THINKING ANGLICANS

God’s Own Country

God’s Own Country
Power and the Religious Right in the USA
by Stephen Bates
Hodder and Stoughton July 2008 £9.99

Since Sarah Palin was nominated as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, newspaper articles about her religious views have poured off the presses. See for example, these from Salon: The pastor who clashed with Palin by David Talbot, or Sarah Palin, anointed by God by Alex Koppelman or Sarah Palin, faith-based mayor by Sarah Posner.

To most Britons, it seems quite extraordinary that a person holding such views could be a serious candidate for national office. But to anyone who had read Stephen Bates’ book God’s Own Country when it first came out in 2007 it would not be a surprise. It had good reviews in the Church Times, the Guardian, and the Independent.

The book was republished in paperback in the UK in July this year, with the subtitle changed to more accurately describe the content, just in time for the American election campaign. Inexplicably, the US edition is not due until February 2009, neatly missing what must surely be a major marketing opportunity. However, it can readily be obtained now from Amazon UK.

Although Sarah Palin does not appear in the book, John McCain is mentioned three times. Jim Wallis of Sojourners is quoted as saying:

“John McCain is taking a risk dealing with these people: he has to get the Republican nomination and unless he gets these people’s endorsement from the Religious Right, he has no chance.”

Well, with Palin on the ticket, that endorsement for McCain, which earlier looked quite remote, now appears likely.

The book is aimed primarily at UK readers, and covers a lot of US historical background which one hopes would not be new material for Americans. The purpose is described by Bates himself like this:

There is a tendency here, in the secular UK, to write off American religiosity as alien and monolithic when, of course, it is far from that; and to see all US religious people as crazed fundamentalists, when they are not that either…. What I am hoping to show in this book is that US religion’s relationship with politics did not start with George W. Bush… These motivations have shaped the USA from the beginning and have very deep roots in the American psyche.

In fifteen chapters and nearly 400 pages, Bates therefore has plenty of ground to cover. He keeps the reader’s interest by writing as a journalist rather than as an academic. As with his earlier A Church at War this makes the book a much more enjoyable read.

The Pilgrim Fathers, The Great Awakening, William Jennings Bryan, Mother Angelica, Father Charles Coughlin, Aimee Semple McPherson, Joel Osteen, Judge Roy Moore, Ken Ham, Tim LaHaye, TD Jakes, and many other religious personalities are all included. The religious aspects of recent presidential campaigns (Clinton, Bush) are also covered.

As background to the current US election campaign, it is the ideal, even an essential, introduction to the religious dimension of American politics. Which as the nomination of Sarah Palin demonstrates, will be a crucial factor in the race for the White House this time round as well.

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BabyBlue
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The list of names is more interesting by who is left off – and there’s a major, major name left off. What’s up with that? So – how long has Bates been living in America? Is he living in Kansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Idaho, Indiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Montana, or perhaps even, dare we say it, Alaska? No? Of course, he may want to be mighty careful if he did come over and actually live here and write from the inside, to know what it feels like when we hear the National Anthem played or what it feels… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

Clearly BabyBlue has not bothered to read the book. I think sometimes that those from outside can have a perspective which those living there may not aoppreciate. The cancer of American conservative religion and its effects on the country may not be obvious to those in the throes of its delusionary influence, but only too obvious when viewed objectively.

A lot of Americans also dislike that sort of religion and recognise how it has a negative effect on American public life. It is interesting that despite its religiosity, ‘no religion’ is the fastest growing group in the US.

stephen bates
Guest
stephen bates

Thank you for this kind review Simon. Baby Blue, as she is well aware, is posting rhetorical questions, since she knows I do not live in the US. She may be reassured (but then again, I expect not, since nothing would satisfy her) that the very first sentence of the book begins: “It is, of course, presumptuous for any non-American to write a book like this…” But of course, as we know, not having read a book is no barrier for the likes of Baby Blue to comment on it, even from a position of ignorance about its contents. Simon’s… Read more »

Cheryl Va.
Guest

A wonderful opportunity was missed.

When Obama betrayed Clinton to bring in an “establisment figure”, he simply became part of the “establishment”.

That left the flank wide open for the Republicans to bring in a female candidate to mop up that which Obama had betrayed. It no longer matters who is elected.

Obama as President with Clinton as Vice President would have been something worth witnessing. What has transpired is simply more of the same with the names of the characters changing but the plot remaining the same.

ettu
Guest
ettu

Just spent 2 weeks touring the South visiting relatives, friends and staying in a B&B where the host gave a very aggressive Christian blessing to his (paying) guests. We are strongly Christian but I wondered what would happen if a black Jew came as a guest.
Knowing the UK and France a bit I can assure you that a trip such as this would validate the striking religiosity of the US and go a long way to explaining our peculiar structures. Failing that, the above book seems like a useful read.

Bill Carroll
Guest
Bill Carroll

I’d take a look at Chris Hedges’ American Fascists. Hedges, a former NYT war correspondent, is the son of a Presbyterian minister and a former seminarian at Harvard Divinity School. His title is inspired by a comment from James Luther Adams, who taught at HDS, that America would one day be threatened by Christian Fascists. Some of the theocratic groups he mentions are also connected to Palin’s home church. This is terrifying stuff.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Sarah Palin contends that pre-birth babies have a right to live. Er…duh…yes. The shame of it is that she is not consistent in her attitude to moose and polar bears, let alone death-causing guns.

Uriel
Guest
Uriel

bb – maybe you should read his book? Stephen Bates is a very careful and thoughtful writer.
Too bad his book was too early to address the Palin phenomenon directly – it is indeed “quite extraordinary that a person holding [Palin’s] views could be a serious candidate for national office.”

And are you being cute about a major name left off? I’m guessing you are being cute, and are referring to Jesus – if so, please let me remind you that Lord of the Universe He may be, but He was not an American citizen.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“to know what it feels like when we hear the National Anthem played” Oh, please! I imagine it feels much the same as how I feel when we sing the Ode. And I think the American anthem is a great song to sing, actually. And, it isn’t only people in the UK who think someone with Palin’s views is an odd choice for second in command of the most powerful nation on Earth. I’m not going to be overly comfortable if McCain/Palin win. I’m just to the Northeast of you, and the idea that your huge military machine might be… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

Yes, Baby Blue, we are well acquainted with working more hours for less, watching our downtowns die from big box stores and our future retirement savings disappear in the financial debacle. In our declining educations standards (by design you think?) is it any wonder hand waving simplistic religion is the rage in America?

MARSEC Level 2 on the ship today. Report any supicious activity. And Praise Jesus!

Jay Vos
Guest

Thanks, Simon. I’d read reviews of the book when it came out in hardcover. Shame it’s not available in the US now. In any case, thanks to Stephen Bates for writing it – your reporting is
thoughtful and usually on target! I’ll just have to purchase it from a British bookstore, I guess. – Jay

Old Father William
Guest
Old Father William

Thank you, Ford Elms, for stating the situation so clearly. The possibilities for the future of the USA are indeed scary.

I’m glad that you felt at home in Seattle, which is a city I love. But then, the cities of the Pacific Northwest, like Seattle and Portland, are known for their liberalism!
OFW
P. S. I also love Toronto!

Deacon Charlie Perrin
Guest
Deacon Charlie Perrin

A good companion book would be Jon Meacham’s “American Gospel” (Random House 2006). In it he provides a more accurate description of the place of Christianity in the founding of the United States, than the usual right-wing claim that the USA is was founded as a “Christian Country.”

Jon Meacham is the Managing Editor of Newsweek magazine and a somewhat middle-of-the-road Episcopalian.

JCF
Guest
JCF

Cheryl Va,

Normally I find your analyses at least interesting.

But your flippant dismissal of Obama/Biden is waaaaay beneath you. [Whereas BB’s flippant dismissal of Bates’ book is only too typical! :-X]

Thanks also, Simon, for the Salon links: great stuff.

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

On the Clinton issue, I am not at all sure that she wanted the VP role in any case. I’d say the evidence suggests that she would rather have some real power as senate majority leader. If the Republicans get back then she will be the next Dem candidate, if Barack wins then he will owe her a debt. Cheryl – come on, Obama-Biden are politically miles from McCain-Palin. The first black candidate for president is something remarkable. Personally, I would have liked Hillary as VP (and my partner would have supported Hillary if we lived in the US) but… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

I agree that Palin is scary, for she is as determined to continue the culture wars inside and outside of church life, as she is clueless about democratic principles which involve balances of governmental or other powers, representation across divisions and differences, and as one article put it, the liberal myth of church and state being separated. I see that she did arise in the wave of rightwing believers running for election on Dominionist or Reconstructionist platforms for typically consevo conformed believer motives. Her style powerfully and immediately suggested as much, but one needed the real history of two decades… Read more »

Malcolm+
Guest

“But of course, as we know, not having read a book is no barrier for [some] to comment on it, even from a position of ignorance about its contents.” My first reaction was to think of some of those who make bold pronouncements about what “the Bible” says when they have clearly never taken in its principal points. Baby Blue, as much as she is a “conservative,” does not usually offer up such unadulterated hokum. The suggestion that the view from outside cannot possibly be valid is most . . . er . . . unusual, coming as it does… Read more »

Leonardo Ricardo
Guest

Of course, he may want to be mighty careful if he did come over and actually live here and write from the inside, to know what it feels like when we hear the National Anthem played or what it feels like to sit around the table with friends and family on Thanksgiving”…WHICH THANKSGIVING DO YOU CELEBRATE, BABY BLUE? Would that be The Canadian version/date or the U.S. version/date and what National Anthem turns you on most being multi-loyal and all. Lord only knows that The Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church have remained steadfast in their missions of… Read more »

BillyD
Guest
BillyD

Look, it’s not like we came up with this “North America is the Promised Land and we are the Children of Israel” stuff on our own, ya know. It was a bunch of anti-social *Brits* who transplanted it to these shores in the 17th century. If we’re a little weird about religion, we owe it all to you. 😉

davidwh
Guest
davidwh

It would be nice if expression of religious sentiment and beliefs were respected in the UK’s political debates too, or at least engaged with respectfully. The hysteria that surrounds anyone who is associated with expressing Christian ideas here is completely phobic !

My guess is that, if Christian religious expression isn’t allowed to flourish, political Islam will take over as the main expressor of religious views on political matters sooner than many people imagine. Now that won’t be so easy to disrespect…

Lois Keen
Guest

At the opening ceremonies a couple of weeks ago of the annual reenactment of the first road race in the U.S. after WWII at Watkins Glen NY (U.S.A.), we sang both the Canadian and the U.S. national anthems. You’d be surprised how many of us sang the Canadian anthem all the way through, including this USer. And, lest y’all forget, I’ll repeat, Frank Griswold, father of former P.B. of TEC Frank Griswold, won that first road race on the streets of Watkins Glen. (See, even road racing is germaine to the discussion – politics, religion, yep, got em both.)

BabyBlue
Guest

Okay I’ve bought a book off Amazon – or perhaps an earlier version of it? It has the same title, same author. Perhaps it’s an earlier version of the book? I’m actually a fan of Stephen’s and I read his book about Gene Robinson as well – I bought it at Union Station in Washington, D.C.. I respect his tenacity and his professionalism and he’s an excellent writer. Stephen was missed at Lambeth. His former cohort at the Telegraph, Jonathon showed up for a day with the Daily Mail (which was too funny for words) – but it wasn’t the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

“She scares me,” said Bess. “She’s Jerry Falwell with a pretty face. “At this point, people in this country don’t grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology.” The above extract from the New York Daily Times article about Ms Palin is rather worrying – especially to anyone other than a member of one of the many Pentecostal type congregations in the USA (or anywhere else in the world). Religious Fundamentalism of any kind – whether Christian or Islamic – can only serve to divide the citizens of any state… Read more »

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

“To most Britons, it seems quite extraordinary that a person holding such views could be a serious candidate for national office.” Believe me, this American is having a hard time with it. It is simply mind-boggling that anyone should seriously consider this woman qualified to be VP, say little of President! She appears to be “right” of the religious right wing. Add ignorant and arrogant and I’m appalled.

Elizabeth

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

daividwh: “It would be nice if expression of religious sentiment and beliefs were respected in the UK’s political debates too, or at least engaged with respectfully. The hysteria that surrounds anyone who is associated with expressing Christian ideas here is completely phobic !” Oh dear, davidwh, you have bought into this whole persecution complex currently being peddled by the illiberals, haven’t you? Religious leaders have repeatedly made very inept irruptions into political and social debate in the UK, which is why they are now rightly being ignored. Whether it’s the Bishop of Carlisle famously announcing that the floods were caused… Read more »

Cheryl Va.
Guest

“Obama-Biden are politically miles from McCain-Palin” The problem is that neither are miles apart from the establishment that condones and aids and abets the use of death squads (e.g. to skin Catholic nuns in El Salvador in the 1980s) or torture (to condone waterboarding as a torture technique in the 2000s). Obama and Clinton would have stood as a new moral high ground which America has not seen since Kennedy was killed. Now we have two teams with one “establishment” figure and one “innovator” on both sides. They played safe and in the process both sides, America and the world… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

I’m British, but have visited the US on many occasions, and I do think we need to remember that firstly, liberal Americans are every bit as patriotic and committed to the American way – but they stress different aspects of it – as one liberal Cape Cod Christian said to me ‘I love my country, just not my Government’ Second, that separation of powers does mean that it is very difficult for any part of the administration to do much that is too stupid before it gets tied up in another opposing part of the system Third, that America is… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“My guess is that, if Christian religious expression isn’t allowed to flourish, political Islam will take over as the main expressor of religious views on political matters sooner than many people imagine. Now that won’t be so easy to disrespect…”

Don’t be disingenuous, david. As long as the UK has an established church, with the sovereign as its head, no other religion has a chance.

stephen bates
Guest
stephen bates

Baby Blue: Billy Graham: refs pages: 215, 231-7, 241, 242, 255, 269. 272. Francis Schaeffer: 249, 269, 295. You misunderstand the book if you think it is a history or current review specifically of Episcopalian or evangelical Christianity in the US. There are plenty of books about that and, yes, Meacham’s book is referenced in mine, though Hedges’ was published too late for me to read it. As you will see, if indeed you do read my book, it is about the roots of American religiosity, its development and its effects on past and current cultural and political debates. And… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“The hysteria that surrounds anyone who is associated with expressing Christian ideas” Would that be the Christian idea that jailing people for five years for being nice to gay people is a “good compromise”, or that condemnation, insult and threat are good tools for Evangelism and anyone who challenges them is oppressing God’s faithful remnant, or that those whose faith is not narrow and legalistic have no faith at all? I’m pretty certain you aren’t making reference to the “hysteria” that arises from conservatives every time someone dares to bring up the idea that love of neighbour is the second… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Fr Ron-

‘scribes and pharisees’ doesn’t capture it. In various respects SPalin is absolute poles apart from the scribes:
(1) in terms of general joie de vivre (even to the extent of: if we must cull animals, let’s have fun doing it).
(2) in terms of positiveness: life, life, life.
(3) in terms of standing for personal liberties.

This notwithstanding my serious reservations expressed above.

Ford ELms
Guest
Ford ELms

“people we haven’t chosen, and whom we cannot remove” Gotta part ways with you on this. We didn’t choose, because we don’t choose, ideally. We ought to prayerfully listen for God’s choice when we elect a bishop. Might there be one of two things going on here? Either the Almighty gave the CofE poor leadership for a reason known only to Him, or perhaps people have fallen so much for the idea that we elect bishops like we elect politicians, God has decided that if we want to have our own way so bloody bad, He’ll let us choose who… Read more »

BillyD
Guest
BillyD

Don’t be disingenuous, david. As long as the UK has an established church, with the sovereign as its head, no other religion has a chance.

1. The UK doesn’t have an established Church; England does, and Scotland does, and it’s not the same Church.

2. What do you mean, “doesn’t have a chance”? Both RCs and Muslims seem to be flourishing in the UK from what I can see from this side of the Atlantic.

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

I’m now wondering if davidwh is related in any way to the David W that most of us are familiar with on other threads here at T.A.? One could almost guess that they were twins, with one of them being blessed with one more initial than the other. Anyway, neither is obviously from the bilical Davidic strand, which featured the early Patriarch who married the wife of one of his soldiers – after he had cohabited with her and had her husband sent into battle and killed so that he wouldn’t have to take the blame. No, no, of course… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Ford elms: “Either the Almighty gave the CofE poor leadership for a reason known only to Him…” I think you must be right, there. Perhaps it’s not sheer democracy in episcopal appointments that is important: but what is important, I think, is a degree of accountability; a sense that the bishop is there to be the servant of the diocese (rather than its feudal lord); a sense of transparency in the appointments process (the C of E currently operates by means of deals in smoke-filled rooms, rather than smoke-filled sanctuaries, one feels); a sense that the faithful, and indeed the… Read more »

Mary Clara
Guest
Mary Clara

Cheryl Va, I continue to be mystified by your judgments of US politics. Can you provide evidence that Joe Biden condones, aids or abets “the use of death squads (e.g. to skin Catholic nuns in El Salvador in the 1980s) or torture (to condone waterboarding as a torture technique in the 2000s)”? Can you show us how, over the course of his career, he has taken a lower road ethically than Hillary Clinton? For that matter, how much do you know about the actual record of the Kennedy administration, which you hold up as a standard? While many admirable initiatives… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“But it does seem that grace was allowed here to triumph over what might have been considered to be due penalty of the Law in those times.” Which shows that God uses whoever He wants to use when He wants to use a human being. I am reminded of the lines from the hymn for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul: “Thy power by ways mysterious, the wrath of man can bind; and in Thy boldest foeman, Thy chosen saint can find.” Fr. Mark, “it certainly wasn’t the model for the Early Church either, was it?” No, it… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

There is much more the the wide, diverse daily life textures and nuances of real USA religiosities, than even strict, clear doctrines express – including all the consevo weaponized iterations.

See: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1842179,00.html

This Baylor survey is the tip of the symbolic iceberg in USA religious life.

davidwh
Guest
davidwh

Father Ron, you aren’t being very generous to us!! If you think that it is somehow ungracious to insist that some people’s sexual desires or behaviours are sinful , I would suggest that you re-read what is written in the New Testament. I think that you are probably confusing being gracious to sinners with discussing what is (or isn’t) a sin!

davidwh
Guest
davidwh

“It is not a choice between christianity and islam, but secularism or religion, and the latter really does need to be reduced, permanently, to the private sphere.”

Merseymike: Your brand of “secularism” sounds amazingly like Stalin’s.. Rub out all religious freedom, while insisting that people are free to be religious, but only in private!

The honest name for that is Practical Atheism, not secularism.

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Davidwh: “If you think that it is somehow ungracious to insist that some people’s sexual desires or behaviours are sinful , I would suggest that you re-read what is written in the New Testament.” I think it would be more apposite to enquire into why some men so obviously enjoy pointing at other people and naming them sinners; and why they seem to do this so selectively. You don’t think that self-righteousness could be a worse sin for the individual than being in a committed loving relationship with another person; or that being judgemental, or perpetuating unjust discrimination and stigmatising… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“If you think that it is somehow ungracious to insist that some people’s sexual desires or behaviours are sinful , I would suggest that you re-read what is written in the New Testament.” I’m sorry if this sounds like name calling, but I’d like once again to point out that you (plural, as in “you conservatives”) are NOT merely insisting that some people’s sexual desires are sinful. You go on to add that people should have the right to refuse to do business with them or provide them services, indeed, that it is oppressive to be denied that right since… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
Guest
choirboyfromhell

Sorry you’ve not been getting enough attention lately DavidWh, but I just don’t see how loving another man is outrightly sinful. If that includes sex it fails the test. If it doesn’t include sex it’s not sinful.

Looks like somebody’s preoccupied with sex.

Austin Scott
Guest
Austin Scott

Cheryl VA: Kennedy? Moral high ground?

Bay of Pigs, mob mistresses, buying elections in Chicago?

Some myths refuse to die.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

DavidWh “Rub out all religious freedom, while insisting that people are free to be religious, but only in private!” What would you do? Which religion is to get special protection? Would you willingly comply with Sharia law because Muslim’s should be given the right to express their religion in all aspects of public life? Or should Jews be given the right to push through legislation that has the whole country eating kosher? Or is it only your brand of Christianity that is to have special powers? I personally would much rather not be ruled by consevo ideology and I’m grateful… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

You can be as religious as you want Davidwh, but you cannot and will not impose the mistaken and harmful teachings of your religion upon me.
I do not believe that contested matters should be governed by what any one religion says – that is why the appropriate place for religion is in the private sphere.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Rub out all religious freedom”

I don’t understand how you would think that allowing individuals freedom to practice or not practice religion as their consciences dictate is “rubbing out religious freedom”. Can you elaborate how allowing everyone the right to pray or not to pray is somehow an infringement of religious freedom?

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

Davidwh, Just to further confuse you – on the issue of what is, and what is not, a sin; consider the text of the Exultet sung at the Blessing of the Pachal Candle at the Easter Vigil: “Oh happy sin of Adam,… that gained us so great a Redeemer!” I guess if non-one was a sinner, then God would not have had to redeem us. Hence, Jesus may not have made an appearance on earth. Another thing about the business of what is, and what is not, a sin; is the fact that the Church Universal has discovered that certain… Read more »

Cheryl Va.
Guest

Austin Blushing here. Legitimate points. The problem is the Bay of Pigs did not end there – e.g. training death squads that skin Catholic nuns alive. Michael Moore reminds us that rigged elections have not ended. The financial melt-down in the US is tragic. What is more tragic is that the US does not have an answer for its own meltdowns, nor the violence against other countries. The war in Iraq has hurt incredible numbers of people, the sanctions against Iran have not “repented” the regime but merely made it harder for the citizens, Afghanistan is not resolved in part… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Fr Mark-

The issue of whether sin A is worse than sin B is irrelevant. If they are both bad we should do neither. Relative harm is irrelevant; only absolute harm is relevant. It is a bit like saying that it is fine to fly in an aeroplane that is 30% likely to crash because it is not the one that is 60% likely to crash.