In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.
Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam.
As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.
Prothero (Religious Literacy), professor of religion at Boston University, does away with the idea that America's culture wars are a recent phenomenon, showing how such battles have been waged since the nation's founding and have molded the national character and traditions. Culture wars, Prothero writes, provoke change, serving as the catalyst for American democracy despite the nasty public disputes between conservatives and liberals over moral, religious, and social issues. Quoting conservative political pundit Pat Buchanan's 1992 claim that a " cultural war' was being waged for the soul of America,' " Prothero assembles five pivotal events as supporting evidence: the gritty election of 1800, the antebellum anti-Catholic crusade, the mid-19th-century anti-Mormon campaign, Prohibition, and the ongoing culture skirmishes that began in the 1960s. The right has taken the fight to the left in the current era of partisan politics, but liberals have had their share of victories: school integration, prayer bans in schools, busing, voting rights, the Equal Rights Amendment for women, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), and marriage equality. Prothero's illuminating and absorbing take on America's growing pains reveals that when "each of our cultural battles comes to an end, we are left with a more inclusive country."