With Kevin M. Kruse, professor of History at Princeton University in New Jersey. He is the author or co-editor of several books, his latest is One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.
About the book:
One Nation Under God tells the story of how in the middle of the 20th century, corporate titans and evangelical activists created the pervasive myth that America was, is, and always will be a fundamentally Christian nation.
As Kruse argues, the belief that America is fundamentally and formally a Christian nation originated from corporate opposition to FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s. Corporations from General Motors to Hilton Hotels bankrolled conservative clergymen, encouraging them to attack the New Deal as a program of “pagan statism” that perverted the central principle of Christianity: the sanctity and salvation of the individual. Their campaign for “freedom under God” culminated in the election of their close ally Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.
In Eisenhower’s hands, a religious movement born in opposition to the government was transformed into one that fused faith and the federal government as never before. During the 1950s, Eisenhower revolutionized the role of religion in American political culture, inventing new traditions from inaugural prayers to the National Prayer Breakfast. Meanwhile, Congress added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto. With private groups joining in, church membership soared to an all-time high of 69%. During this moment, Americans began to think of their country as an officially Christian nation.
But as Americans moved from broad generalities to the details of issues such as school prayer, cracks began to appear. Religious leaders began to reject this “lowest common denomination” public religion, leaving conservative political activists to champion it alone. In Richard Nixon’s hands, a politics that conflated piety and patriotism became sole property of the right.
Provocative and authoritative, One Nation Under God reveals how the unholy alliance of money, religion, and politics created a false origin story that continues to define and divide American politics to this day.
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