Saturday, November 28, 2015

Kevin Kruse: One Nation Under God

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I don't put a book down very often. It's hard for me, it's like a compulsion almost to finish a book once I've started. Recently my book list got very small- small enough that the only ones left on the list are ones that I've put off intentionally because I am not sure I really want to read them- either they're fiction or they're recommendations that I *should read- or they're books I think I may already have read, or they're books that are always going to be on the list because no library has them and I'll have to request them from inter-library loan, and that's a commitment that I only want to undertake if I know I really want to read something (or risk incurring many many dollars in fines).  All this to say that I recently went through some "best of" 2015 and 2014 lists to find some new books for my list. I started with Kirkus, the trade reviewer, and found some books that sounded solid. We're not off to a good start.

'One Nation Under God' purports to be the story of 'How Corporate America Invented Christian America' (the subtitle). The idea is that now we think of the US as having always been religious, Christian, etc and that we'll never be able to separate church and state because the founding fathers put them there. Keven Kruse's book goes back to late the late '40s and tells the story of the men who actually rewrote history to nefariously implant God into the everyday life of government. This should be a really fascinating story- how the pledge of allegiance got godly, how stamps and money started including god stuff, etc., but it's tedious. Instead of the exciting parts I just mentioned being exciting, they're buried in long wordy paragraphs which are buried in long wordy chapters- oh, something big just happened? Couldn't tell. Worse, to me, and sometimes I forget that this is why I don't read history as a general genre, is the way that Kruse tells the story of the 1940s/1950s as though of course it was all leading up to this. There is no counter narrative, no other possibility. When we hear about contemporary arguments against religion in government, it's Kruse throwing in something about how even the ACLU wasn't against it. This starts to read as though Kruse found every chapter in every book that fit his narrative and strung them together. Maybe it truly is the way history went- maybe everything was leading up to Americans believing the country has always been a Christian/monotheistic nation, but somehow I don't think life is ever really that clear. There's push and pull against ideas. Change comes slowly and in fits and starts. There are no women in this story- where were they? No people of color- what were they saying? If no one but white men get a voice (at least in the first 120 pages of the book), it strains credibility that all voices are being heard in this book. Kruse has a fascinating story to tell, and I believe that we need to problematize the idea that God and religion are in the constitution- and I think we need to do it soon. I just don't think this book does it (or is anywhere readable enough to even give it a start).

Ask me how I really feel about it!