Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: The American Bible – How Our Words Unite, Divide, And Define A Nation

As a believer in American exceptionalism, I was glad that I was chosen to review The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation,by Stephen Prothero for the TLC Book Tour.

Different books, writings, speeches, and expressions from Americans are subdivided into books of the Bible by the author. Within Genesis you will find John Winthrop's A Model of Christian Charity from 1630. Never heard of it? It's a sermon the minister gave to colonists who were at sea on their way to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in it Winthrop referred to the New World as a "shining city upon a hill." Shortly before his inauguration, John F. Kennedy retrieved that phrase from obscurity. Ronald Reagan of course further popularized it during his presidency.

Stephen Prothero
Parallels of the migration of devout Christians from Europe to America to Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt were made in the early 1600s and continue to this day. Which is why I disagree with President Obama's assertion about American exceptionalism. When asked about it--in Europe no less--he replied, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Well, sorry Mr. President, it's not the same thing--and I'm sure Obama would love to take back his reference to the floundering Greeks, despite the brilliance of their ancient philosophers. The Greeks trace their beginnings to pre-historical times, and the British to the withdrawal of Roman legions from Britain.

We hear from Kennedy and Reagan later in the Proverbs section of American Bible, Kennedy for "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," Reagan  for his term "Evil Empire." The Gipper is called in for an encore in Gospels for his groundbreaking "A Time for Choosing" speech for Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Within each American Bible entry is a forward from Prothero, comments on that selection from historical figures and present day pundits, along with footnotes, which makes this book something you probably want to read in chunks rather than straight through.

As is expected, many familiar names contribute to  The American Bible, such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine. But some less-expected names populate it too, including Woody Guthrie, Malcom X, Ayn Rand (although her estate did not permit Prothero from including an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged), Calvin Coolidge, and Noah Webster.

While I recommend this book as an intellectual exercise for denizens of both the left and right, I was disappointed in Prothero's forward to the segment on the Constitution, which of course has been the law of our land since 1788.
The Constitution itself has been described repeatedly as an American Torah--"our Ark of Covenant." [That phrase is footnoted.] And the "cult of the Constitution" remains strong today. In the twenty-first century, Tea Party politicians anointed themselves high priests of this cult after Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009, and many Republicans were sent to Congress in 2010 on the strength of promises to defend the Constitution from this "socialist" president.
Whoah. As a tea partier I can tell you that I don't view my deep respect to the Constitution as "a cult." The Tea Party movement was inspired by Obama's unpopular and since failed-stimulus and the ObamaCare bill, which could be ruled as unconstitutional in the next few days.

Occupy Wall Street warrants a couple of mentions in The American Bible, which is unfortunate, since the group is fading away, albeit violently. If Prothero authors an update of his book ten years from now, I doubt that he'd feel compelled to include any Occupy references. The same won't be said of the Tea Party, which will be a potent force in the 2012 elections--and likely beyond.


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

It does sound like there is a lot to consider and discuss in this book, whether you agree with all the author's statements or not.

Thanks for being on the tour!

Ryan said...

Interesting review, though I'm curious why you find a review of this book an appropirate place to bash a current president.