Eddy, Sherwood. The Kingdom of God and the American Dream; the Religious and Secular Ideals of American History. New York: Harper & Bros., 1941.
This book, published in 1941, offers great information about the relationship between democracy and religion from the beginnings of the American colonies up until the beginnings of what was to become World War II. He states that the American Dream, “from the founding of the first colonies and from the time of the Declaration of Independence, had religious sanctions. And the religious ideal had implications for a secular social order politically free, economically just, materially secure, and abundant.” So what are those implications and ideals today? He traces it through to his present day and offers an interpretation of Hitler and Fascism leading to his ideas that war is what needs to disappear in order to get back to a Christian state and for democracy ideals to flourish again. It would be interesting to see how he would trace this path from then until now.
Some of the issues that he spoke about have ebbed and flowed and are again issues in society today. Talking about an attack from Japan towards China he mentions the individualism in America and the problems it causes: “At its worst this individual selfishness in America also has been not a foundation of rock but of sand upon which any dream or ideal might fall when the floods came.” Early puritans called this “sin”. Today it is individualism and for many it is why many today call themselves spiritual rather than religious. The organization of the Puritans and the community it created from it are not the same for many Americans today. But what is the number? How much does it actually correlate? Is religion still important? How does it relate to democracy, politics, and education? What are the effects on war? Towards the end of the book, the author discusses the census breakdowns of the 30s of the religious sects found in America, but I am interested in taking that further to try and see the changes and how those changes effected certain times in our country.
Talking about colonial America, he talks about how religion, self-government and education were intertwined as an early foundation for the colonies. If these were early foundations and where our Declaration of Independence came from you would think these would still be important today, and yet, in many parts of the country they are not. Or, at the very least, it is a different type of religion and education has been a battle for a few decades now as we slip in world standings.
Jumping from colonial America to 18th century Enlightenment brings us to Newton and Descartes who were trying to use science to prove religion. This was before the dichotomy which exists today. Hatred/distrust of science came from misunderstanding and fear that God would disappear from men’s lives. For some churches it was also about fear of losing power, but that wasn’t the intention of science. Now they are on ends of the spectrum. Since science creates a need for more education and education is seen as a detriment to religion there could be a correlation here as well.
When describing the reasons for the American Revolution and its effects on religion Eddy writes, “The American Revolution like all wars tended to weaken the forces of religion but through it, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the great inaugurals of Washington and Jefferson, the American Dream of democracy, liberty, and justice came to full birth.” So maybe this is the problem? Maybe wars are the correlation? The problem could then be that war changes the way we think about religion and then politics, education, and religion are affected instead of the other way around.
Eddy mentions the French Revolution in a few contexts – maybe worth looking into as a possible point of comparison in my dissertation in relationship to religion, politics, education, and war. Are we the only country with these types of “problems” or issues with losing religion to secularism and the negative effects some see on democracy? And why is it perceived as negative? Are American morals really falling as religion becomes more and more covert in our lives? This book ranks up there with Moral Freedom and Habits of the Heart in provoking questions for further research, which is great!