This book is one of the clearest and most interesting books I have read recently. Meacham takes us through a history of religion and the USA from the arrival of the pilgrims all the way to the present. The book is loaded with citations by the key players, in some cases several of them so the context of the citations is clear. In particular, Meacham focuses on the founding fathers who contributed to both the Declaration of Independence, where God is mentioned with various terms (from Creator to Nature's God) and the Constitution which does not mention him at all. The key idea of the book is that the US was designed to be a pluralistic state with no establishment of a particular religion or belief at its base, but with a respect for what Meacham calls "popular religion" which does and should have a role in our nation's public life, as it has from the beginning through figures as varied as Washington, Franklin, Adams (devout believer), Jefferson (a non-trinitarian), Madison, Lincoln, Wilson, the two Roosevelts, Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, and Bush. For those who want the nuanced story of the role of religion in the USA and the debate over whether the USA was designed to be a specifically Christian nation, this book is must reading to get the various views properly aligned. I highly recommend it for anyone who is working through our nation's history when it comes to how religion has been seen in the USA historically. In thinking about the implications of Meacham's work, a key point to be made is that there is a difference between a democracy where majority rules and a republic where the rights of minorities are taken into account and protected. There is an important observation about the USA being structured as a republic that some miss. The difficult question for Christians is how to align our role as Christian where God and our sense of morality that he gives us is to relate to our relationship to a societal structure like a republic, where there is concern for pluralism in a way that minority rights are protected. The decision about what to legislate (morality; when? whose? on what basis, a majority that can change? etc.) or even how to do it if it is to be done is a complex question when one is considering distinct spheres of societal design and function. Does Jesus' answer about rendering to Caesar help us here? How should the debate be engaged, when a moral element is seen as potentially destructive to a society? Hopefully it can be done in a way that makes the case and argues that this is best for all of us as a society, whether legislation gets passed or not.
American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, By John Meacham - Oct 8