Book Review: One Nation Under God

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America – Kevin M. Kruse

My rating – Put it on your list

Level – easy, a little wordy, medium length but reads quickly

Summary
The title might be a bit of a misnomer. People expecting this book to be about whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation should look elsewhere. There a many, many books with this title that more or less discuss that idea or whether we are currently. In many ways, it is a great and accurate title as the insertion of the phrase ‘under God’ is a critical juncture in his story line. For those unaware, it was added in the 50’s, the so-called ‘good ol’ days’.

What the book is about, is how a group of people decided to try and revise history, and shape the future, for their own personal financial gain. Conflating Christianity with the nation is the method they choose. This started maybe further back than people might have thought. If you are like me, you might assume much of the rhetoric started with Reagan. Instead, Kruse traces is back to the 30’s and business responses to New Deal regulation. In fact, he barely discussing Reagan.

The book is broken into three major parts – creation, consecration, and conflict. That is, the ideas and actions behind the national religion push (very conspiratorially written), the achievement of those goals, and the current situation of those goals clashing with modern America.

I guess I should also note that Kruse is a historian. I have no idea his religious preference, if any, and do not think he mentions it in the book. Point being, this is not written from the Christian prospective and though quite fair and accurate, he does seem suspicious of it. However, it certainly isn’t anti-Christian or an attack in any way.

My Thoughts
I hate to admit that I like this book because it confirmed my own beliefs, but it is true. If you are ever involved in anything politically liberal, you will likely hear that Christians have corrupted the Republican party. However, it is the other way around. I’ve always viewed the situation as Reagan’s attempt to tie Evangelicals to the Republican party as a response to and actual Evangelical Christian, and likely the most religious president in American history, Jimmy Carter. If I ever do get a change to pursue a PhD, I’d like to write my dissertation on this topic.

Interestingly, the attempt to put them together is much, much older and was well in place and already successful before Reagan. It was very interesting, yet disturbing, to read the entanglement of business interest, prosperity gospel preachers, and politics. Perhaps the most shocking thing to me was the placement of the 10 Commandments at courthouses. Many people may have though, well, they’ve been there all along, perhaps hundreds of years. No. Almost all of the monuments, the large, stone tablet looking representations were put up in the early 50’s. They were a marketing ploy. Like a Captain American action figure in a happy meal, they were used to promote the movie ‘The Ten Commandments’.

It all comes down to a basic fear felt by many of the Evangelical Left (that is, those who are political liberal, but deeply conservative in Christian belief) – that Christianity, God, and the Bible have all been used by business interest. Greed has lead to obfuscating history and the portrayal of the future as antagonistic to Believers. All so that certain people in companies could have less regulation and taxes.

This will be hard to swallow for many staunch conservatives. I know, because I used to be one. Then I started to become suspicious that we were being used. Now, I will say, if you are politically conservative, that’s fine, nothing wrong with that. Just don’t claim the Bible is the bases of your economic or tax policy. You’ve been used as a pawn, even voting against your own self interest by people who may not even view God as you do.

However, anyone will to sit, read, and review the facts about politics and religion, this book needs to be on your list. If you are a Christian and political liberal, who has always wondered how it got so off, this book is a must read for historical understanding. If you are a Christian, who maybe doesn’t even have strong political leanings, but were just always curious as to why, in America, the political right and Evangelicals are so intertwined, this book is also a must read. Any Christian with any interest in political at all, should add this to their list of books to read.

I want to wrap up with a quick note about Trump. I’m writing this 4 days before the election, but I don’t think it will be posted until a few weeks after. But, if you’ve looked around and wondered how in the Hell is Trump the supposed representative of the Evangelical vote, this book will help you understand. For one, Trump grew up in the church of one of the biggest, most popular/powerful prosperity gospel preachers. Sadly, this history presented in this book will also explain why so many ‘preachers’ or other ‘Evangelical’ public figures have support the thrice divorced, pro-choice, multi-millionaire. If you’ve read some of these guy’s condemnation of Bill Clinton from the 90’s, but their full throated support for Trump and though, that doesn’t make any sense, then read this book, and it will. We go from claiming that morality matters in the White House, to the weak and somewhat ridiculous claim that we are not electing a ‘pastor-in-chief’ (ridiculous, not because it is wrong, but that apparently only pastors shouldn’t grab random women by the pussy).

I will say, I do hope that the Trump candidacy will disentangle party politics with religion. As I write this, I have a sincere wish that Evangelicals will not vote (majority) for Trump; however, I am not hopeful.

Edit – He won 81% of the Evangelicals, more than Romney or even Bush. 

Evangelicals and President-Elect Trump

I’m not going to provide much in the way of commentary, because I’m just too tired and a little burned out at this point; in fact, I’m going to be extra lazy and just dump raw links. However, I have to note that 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Trump. I was surprised at how high this was. Maybe you are thinking, well, that is just a consistent vote. Two problems with this, first it is actually higher than W received against Kerry or Gore. Second, that were a huge number of Evangelical leaders, pastors, seminary presidents, and public theologians that came out against Trump, so you’d expect the numbers to be lower.

Of course, things are much more complicated than one subgroup vote. I think, and the polls seem to be showing this, that the democrats lost (well, except the popular vote) due to the fact that they focused too much on identity politics and missed the most important part of elections – it’s the economy stupid. I think many Evangelicals voted for power, to stay a controlling force in government, and we sacrificed our moral voice for it. Unfortunately, I think most Evangelicals were simply tricked into becoming single issue voters – something I think is a terrible idea.

Anyway, that’s really all I feel like writing at this point. Grab them by the pussy, here’s your link dump:

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/thabitianyabwile/2016/11/09/4-problems-associated-with-white-evangelical-support-of-donald-trump/#comment-179779

http://religiondispatches.org/white-evangelicals-win-white-house-for-trump-but-lose-big/

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/november/trump-elected-president-thanks-to-4-in-5-white-evangelicals.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/why-christians-should-not-succumb-to-the-apocalyptic-language-of-the-election/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/evangelicals-election_us_5820d931e4b0e80b02cbc86e

http://time.com/4565010/donald-trump-evangelicals-win/?xid=Outbrain_Time_ArticleFooter&iid=obnetwork

http://fortune.com/2016/10/09/evangelical-leaders-back-trump/

 

Book Review: Sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Harari

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – His style makes it moderate, but the book covers topics like biology, physics, philosophy, anthropology, economics, and of course, history. So, not everyone will be able to jump right into this book. Fairly long at almost 500 pages.

Summary
Harari splits the book into four parts (total of 20 chapters), The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of History, and The Scientific Revolution. You could also see this book as two books. The first two parts deal with the developmental historic and biological evolution of humans. The last two parts, deals more with philosophy, religion, end economics.

The first two parts are exactly what they sound like. Who were the Sapiens, and how many species were there? Why did we, homo, become dominant? Our cognition, broadly speaking, is the answer. He gets a little philosophical on wondering whether the agricultural revolution was  good thing. He is fairly critical, wondering if we would have been better off as hunter-gatherers.

The third, was the most fascinating. In ‘unification’ he means how cultural forces tied as together as a species. He points to money, empires, and religion as the greatest reasons. For pure learning/knowledge of society the two chapters on money and religion are probably the greatest in the book.

The final section is party what it seems, what has changed since the scientific revolutions, but Harari also offers great insight into science replacing religion, economics (especially capitalism), the industrial revolution and an interesting look into the future. Parts of this section were difficult to read, especially as he discusses human actions (like genocide) through the lenses of biology and evolution. He wraps up with a look at the future and the advancement of medicine. The implications of current advancements and the possibility of true immortality leads to great points on the philosophical issues of no death, and whom could attain it.

My Thoughts
I’m a pretty big history nerd and find pre-recorded history especially fascinating. What happened to spark the cognitive revolution 50,000 years ago or the agricultural one 10,000 years ago is extremely intriguing from a historical, religious, and biological standpoint. If you are in any way like this, this book is a must read for you.

As for the last two parts, if you are an economics or recent history nerd, this is also a must read. Particularly of interest is his definitions of money and religion. It’s a great over view of the basic economics of money. Even looking at the physical aspects of not having to carry wheat to pay for things, or having to know the value in weight of all commodities. Some people will probably not agree with his definitions of religion, but they are quite good from a sociological standpoint.

The last half of the book should bother a number of people. For the more conservative groups who may read it for the history and economics insights, his discussions of the problems of capitalism and the industrial revolutions may anger them. Likewise, liberals who cheer on those parts will likely disagree with the assessment that liberalism is, in fact, a religion. They may find it especially repulsive that he as he describes the world through purely secular and biological reasoning, he inevitably concludes that there is no universal truth.

With no universal truth, he argues, we can’t state for a fact that things like the Holocaust are wrong. He points out that there is no right and wrong in biology. Our goal is to perpetuate the species, whether or not it is better for us. He discusses evolutionary examples that are not the best winning out. Natural selection is misunderstood as the propagation of the best attributes, but this is simply not true. I’ve heard this type of thinking, especially the Holocaust example, from Christians before. Typically, I dismiss it as something taught in academically weak fundamentalist apologetic schools. It was startling to read it so blatantly stated, and even proved to be correct.

His writing is great and though the material could be a text book, it is written in a wonderful, almost narrative fashion. If either of the two broader section of the book are things that interest you, this is a must read. However, due to the depth and breadth of this book, I’ll put it as something to put on your list, if the topic are of interest to you, or if you are interesting in learning. The amount you will learn from this book is fairly astounding. For that reason alone, it would be helpful for many people to read.

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

My Rating – If you are look for something to read

Level – easy, fairly short

Summary
Bill Bryson decides he wants to hike the whole of the Appalachian Trail. He realizes that it will be long and he will be on his own, so he puts it out there that he’d like to have someone come with him. An old friend calls up and agrees to go. The first part of the book deals with their antics as they start off on their hike. Then the book somewhat drifts in the middle as he returns home (the plan is not to do the tail all at once, but instead break it up into different parts). He gives a bit of the history of the National Park service in general and the AT in particular.

All the while doing minor hikes in the area of the trail that runs near his house, as well as taking trip down in Virginia and Pennsylvania to do other parts for a few days at a time. The final part of the book, he meets back up with his buddy Katz, to hike thru Main’s 100 Mile Wilderness. He wraps up the book with some final thoughts and reflections on his experience.

My Thoughts
By far the best part of the book is his early exploits with Katz. Anyone with jackass friends or people who have gone on long multi-day hikes with, let’s say, less equipped people, will appreciate the humor of the situation. The middle part really seems a bit listless and even like a later edition. Maybe it was just less interesting to me as I am pretty familiar with the AT and hike the Smokies at least once a year.

This is also a movie now. I have no idea if it is any good, but if it’s on Amazon Prime or something, it’s probably worth watching.