BASIC BOOKS, 2015
New Books in American Studies Network MAY 22, 2015
Kevin M. Kruse is professor of history at Princeton University and author of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015). Kruse argues that the idea that America was always a “Christian nation” dates from the 1930s. In opposition to FDR’S New Deal, businessmen and religious leaders began to promote the idea of “freedom under God.” The post-war era brought new fears of the advancement of domestic communism. In a decisive turn from an earlier social gospel, these leaders established a Christian ethos based on the ideas of private property, capitalism, and individual economic freedom. Adding “under God” to the pledge of allegiance, designating “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the nation, the controversial attempt to institute prayer and bible distribution in American schools were all forerunner to the Christian Right at the end of the century. Kruse’s narrative focuses on how American leaders from different powerful sectors of the nation sought through legislation and public practices to unify a pluralistic nation under a capitalist-affirming Christian framework. The result was not unity but a more fragmented and divided nation. In unfolding the narrative Kruse challenges the often-benign public religious images of men like Billy Graham, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and a multitude of recognizable business leaders. The book opens up a timely conversation on the meaning of religious pluralism and the place of religion in American public life.