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God and America
By Steven Martinovich
As the recent national election bore out, the United States remains a surprisingly religious nation. That religious character, and the resulting tensions it has produced, has been a feature of the United States for nearly four centuries. During that time Americans have called upon God to protect their nation, justify both benevolence and malevolence and to guide them during times of trial.
Four-time Grammy Award winners Toby Mac and Michael Tait of the Christian group dc Talk explore America's Christian nature in a series of vignettes that comprise Under God. Informing their book is the argument that America was formed on the principles of Christian faith. Rather than simply write a book cheerleading Americans for being a religious nation, Mac and Tait take a reasonably balanced view, illustrating how Americans have both lived up to Christian ideals and darker days when they most certainly did not.
Of the several dozen short stories that make up Under God, most concern the American Revolution, the fight for civil rights, slavery and the disgraceful treatment of American Indians. In their tour of American history, Mac and Tait argue that for much of it "Congress has honored the historic separation of church and state, but not God and state." Dozens of historical figures -- both famous and others who have unfortunately slipped into obscurity -- illustrate their contention that while a state religion was never desired by the founding fathers, neither did men like George Washington, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin wish religion removed from public life.
Under God chronicles how Congress permitted using Capitol Hill and other federal government buildings as places of worship, the national days of prayer ordered by presidents in times of strife and the religious principles that were infused into all levels of government. Far from there being a split between religion and the state, Mac and Tait argue otherwise by illustrating how there was a close relationship between the two. It wasn't the type of relationship that created a theocracy, but rather a source of inspiration for those determined to make the United States an example of liberty to the world.
By far the most powerful stories in Under God, however, are those that deal with slavery and the civil rights movement, stories that can either inspire the reader, make them uncomfortable, or both. Mac and Tait include historical episodes that highlight how the religious faith of slaves sustained them, the battles over the issue of abolition and the price paid by African-Americans over the past century as the United States was more equal in words than deed. Stirring stories of freedom fighters like Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson are tempered by more tragic episodes like the murders of Medgar Evers and Emmett Till.
Under God isn't a perfect effort, however, despite Mac and Tait's obvious effort to be as rigorous and balanced as possible despite having the agenda of educating Americans about the religious foundation of their country. Purists will undoubtedly raise an eyebrow at their extensive re-creation of monologues and conversations of which there were no witnesses to transcribe. They can also be fairly criticized for often portraying historical figures in a one-dimensional manner when it comes to their religiosity. As the personal writings of people like Thomas Jefferson -- who makes a number of appearances in Under God -- bear out, the issue of their religious beliefs could be a complicated matter. Jefferson, for example, was well known for some controversial beliefs including the writing of a version of the Bible stripped of its miracles.
It's doubtful that Under God will make much of an impact in secular circles, which is unfortunate because it provides a persuasive counter to the prevailing modern argument that America's founding fathers wanted a United States shorn of any Christian principles. Mac and Tait should be applauded not merely for not ignoring the less noble side of American history and showing how far Americans can stray from those Christian principles, but that there is also hope that they can be re-embraced. Under God is a compelling read for anyone seeking a fuller understanding of the motivations for the events that have helped create we know today.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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