Three critical moments shaped and continue to drive the myth of a Christian America: the Puritan's settling of New England; the Revolutionary War era's founding of a new nation; and early 19th-century attempts to redefine how our country began, in order to fit its visions with its own political and religious aspirations. 328 pages, softcover. Oxford University.
Among the most enduring themes in American history is the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. A pervasive narrative in everything from school textbooks to political commentary, it is central to the way in which many Americans perceive the historical legacy of their nation. Yet, as Steven K. Green shows in this illuminating new book, it is little more than a myth.
In Inventing a Christian America, Green, a leading historian of religion and politics, explores the historical record that is purported to support the popular belief in America's religious founding and status as a Christian nation. He demonstrates that, like all myths, these claims are based on historical "facts" that have been colored by the interpretive narratives that have been imposed upon them. In tracing the evolution of these claims and the evidence levied in support of them from the founding of the New England colonies, through the American Revolution, and to the present day, he investigates how they became leading narratives in the country's collective identity. Three critical moments in American history shaped and continue to drive the myth of a Christian America: the Puritan founding of New England, the American Revolution and the forging of a new nation, and the early years of the nineteenth century, when a second generation of Americans sought to redefine and reconcile the memory of the founding to match their religious and patriotic aspirations. Seeking to shed light not only on the veracity of these ideas but on the reasons they endure, Green ultimately shows that the notion of America's religious founding is a myth not merely in the colloquial sense, but also in a deeper sense, as a shared story that gives deeper meaning to our collective national identity.
Offering a fresh look at one of the most common and contested claims in American history, Inventing a Christian America is an enlightening read for anyone interested in the story of-and the debate over-America's founding.
Steven K. Green is Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Religion, Law, and Democracy at Willamette University. He is the author of The Bible, the School, and the Constitution: The Clash that Shaped Modern Church-State Doctrine and The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth-Century America.
"Green's book is admirably clear, disciplined, and short. It should be required reading for anyone trying to comprehend the perennial Christian America story."--Journal of American History
"Steven Green's Inventing a Christian America
is that rare book where scholarship and sensitivity can calm one of America's most volatile issues. Its breadth and fairness allow understanding and perspective to run ahead of simply inaccurate notions about America's 'Christian foundations.' The result is a marvelously readable account of the fascinating ways religious freedom actually emerged in America and uplifted nation and religion together."
--Jon Butler, Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus of American Studies, History, and Religious Studies, Yale University
"With impressive command of both historical and legal sources, Steven K. Green debunks the durable myth that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. At a time when Baptists have largely abandoned their historic task of patrolling the wall of separation, when Americans pine for what the author characterizes as 'a grand, and uncomplicated, story about the nation's beginnings,' Inventing a Christian America
demonstrates that the myth of Christian origins was nineteenth-century invention. In a conversation that typically generates more heat than light, Inventing a Christian America
stands out for both its irenic tone and its judicious scholarship." --Randall Balmer, author of Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter
"Inventing a Christian America
is the most thorough critique of Christian nationalism available today. Steven Green approaches this controversial subject with scholarly insight, a generally irenic spirit, and a comprehensive analysis of the literature produced by those who defend the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Anyone interested in this subject must read this book." --John Fea, author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
"Green helps retrace the steps of an enduring idea to the present day. Highly recommended."-- M.S. Hill, CHOICE