not so. In our wear your Christianity on your sleeve neo-political atmosphere, which has run rampant through our election campaigns these days, it is well about time some one set the record straight. We are a nation founded by a bunch of tax evaders, and smugglers, and people who were looking to escape Catholicism, Calvinism, and all the other isms, that were used to frighten people into submission, and to practice religion free of the influence of others, as the individual saw fit, or to have freedom from religion, all together. Freedom from Religion.

Remember the people who were here before us? How we used our so called Christian values to exterminate these people as if they were nothing more than vermin? How these people were used as slaves? Remember a President who sold Small Pox infected blankets to these same people? Remember the "Trail of Tears?" Let us not forget the horror of slavery. How those of influence brought people to this land mainly from Africa, and some from Ireland, to be abused and misused as slaves, and counted as only partial people. This is the Christianity of Christ? These are the activities of a Christian nation?

We as the author has explained in some degree twisted the writings of the so called founding fathers, because a vociferous few want a Theocracy, as opposed to the loose Democracy we now have. People who want to force school prayer, or public pseudo-christian posturing, as a way of life, and some how say the rest of us are not as righteous as they, or to say you are wrong if you disagree. People who want to have the Ten Commandments displayed in public buildings, or on public property. I believe it was Jesus Christ who said "Judge not."

As the author expresses here we are not a Christian nation, and we need to basically learn to live and let live. We are a nation of divese peoples, and a nation of diverse religions, and it seems to me we as a nation need to get used to that fact, and understand Christianity was never meant to be an in-your-face religion. Say your prayers in private, at home, or in church, and by the way you live your life will people then understand there is something different about you. Not by bullying, or destroying the Constitution. Very eye opening, thank you Mr. Dershowitz.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2007
Alan Dershowitz the renowned political figure and Harvard law professor takes on the Religious Right's claim that the United States is a Christian national based on the Declaration of Independence. The wall of separation between church and state is under attack from the Religious Right who are attempting a revision of the founding fathers intentions and trying to assert that the U.S. is a Christian nation. Dershowitz shores up the wall between church and state in the U.S. with facts surrounding the founding fathers real intentions and religious beliefs.

Reconstructing the intentions of Jefferson and the Founding Fathers with expert citation and a masterful command of historical fact; he deftly and convincingly destroys the myths being propagated by the Religious Right.

The last chapter "Conclusion" is thoughtful and philosophical if only what Alan discusses could be reality...

This book will raise the consciousness of the reader. It reinforces what my college education and similar readings have taught me. This nation was formed by great men who were Deists. These men were products of the Enlightenment and placed reason and science before Christian religions and religious ideology in matters of interest to the United States government. This should be part of every United States history curriculum across this great country of ours.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2007
This little book sums up the facts regarding the Declaration of Independence and our founding fathers' views on organized religion. This is the book that lays out everything you need to know to speak intelligently on the subject when your friends and coworks try to tell you otherwise. Be informed ! Read this book.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Excellent book. Dershowitz does what he set out to do, and he does it well. Unfortunately, I don't think it is going to change many minds, especially among the Religious Right. Those of us who know our history are in the minority, and this book's unspoken point is about the rights of the minority to enjoy the freedom of religion or no religion. I strongly agree with the person that said every high school sophmore should read this book. In fact, I would recommend that ALL AMERICANS read Blasphemy! The "experiment" that we Americans are so privileged to live and enjoy each day is not guaranteed to each and every future American generation. Hopefully, a book like Blasphemy will awaken all of us who care about living in a country where there is freedom of religion and from the tyranny of religious zealots.
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16 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2007
I read this book skeptically but was soon enthralled by it's hard core factual data. Yes, there are debates about many of these issues but Dershowitz states hundreds of devastating facts. I shared the book with a few Republican friends of mine. When they read the quotes from our Founding Fathers, they became enraged. The stuff Derhsowitz has uncovered is amazing. Share the book with your Republican friends and watch them implode.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2007
I was thoroughly impressed with the author's ability to present the facts and give a rational explanation to the sharp decline in the rights of non-Xians. I highly recommend this book to anyone who can see through the religious propaganda machine that is our government. If you're interested in the facts, and realize that the founding fathers developed this country to be completely religiously free, this book lays out the documented proof of such facts. For Xians, please read, think outside the box, and embrace the facts. In the words of diplomat Joel Barlow, echoed by John Adams (sound familiar...) in 1796, "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
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