One Nation Under God
SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, SHIELD OF FAITH:
Religion in American War and Diplomacy.
By Andrew Preston.
Knopf. 815 pp. $37.50
The modern era has defined itself against religion. At worst, religion is reviled; at best, it is regarded as a subject not to be mentioned in the corridors of power. It wasn’t always so. In the premodern world, religion was pervasive, respected, and powerful. The turning point came with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War, a horrendous, religiously motivated scouring of much of Europe. From then on, the states of the international system were expected to keep their holy scriptures off the diplomatic negotiating table.
But America has always been saturated in religion. As I made my way with increasing fascination through the pages of Cambridge University historian Andrew Preston’s monumental study Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith, I recalled my long-ago work as a member of a team preparing a proposal to reconstitute the old Patent Office building in Washington, D.C., as the National Portrait Gallery. In deciding the criteria by which to select portraits of the most influential Americans, we could pick those whom we regarded as major figures in the present, or those who had been most influential in their own time. If we chose the latter course, we suddenly realized, most of the portraits would be of clergymen.
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Charles Hill is Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow at Yale University and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.more from this author >>
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