41 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Unbiased, Well-Researched, and Great Historical Work,
This review is from: American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation (Hardcover)
This book will interest those who like reading about early U.S. political, cultural, and religious history, and how the foundations of the United States were set up, and how the role of religion was discussed, debated, disagreed upon, and compromised on. This is a great book for scholars, but also casual American history buffs. What's surprising is that the very issues in this book - are still being debated today - over 200 years later.
"American Gospel" notes that the secular tone was set very early on by the founders. Actually, the very beginning: it was the first debate. And, the result could have gone in the other direction. At "Carpenter's Hall" in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress gathered for it's inaugural session in 1774. A move to have the delegates open the session with a prayer led to disagreement because of the different religious denominations of the members. The first governmental disagreement in 1774 concerned, public prayer. Do we hear about this issue today, in 2006?
Many statements (quotes) and writing excerpts selected by Meacham provide insights into what the Founders and influential people were thinking, and to what degree religion was supposed to be integrated or secularized into an emerging American society. John Adams stated in one treaty, later ratified in the Senate in 1797, that "the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion...." And other excerpts reveal statements showing some integration of government and religion, both legally and philosophically, to various degrees.
The Founders and other architects involved in the American-cultural-governmental-religious relationship were indeed, thinking about the future. This was an experiment. And this experiment was taken conscientiously.
Of course, many people that initially came to the "New World" were escaping political persecution. But it can be difficult to
ponder the internalized perceptions of what people *really* thought 230+ years ago. Religion did play a significant role in the motivations of the Founders. Some of this motivation was out of convenience. But the main motivation for American colonial independence was promoting the economic and financial interests of a small group of influential people. Religion, then and today, is a very useful tool in helping influential people do what they want to do. Religion was utilized in making justifications and excuses for not only independence, but slavery, Indigenous American genocide, and persecuting the so-called non-believers. As in many nations, past and present, religion serves as a vehicle to procuring political power, and gaining and maintaining, public support.
In "American Gospel," we also are reminded how religion was much more enmeshed with the nation-states in Europe 200 years ago, whereas today most Europeans citizens are secular. currently, if a European political leader is religious, he/she doesn't "wear it on their sleeve" like American public officials often do. Now in the USA, most people's religious affiliation is merely a superficial token of expression, and not a motivator for mass movements to promote a political agenda. However, this has been changing recently.
Currently, the debate over religion and its role in government, schools (intelligent design), and medicine (stem cell research) continue, and likely will for time to come.
Author John Meacham is extremely balanced and non-biased, which is what a superb historian does. He did great research and writing, also.