Bestselling author Stephen Prothero addresses the question of "Whose America is this," by exploring American political discourse and the significant texts that make up the living history of the American people.
American politics is broken because we have forgotten how to talk with one another. Instead of arguing on behalf of of our nation, we argue on behalf of our party.
The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation reacquaints us with the oft-quoted (and misquoted) speeches, songs, and sayings that animate our politics, inspire social action, and drive our debates about who is—and is not—a real American. It reconnects us with a surprising tradition of civility that manages to be both critical of Americans shortcomings and hopeful for positive change.
To explore these "scriptures," is to revisit what Americans have said about liberty and equality and to revitalize our ongoing conversation about the future of the American experiment.
What makes America unique, Prothero convincingly argues, is that the words that manifest its "core ideas and values " from the Declaration of Independence to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged continue to be debated by its citizens. To illustrate this, Prothero (God Is Not One) takes excerpts from important American speeches and documents and places them next to various commentaries. A particularly rich result of this juxtaposition comes in the supplements to John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "A Model of Christian Charity," wherein themes from Winthrop's speech are used by John O'Sullivan to justify Manifest Destiny, by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to posit the 9/11 attacks as divine retribution, and by Sarah Palin to praise America while misattributing the coinage of the "shining city on a hill" to Ronald Reagan. Despite the book's arrangement according to biblical headings (e.g., Genesis, Acts, Law, Epistles, etc.), Prothero deftly balances the debate between religious and secular voices, such as on the godlessness of the Constitution. The book's greatest strength lies in this neutrality, offering commentaries from both sides of the discussion all enlightening, encouraging, and frustrating in equal measure.