- One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin M. Kruse
Why do so many contemporary Americans believe that the United States of America has been and always should be a Christian nation? This question drives Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. The book ignores the question of whether the Founders intended the nation to be Christian. The author writes that most scholars agree that the Founders preferred “a wall of separation between church and state” (p. xiii). Instead, the book focuses on why and how religion has so prominently entered political discourse since World War II. Kruse agrees with those who have found that a religious revival was fueled in part by Cold War conflict with the “‘godless communists’ of the Soviet Union,” but he argues that the revival’s roots extend back to the 1930s when corporate leaders allied with conservative clergymen to promote “Christian libertarianism” as an antidote to the perceived social, spiritual, political, and economic cancers spawned by the New Deal (p. xiv). Kruse argues that Dwight D. Eisenhower used the revival to unite constituencies as “one nation under God,” while Richard M. Nixon used religion for political gain in ways that divided constituencies. The effects of those efforts linger into the present.
Kruse presents his argument in three parts: “Creation,” “Consecration,” and “Conflict.” “Creation” explores the sources of what he calls a Christian libertarian alliance from the 1930s to the eve of the Eisenhower administration. In a twist on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms campaign, clergymen, business leaders, and politicians pursued a “freedom under God” campaign that was aimed at getting big government out of people’s lives and off businesses’ backs (chap. 1). “Consecration” provides a detailed analysis of how conservative politicians, mostly Republicans, embraced religion in political discourse (“sacralizing the state,” as Kruse puts it) during the Eisenhower administration, paying special attention to the addition of one nation under God to the Pledge of Allegiance and of the motto In God We Trust to currency (p. 87). “Conflict” chronicles the resistance to this new religious political discourse. U.S. Supreme Court cases like Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) play important roles in this section, as does Nixon’s divisive use of religion. In the epilogue, Kruse walks the reader briskly from the Jimmy Carter years to the Barack Obama administration.
The book’s argument works best in the early chapters. For example, an anecdote about James W. Fifield Jr., a conservative Congregationalist minister, addressing the annual convention of the National Association of Manufacturers [End Page 738] in 1940 provides convincing support. As the book continues, however, the role of corporate America fades. Perhaps the book’s subtitle oversells corporate influence. The book acknowledges, but seems overly dismissive of, the significance of the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union, and it says virtually nothing about the social atmosphere created by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s fight against communist subversion. Those concerns aside, the book makes a convincing case and provides a smart, engaging, and readable history of the nation’s political embrace of God and a Christian identity. Kruse digs deeply into traditional archival sources, such as the letters and speeches of politicians, clergymen, and businessmen, and also creatively taps corporate advertising campaigns and Supreme Court records to support his argument.
The South and southerners play a surprisingly small role in these proceedings. Evangelist Billy Graham, a North Carolina native, exerted significant influence in both the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations. For example, Graham and Fort Worth, Texas, oilman Sid W. Richardson teamed up to recruit Eisenhower as a presidential candidate. Insofar as Washington, D.C., is part of the South, much of the action takes place in the South. But many of the most influential clergymen and corporate leaders in this story came from the North, especially the Rust Belt...