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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 m 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.


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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 m 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.

30 review for Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding

  1. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    This is such a great work! This book outlines the origins of the intentional misleading of America being founded on Christian principles. It also touched on the origins of clergy positioning their roles as leaders of communities seeking not just religious, but social issues as well. Many more will need to read this work before progress can be made.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Philadelphia is a historical place, though often overlooked in favor of New York, Boston, and Washington DC. But it was here that the important documents of the nation were crafted. It is here that Franklin came after fleeing Boston. And give me a Yuengling any day of the week over a Sam Adams. The thing is, that here in Philadelphia certain tour guides have a tendency to make history up as if they are auditioning for the SyFy (god, I hate that spelling) Channel. F Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley. Philadelphia is a historical place, though often overlooked in favor of New York, Boston, and Washington DC. But it was here that the important documents of the nation were crafted. It is here that Franklin came after fleeing Boston. And give me a Yuengling any day of the week over a Sam Adams. The thing is, that here in Philadelphia certain tour guides have a tendency to make history up as if they are auditioning for the SyFy (god, I hate that spelling) Channel. For instance, did you know that Washington and Lincoln had dinner together? Neither did I. Neither did they. There is a tendency to make history more dramatic, more story, more symbolic, more of what we want than what it was. In part that is the point of this book from OUP and by Steven Green. Green looks at the idea of religious freedom, the idea of a Christian nation, and the founding of America. Now, before you get your panties in a twist, Hill looks and rebuts both sides – the idea of a totality of Christianity in the Founding as well as the idea of total religious freedom and the dismissal of Christianity in the founding. In other words, both sides of the debate will probably be a bit ticked off, which seems to indicate that Green is mostly like correct. Of particular interest is the presentation of the original colonies and the issue of religious freedom in their founding. While some of the points raised in this section might be facts that and product of a good history class would know, there are some gems and good analysis here, in particular in regards to New England. Green also looks at the Founding Fathers and their view on religion and that messy phrase “separation of Church and state”. If you are listening to all the rhetoric from right and left about religion in America, this book is a breath of fresh air while giving the actual history that more talking heads should know.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Justin Powell

    This is an academic historical perspective and analysis of the origins and evolution of the Christian narrative that the United States is founded on Christianity. It is not a casual, nor is it an easily digestible read in my opinion. Green takes a very thorough and exhaustive examination of the historical record - historical events, writings, statements, beliefs of the time, and documents. His legal background is appropriate and helps his handling of the constitutional issues relating to Christi This is an academic historical perspective and analysis of the origins and evolution of the Christian narrative that the United States is founded on Christianity. It is not a casual, nor is it an easily digestible read in my opinion. Green takes a very thorough and exhaustive examination of the historical record - historical events, writings, statements, beliefs of the time, and documents. His legal background is appropriate and helps his handling of the constitutional issues relating to Christianity. The mythical conception of the United States being a Christian nation was done far after the fact. It's shown to be a very specific construction in order to justify and sanctify the country. An academic publication that I personally feel should be mandatory reading for entering into this particular "debate". Though I feel there is not much of a debate to be had, but Green does take good care to address talking points on both sides of the aisle. Well worth the effort and time to read through. And I especially recommend following through with the 42 pages of notation.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rick Lee Lee James

    Well Researched People on both sides of the debate of America's Christian roots are partly right and partly wrong. This book does a great job of unpacking the history and development of the American myth. There is a lot of revisionist history out there, but this book is a welcome corrective, helping us see that our American story, like many world cultures, makes the most sense when we see ourselves in the myth and it's development. Well Researched People on both sides of the debate of America's Christian roots are partly right and partly wrong. This book does a great job of unpacking the history and development of the American myth. There is a lot of revisionist history out there, but this book is a welcome corrective, helping us see that our American story, like many world cultures, makes the most sense when we see ourselves in the myth and it's development.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Vince Darcangelo

    http://ensuingchapters.com/2015/07/02... As America approaches its 25th decade, it’s only natural to look back and re-evaluate who we are and what we’ve done with our time in power. Perhaps it’s the mid-life crisis of empire, or just the build-up toward a presidential election, but coming out this summer is an arsenal of books regarding our nation’s founding. I’m reading as many of them as I can, because it’s a fascinating study, and Steven K. Green’s Inventing a Christian America is an important http://ensuingchapters.com/2015/07/02... As America approaches its 25th decade, it’s only natural to look back and re-evaluate who we are and what we’ve done with our time in power. Perhaps it’s the mid-life crisis of empire, or just the build-up toward a presidential election, but coming out this summer is an arsenal of books regarding our nation’s founding. I’m reading as many of them as I can, because it’s a fascinating study, and Steven K. Green’s Inventing a Christian America is an important contribution. His attempt is to demystify the colonial and revolutionary periods to get at the truth of the religious origins of the country. He starts by addressing two of the most common narratives of the founding: the first being that of a country chartered by religious exiles in search of freedom to practice as they pleased, the other of Founding Fathers who established the separation of church and state. Both of which he describes as myths, in the literal sense. “In providing explanations of events not personally remembered, myths legitimize the past while they provide a unifying narrative for a distinct people.” The truth is that colonial life was more diverse than either narrative suggests. Sure, there were religious exiles, but there were people of many beliefs, not just protestantism. And there were many folks that were there for business, adventure or a new start in life. But when it came time to unify the disparate colonies, a common tale was in order. Green writes: “The idea of America’s religious origins is essentially a myth created and retold for the purpose of anointing the founding, and the nation, with a higher, transcendent meaning.” Through his historical digging, Green reveals a pluralistic society that’s difficult to pigeonhole in retrospect. What they did record in founding documents, however, was both a respect for religious practice and the separation of church and state. Green’s work is thorough and authoritative, and is certainly a book I enjoyed and would recommend. But whereas some academic books have crossover appeal, this is not a book that will translate well to a general audience. Which is unfortunate, because most Americans would benefit from learning more about the founding and the role of religion in early America. Especially now. Inventing a Christian America is a great place to start.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Boosh

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. "History is complex." ~John Fea :) When I started this book I expected that it would provide me with a clear, unambiguous answer to a simple question: "Was America founded as a Christian nation?". In retrospect, that was a stupid expectation. Not only did this book leave me with answers that are many, complex, nuanced, and open-for-interpretation, but it left me with numerous questions from which to examine this (apparently) incredibly complex issue. I am ashamed to say that I expected that recen "History is complex." ~John Fea :) When I started this book I expected that it would provide me with a clear, unambiguous answer to a simple question: "Was America founded as a Christian nation?". In retrospect, that was a stupid expectation. Not only did this book leave me with answers that are many, complex, nuanced, and open-for-interpretation, but it left me with numerous questions from which to examine this (apparently) incredibly complex issue. I am ashamed to say that I expected that recent history would provide a much clearer record (a bias from majoring in anthropology, I expect, since my study of history has traditionally been so early that only bones and cave drawings are available for study, whereas those "lucky historians" have documents and photos from a people actually concerned with preserving history. Easy! Right? Not so much...). Anyway, the author actually did a pretty good job of convincing me that America *IS* a Christian Nation, which I don't believe was his intent. This lasted for the first 178 pages, and after that the author really brought it all together and I began to be able to organize the massive amounts of information he had been shoving into my brain into some sort of logical narrative. And yeah, this book is information packed. I started reading this with maybe 6 or 7 "facts" about America's founding, and I feel like now I am jumping up and down trying to close the metaphorical suitcase in my brain. The author does a fantastic job of remaining neutral and simply presenting ALL (and I do mean ALL) the information with only a slight lean towards his own opinions. But, he makes it easy to disagree. I wavered for a long time between 3 and 4 stars for this book...on the one hand it is packed with well-researched, fairly presented, useful information and succeeds in aiding me to come to an informed opinion on the subject. What more can you really ask for? On the other hand, I absolutely hated the author's writing style. It was like he was channeling the worst of Richard Dawkins and J.R.R. Tolkien. The book has only 5 chapters and each chapter has only a handful of LONG sections. Seriously, section headings and chapter breaks, man! They make things much easier to read, follow, and digest. I'm a sucker for a nice, long, carefully organized table of contents which breaks up each main point into easy to digest sections. It just makes the information more accessible. Also, I felt that the author often presented extraneous information (like the names of every founder involved, or irrelevant details about a specific colony) which often made it difficult to follow the track of the author's point. And he often repeated what he had said, many times from a paragraph before! I think with better organization, a less circuitous writing style, and some editing to pare the information down to what truly adds to the argument (and only once!), this book would have been about 2/3 to 1/2 as long. This was a rough read for me and took me much longer than my usual reading speed to get through, and I think this mismatch between my preferences and the author's writing style is to blame. But that being said, it was so good at the intended purpose that I eventually settled on 4 stars despite my personal preference for concise and efficient writing styles because I know some wacky people actually PREFER that style of writing. So while this is all still fresh, here are my concluding thoughts on my initial question: Was America founded as a Christian nation?" My answer: "Well, that depends on what you mean by the question..." My conclusion from this book is the following - The original colonists to America were so saturated with religion as their worldview that EVERYTHING was viewed through the lens of "God's Providence", and so they did in fact believe they were forming a new world based on the desires and for the glory of God. But it was an unorganized band of colonists, and as they organized and each colony differed, the roles of religion and philosophies of the time evolved. By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed and disseminated to bolster the public for the war for independence, Rationalist and Natural Law theories prevailed among the ruling elite (meaning the most influential founders) such that despite the influence of many traditionally Christian people on the text of the Declaration of Independence, the overall intent is a compromise reflecting largely Natural Law viewpoints that were simply palatable to the religious majority. Despite that, after this time, religious providence and the idea of being a nation for God still prevailed among the majority of leaders and people, such that if I went back in time and asked 100 people at random if America was a Christian nation, I believe all 100 would say yes without hesitation. However, the critical importance of the ratification of Constitution, which I believe is signal to the ACTUAL (not symbolic) beginning of the nation of America, is the document which must be analyzed regarding the simplified question. In this case, despite the massive amount of politics and infighting we'd expect to see even today from right-wing evangelicals, the Rationalist philosophy prevailed, and America was, in fact, founded as a secular nation (with a respect and support for religion and the Glory of God, of course). The secular nature of the Constitution was contested hotly by many in politics, and, I expect, the majority of the populace, but the secularism itself was never questioned until later (before Jefferson et. al. had a chance to rot in graves, even). Given the enormous power of a few founders in this age, this is what happened, which was made all the more amazing given the political beliefs of the majority of the time. Despite this, over time, the past faded into memory, and as people are wont to do, that memory began to "shift" to better fit the desires of those continuing on, and so the highly contested and unexpected secular founding was re-worked into the myth of a Christian Nation.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susanna - Censored by GoodReads

    My ARC courtesy of OUP/Net Galley - much thanks!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jakenv

    Interesting analysis of Christianity in America. Author seems to know his historical facts. Some may be offended but history buffs will be satisfied.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sly Reference

    This book was the author's argument that America was not founded as a specifically Christian country, and that the idea that it was founded as a Christian country was a later by writers in the early 19th century who were trying to define what made America unique. It's definitely a reaction to the writings of conservatives and Christians who want to paint the Founding Fathers as all devout men guided by the Bible and God to found the country. The author pulls together a variety of documents, incl This book was the author's argument that America was not founded as a specifically Christian country, and that the idea that it was founded as a Christian country was a later by writers in the early 19th century who were trying to define what made America unique. It's definitely a reaction to the writings of conservatives and Christians who want to paint the Founding Fathers as all devout men guided by the Bible and God to found the country. The author pulls together a variety of documents, including letters and diaries of the Founding Fathers and takes apart the arguments step by step, showing that they were far more influenced by Enlightenment thinkers than the Bible or the Puritans that are often cited as their inspiration. One of the interesting nuggets that he put out was that the Mayflower Compact, which is often pointed to by supporters of the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation as a source for the Constitution, was not called that until 1793, after the Constitution was written and ratified. He also pointed out that the Pilgrims and Puritans were largely forgotten until they were used in a famous speech by Daniel Webster in 1820, which brought them back into the public consciousness. Let's face it: the settlement at Jamestown (1607) was set up 13 years before the one at Plymouth Rock (1620), and it's a bit silly to say that the Plymouth Rock colony had anything to do with the founding of Georgia (a penal colony) or the Carolinas. The famous tale of George Washington and the cherry tree was also born in this era. His idea is basically that, as the US was having divisive problems that would lead to the Civil War, there was a lot of effort in trying to define what made America America. Many influential writers took up the idea of the nation being inspired by Providence (God) and dismissed any notion to the contrary. This became the main view of the history of America which still shapes how it is taught today.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    Steven K. Green, a law professor at Willamette University, and a former legal director and special counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, here disputes the notion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and he does so with scholarship that is both reasonable and comprehensive. Nevertheless, the book reminds me of a major problem with C. Vann Woodward’s Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955), which argued that Jim Crow laws were not enacted immediately follo Steven K. Green, a law professor at Willamette University, and a former legal director and special counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, here disputes the notion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and he does so with scholarship that is both reasonable and comprehensive. Nevertheless, the book reminds me of a major problem with C. Vann Woodward’s Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955), which argued that Jim Crow laws were not enacted immediately following the Civil War but were put into force later in the century. Woodward's thesis works well if you are a 20th-century professor examining the legislative record and court decisions. Woodward's thesis works less well if you are an African American thinking about taking a meal in a southern restaurant in 1870. Reality doesn't always jibe with paper documents. Green does well to conclude his book by reminding his readers that history is complicated. The evidence he himself presents is complicated enough. Add to that an understanding of the new nation that was carried in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of ordinary 19th-century Americans, and the complexity grows. Myths are not necessarily lies. We don’t have to endorse the inanities of Christian nationalists plucking quotations from the Founders out of context to believe that for practical purposes the American colonies and the early United States were indeed founded, at least roughly, on Christian principles.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dan Gorman

    Important analysis of the myth of a Christian country, but the material is largely synthetic of other sources. I think this book is meant for a general audience or starting students. It's a good read, but I don't think its primary audience should be experts in religion or early America. Important analysis of the myth of a Christian country, but the material is largely synthetic of other sources. I think this book is meant for a general audience or starting students. It's a good read, but I don't think its primary audience should be experts in religion or early America.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    A thoroughly researched and cited investigation into the religious claims and views about the founding of America from the Puritans until the 1830s. The author's purpose is to consider the view that America was founded as a "Christian nation" and on Biblical principles and that America has been a beacon for religious liberty since the Puritans. He demonstrates that such claims are overstated. He begins with claims of religious liberty, systematically exploring the various colonies and finding tha A thoroughly researched and cited investigation into the religious claims and views about the founding of America from the Puritans until the 1830s. The author's purpose is to consider the view that America was founded as a "Christian nation" and on Biblical principles and that America has been a beacon for religious liberty since the Puritans. He demonstrates that such claims are overstated. He begins with claims of religious liberty, systematically exploring the various colonies and finding that almost all of them, including the Puritan colonies, did not really affirm religious liberty but expected conformity. The bulk of the book explores the religious views of the founders and the founding documents, and the author provides a nuanced picture. Many did have very strong Christian views, others tended more toward Deism, but the foundation of their claims about the legitimacy of their endeavor rested upon a Lockean understanding of natural law and the need to resist tyranny. It would be expected to speak of these events in religious terminology considering the time; nevertheless, within a few years of the nation's founding, as the French experiment went south, many pious Americans began to feel uneasy with the "secular" foundation of the American governmental system and in its documents. The author concludes with an exploration into the first few decades of the 19th century and the establishment of the "Christian nation" myth, charting its primary authors and their endeavors to "baptize" the founders and the founding documents while propping up the Puritans as those seeking religious liberty and establishing a haven for religious liberty. A very relevant book in light of current arguments about the United States and its beginnings. **--galley received as part of early review program

  13. 5 out of 5

    J Earl

    In Inventing a Christian America, Steven K. Green provides a very well-researched, detailed and nuanced history of religious thought during the time of the colonists, at the founding of the new country and how the past was manipulated to create the myth we now know as a "Christian America." It is balanced and debunks many talking points on both sides of the current arguments about the founding of the country. I believe this is one book that could be done an injustice by trying to summarize it br In Inventing a Christian America, Steven K. Green provides a very well-researched, detailed and nuanced history of religious thought during the time of the colonists, at the founding of the new country and how the past was manipulated to create the myth we now know as a "Christian America." It is balanced and debunks many talking points on both sides of the current arguments about the founding of the country. I believe this is one book that could be done an injustice by trying to summarize it briefly. It is extremely nuanced and any brief overview will skip parts of the story that together make the overall argument. Let me just say that unless you're more interested in having your way than exploring the truth, this will be a rewarding read. I highly recommend this book for anyone either involved in, or interested in, the contemporary debates over whether or to what degree America might be a "Christian country." Reviewed from an ARC made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christen

    ARC via Netgalley Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding is a book that breaks down the myth or the story that we all know growing up in America and heard around dinner tables around Thanksgiving, that people came to America for Religious Freedom, but in reality it was an afterthought for most. The book breaks down each group and subset of colonies and tells of the history of each and when they became tolerate or allow religious freedom because it was easier to than not ARC via Netgalley Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding is a book that breaks down the myth or the story that we all know growing up in America and heard around dinner tables around Thanksgiving, that people came to America for Religious Freedom, but in reality it was an afterthought for most. The book breaks down each group and subset of colonies and tells of the history of each and when they became tolerate or allow religious freedom because it was easier to than not to discriminate or to control everyone with one version of ideals. It is a pretty even look at both sides of ths story while sticking with history and facts, not myths. It was an ARC via Netgalley, and there was proofing errors and not a final copy. It was a little dense at times but overall a good read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    victor harris

    Dense writing, overly wordy unwieldy delivery does little to illuminate the refutation of the "Christian America" claims. Often strays into obscure lines of argument that fail to address central thesis about the those claims. It is like plowing through a dissertation than a coherent narrative for public consumption. Dense writing, overly wordy unwieldy delivery does little to illuminate the refutation of the "Christian America" claims. Often strays into obscure lines of argument that fail to address central thesis about the those claims. It is like plowing through a dissertation than a coherent narrative for public consumption.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Heather F

    Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. This was a very good book! I really liked how it broke down some of the more spurious claims made by religious people but also undressed the deist myth. My only complaint would be 10% of the book being footnotes.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Krueger

    Listen to my podcast interview with the author at: http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org... Listen to my podcast interview with the author at: http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Will Connelly

    Green destroys the myth that America was founded on religious freedoms, and proves that the forefathers were actually not very religious at all. Great read! Highly recommended.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mycrow

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Petersen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Josh

  22. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

  23. 5 out of 5

    Neil Meyer

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Book

  26. 4 out of 5

    Misty Balinsat

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jason Kennedy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan OReilly

  29. 5 out of 5

    PJ

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gary Lichter

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