U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Still More on the Myth of American Religious Freedom

Readers might be interested in a blog interview I did over at Religion in American History with the blogmeister and the scholar of religion at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Paul Harvey. A bit from the interview:

PH: You spend a good amount of time criticizing positions on the left and on the right of our current politics, in terms of how they employ religious history to make their favored points about religion/state issues (and moral issues generally). What do you think each side gets basically wrong about history, and if you were anointed Historical King, what would you tell your subjects about how to use history properly in framing arguments about present-day concerns?

DS: My problem with much of the political debate over the role of religion in public life, especially when that debate invokes history, is that the various parties are simply enacting the culture wars rather than using history to frame their arguments in a meaningful way. As a result, the history is bad on all sides. Liberals are too tendentious when they claim a separation of church and state in the past. To them, I say that Christianity was so thoroughly entwined with law and government that Protestant Christianity had significant power through its connection with the state. And I have to say that when conservatives claim that the United States was a Christian nation in the past, in a certain sense they are right. But I also have a problem with religious conservatives, because the past was not the Christian utopia that some of them claim. Christians relied upon law to protect their religion. And what law involves, above all else, is the coercive capacities of the state. So if we say that the United States was a Christian nation in the past, we must also say that it was a coercively Christian nation.

The full interview (in two parts): Part I, Part II.