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So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State Paperback – Bargain Price, September 8, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, September 8, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Those who think that the past holds clear and reassuring lessons for today will be hard put to find them here. In this beautifully crafted and timely work, the aptly named Church (minister of Manhattan's Unitarian All Souls Church and author or editor of 22 books) takes us through the complex thoughts and actions of the nation's founders in a way that will give pause to most readers. Each of the nation's first five presidents saw the relationship between government and religion differently; each thought and acted in surprising ways not always in harmony with their private beliefs. What united them, says Church, was a deep commitment to the nation's welfare as they defined it. This civil religion, grounded in Protestant moral convictions, often took distinctive form, e.g., Washington lashing out at clerical interference in government and James Madison declaring four national fast days. The issues roiling their day were not ours, but they were equally fraught and equally unresolved. Church, who's too severe and present-minded about John Adams, makes clear that the tangled historic links between religion and politics were built into American history from the start and are unlikely to be dissolved. This is an important work that delights and informs. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

PRAISE FOR SO HELP ME GOD
 
"An illuminating study of the great tangle of our time . . . Church's book is an excellent contribution to that search for sanity amid the storms of the present."—Jon Meacham, author of American Gospel and Franklin and Winston

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 540 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (September 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156034875
  • ASIN: B003E7ETQW
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,072,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Forrest Church unites history and criticism in a timely, readable, informative and entertaining book about the role our Founding Fathers played in the great debate over separation of church and state. This tale of drama and trauma is rich with American history and the surprises that make for any gripping story - for instance, that the Unitarians, Congregationalists and Episcopalians were in favor of a Christian Nation whereas the Baptists championed the separation of church and state. As a result of being religious outsiders, the Baptists knew that they'd be persecuted if not protected under the newly formed American government. Also, how the War of 1812 nearly resulted in New England seceding from the Union to establish a Christian Commonwealth. A wonderful way with detail (and an enormous amount of research) provides reflections on the players and their time. Regarding the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson - "Theirs was a friendship between the Red Queen and the Cheshire Cat. At the slightest provocation, Adams shouted, 'Off with their heads'; at the first hint of conflict, Jefferson disappeared until nothing remained but his smile." Rev. Church offers insights on the way in which parallel battles over personal freedom continue today, not only with regard to teaching creationism in schools and allowing commandments in courthouses, but the current struggle over how much liberty must be sacrificed for security. Likewise, Rev. Church points out how wartime has always brought church and state closer together (during the Civil War "in God we trust" first appeared on our money), and in peacetime the two diverge.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
For those who think the first five presidents were devout Christians, the news is not good. Nor is the news good for those who think the country was non-religious. There was indeed a "culture war" going on and the arguments were not unlike today's insultfest. Also like today, mutual slanders were propagated by the media, the politicians, and the pulpit. Some things never change.

* Only Adams was a church-goer all his life. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison attended church when living in the White House, seldom otherwise. Monroe didn't go even when he was President. They all doubted the divinity of Christ but all utilized a semblance of faith when it fit their agenda. From the onset in American politics, religion ended up being manipulated for political gain.

* Washington scrupulously avoided the slightest hint of religious favoritism and would not abide any sectarian interference in the affairs of state. By the end of his second term, established church leaders were openly disenchanted with his ambiguous religious posture. He probably did say "So help me God" at his inauguration.

* There would have been no Bill of Rights if it weren't for the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut. Madison and others thought a Bill of Rights was redundant but he needed their support for ratification of the Constitution. In exchange, he presented and fought for a Bill of Rights in the new Congress.

* The Federalist party (mainly northern) was a coalition between those who wanted a strong federal government and the existing controlling Christian denominations (Presbyterians, Unitarians, Congregationalists, Anglicans).
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Format: Hardcover
The subtitle describes pretty well the content of this book, which aims to describe the first great cultural war in American political history. Pursuant to the author, the ideals of liberty and order will coexist in tension as they have in the nation's womb from the beginning. In that line, he thinks that today's US Christian campaigners and their secular critics seem almost timid compared to the warring American dreamers and would-be saviours who battled for votes in the American early republic.

What I like the most is the way F. Church, with a stroke of his pen, vividly depicts the first five American President's religious stands, often making interesting parallels between them . E.g.:

Washington. Just how religious was George Washington? The short answer is: "Not very" . He had much of the principle, little of the sentiment of religion. He was more moral than pious.

John Adams. The Protestant ethic was bred in his bone. He didn't think like a true believer but he felt like a true believer.

Thomas Jefferson. If Adams was skeptical about almost everything, Jefferson worshiped just as doggedly at the altar of reason and progress. He was a fundamentalist of the left, inflexible in his fidelity to rational religion. However, as devoted as Jefferson was to church-state separation, religion and politics mixed freely in Washington throughout his administration.

James Madison. Jefferson supported freedom of religion to protect the state from the church but also to free mind from the state while Madison sought to protect the state from the church by encouraging sectarian competition and seems to have been a reverent agnostic (in the gentlest sense of the word, i.e.
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