Christian America and the Kingdom of God (Chapter 4)

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The Fourth Chapter is not for the feint of heart when it comes to American History. In it, Hughes takes us through the good and the bad of the myth of the Christian Nation to show us that people have interpreted America’s purpose through the lens of the Gospel many times for ill-gotten gains. From manifest destiny to the Gospel of Wealth, the author recounts a harrowing tale of the confusion of the the United States and the kingdom of God.

He picks up his theme from the previous chapter, again comparing the United States to Rome, but this time, Christian Rome (c391) in which the State used the Church for its purposes. He moves to Reformation Europe and the influence of Calvinism upon the founders of the New England Colonies, and to a lesser extent, the Middle Colonies. He gives Calvin good marks for his attempt at establishing a theocracy, but readily admits to the misuse of his doctrine by subsequent followers.

Hughes balances the Christianity of the Founding Fathers with the Deism of many among their number, concluding that even their Deism grew as a child from American Christianity. In examining the two founding documents, the author is able to shed light on the Deism in the Declaration and the absolute secularized Constitution. His quotes from the most influential Founders, from Deists like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to deeply religious men as the Calvinist John Witherspoon bringing to light not a line of demarcation among the religionists and the deists, but a unity in the belief that government should be by reason, and not ‘by revelation.’

He then launches into the familiar rehearsal of American history – from the destruction of the Native population at the hands of the Puritans, to slavery, to the enslavement of the poor through the idea that poverty is a result of sin. He does note two movements, one of which he examines in this chapter, the Second Great Awakening. He notes that between the time of the Revolution and this revival, only about 4 to 7% of Americans were church goers. Giving high marks to Charles G. Finny, he notes that by and large, this revivalist movement was centered on truly creating a Christian nation – not through legal means, but by ridding American society of social injustices, such as slavery.

He spends the rest of the chapter recounting those who had used the revival movement to attempt to spread American Imperialist idea first across the continent and then across the oceans into Asia. His recounting of history is one not easily found in modern American History books, or easy to be read, especially in light of 1930’s German rhetoric. He does connect the two, but I believe that if the reader truly knows his or her history, and can read the material, well documented, with an open mind, the reader can then see certain world-wide ramifications of 19th century, and early 20th century attempts and justification of Christian America.

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