The proper role of religion in the United States of America has been a source of debate since the beginning of the country, a debate that continues to this very day. Political parties, social institutions, and individuals all put forth their varied opinions as to the appropriate level of influence religion should have in the public and government sectors.
In American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, Mr. Meacham provides a well-balanced, well-researched investigation of this question focusing on the writings of the Founding Fathers, which form the foundation and framework upon which the United States government operates today, as well as an examination of the state of the country at the time of its founding and how the conditions of that time affected the authoring of the governing documents and the thinking of those who wrote them. On page 232 Mr. Meacham wrote:
“A grasp of history is essential for Americans of the center who struggle to decide how much weight to assign a religious consideration in a public matter. To fail to consult the past consigns us to what might be called the tyranny of the present – the mistaken idea that the crises of our own time are unprecedented and that we have to solve them without experience to guide us.”
The tyranny of the present. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun, and Mr. Meacham certainly has a large body of work by some of the most progressive and brilliant thinkers in history to consult on this matter. And he does not simply repeat oft-heard quotes or ideas (i.e., “a wall of separation between Church & State” taken from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802); rather, he provides the context from which these quotes were taken, which allows for a greater understanding of the intent of the author.
While this subject matter is rather complex, Mr. Meacham displays a true talent in relating it in a manner that is easy to understand, and this, I believe, is what makes American Gospel so remarkable. Furthermore, considering the import of this topic to the nation, it would seem advisable for all to become more familiar with it so that one can be in a better position to make informed decisions as an individual citizen. After all, an informed electorate is essential to the success of a republic such as ours.
“This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Uriah Forrest, December 31, 1787
Formats Available: Book (Regular Type and Large Type), Audiobook (CD)
Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill