“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Seneca the Younger, ca. 30 AD
If we listened to voices from America’s far right, we’d hear that America has always been a strongly religious nation. We’d find out that we have always drawn our strength directly from the deity and that we suffer when we stray. Pious predictions of national doom are common when lambasting gay marriage or socialization between the races.
Historian Kevin M. Kruse shows in this powerful book “One Nation Under God” that the “always” part of national piety is false to the core. In fact, most of our religious “tradition” is less than 65 years old! He explains that America’s robber baron’s were frustrated in their attempts to undermine the “New Deal” progressive legislation under the Roosevelt Administration. In the early 1950s, desperate for a new angle, they began financing a few evangelical preachers who were willing (and very able) to confuse patriotism, religion, and, most of all, capitalism. The big money came from chemical and oil interests. The preachers received a boost from high-profile entertainers such as Ronald Reagan. Their biggest help came from the anti-communist hysteria that began in 1946.
It was during the Eisenhower Administration (1952-60) that the combination of preachers and financiers hit its stride. That’s when government printing picked up “In God We Trust” on most materials, especially money. In 1954, “Under God” was added to the pledge that all of us say over and over, unless we’re faking it. Presidents Nixon and Reagan are shown especially unscrupulous in misusing religion to promote their agendas, but every president, to one degree or another, has gone along with the false notion that America has always been guided by Christianity.
Every revelation Kruse writes is thoroughly documented. In fact, indexes take up the last 32 percent of the book! If there’s a criticism to be leveled, it would have to be that the history of progressive religionists was left out. The effect of “liberation theology,” especially in Central and South America, gets no notice. The many preachers today who demonstrate that Jesus Christ was a worker and favored working people aren’t mentioned. That would make another really good book.
Kevin M. Kruse
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America
Basic Books, New York
Hardcover, Kindle, and Audible editions