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Book So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State by Church, Forrest (2008)


So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State by Church, Forrest (2008)

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  • Mariner Books (1900)
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Review Text

  • By Becca Bee on July 12, 2014

    This wasn't really what I was expecting. I thought it was going to focus on the story of how we got the Bill of Rights, but it's really a much broader study of religion in the early years of the Republic. I personally found it slow, dragged down with too much detail.

  • By Ralph S. English on February 23, 2013

    This text is required reading for a class I teach on the "Separation of Church and State" through SUNY Empire State.

  • By Jane Volchansky on October 30, 2015

    What would our founding fathers say if they were here now?

  • By jlidstrom on December 29, 2012

    Great read! Forest Church was a great writer of early American religious history and a great UU Pastor. He will be missed.

  • By Jorge I. Villanueva on September 24, 2014

    I started to read this book since it was interesting to me to know about religion and the foundation of the United States.However as I read , I was disappointed with the authors way of telling us about our founding fathers and religion.My opinion is that the author spends too much time and pages telling us about the personal life of Washington ,Adams etc but doesn't really address the discussions,controversies and problems facing religion in the nation.Is great to read about what people thought about God,Jesus and religions but the author doesn't give us a chance to see the controversies.The book has good aim but,in my opinion, is wastes too much information on unnecessary details rendering the book into an academic discussion with not much depth

  • By César González Rouco on December 16, 2007

    The subtitle describes pretty well the content of this book, which aims to describe the first great cultural war in American political history. Pursuant to the author, the ideals of liberty and order will coexist in tension as they have in the nation's womb from the beginning. In that line, he thinks that today's US Christian campaigners and their secular critics seem almost timid compared to the warring American dreamers and would-be saviours who battled for votes in the American early republic.What I like the most is the way F. Church, with a stroke of his pen, vividly depicts the first five American President's religious stands, often making interesting parallels between them . E.g.:Washington. Just how religious was George Washington? The short answer is: "Not very" . He had much of the principle, little of the sentiment of religion. He was more moral than pious.John Adams. The Protestant ethic was bred in his bone. He didn't think like a true believer but he felt like a true believer.Thomas Jefferson. If Adams was skeptical about almost everything, Jefferson worshiped just as doggedly at the altar of reason and progress. He was a fundamentalist of the left, inflexible in his fidelity to rational religion. However, as devoted as Jefferson was to church-state separation, religion and politics mixed freely in Washington throughout his administration.James Madison. Jefferson supported freedom of religion to protect the state from the church but also to free mind from the state while Madison sought to protect the state from the church by encouraging sectarian competition and seems to have been a reverent agnostic (in the gentlest sense of the word, i.e., "unknowing"), too modest to advance any claims of his own and respectful of the claims promoted by others.James Monroe. His moral and religious character is closer in almost every respect to Washington's than to those of his senior partners in the Republican troika, Jefferson and Madison. He was a Stoic, a Mason, secular to the bone, conservative by nature, and not interested enough in religion to bother being disrespectful toward anyone's cherished beliefs....A final insight Church garnered along the way is this: In America's early politics, religion, even when entered into the halls of government freely, wound up being manipulated for political gain. When church and state tucked into bed together, it was the church that ended up asking, "Will you respect me in the morning?", and the answer was almost always "No".So I recommend it, my rate being between 4 (content) and 4 (pleasure, sometimes falling to 3, sometimes raising to 5).Other books I would also recommend would be the following:On the US: a) Religious history (interpreted sociologically): "The Churching Of America, 1776-2005: Winners And Losers In Our Religious Economy" by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark; b) Political history (Democracy and its discontents): "The Rise of American Democracy. Jefferson to Lincoln" by Sean Wilentz.On religion (published this very Fall): a) "Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief" by Rodney Stark (apologetic, brilliant and controversial); b) "Secular Age" by Charles Taylor (a fascinating voluminous social and intellectual history); c) "How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now" by James L. Kugel (extremely scholarly and easy to read, a combination difficult to find).

  • By Barton Breen on December 11, 2007

    I was attracted to this book because of the Author and some prior experience I've had with other writings of his. The first book I reviewed here on Amazon was the Jefferson Bible with a forward by Forrest Church and I recall at the time being struck by the polarized reviews and voting patterns that I observed by those responding to that work and how much of it centered upon the importance of Jefferson's Bible and what it said about the religious views of that vital founding father and the original intent of the founders in terms of religion and its impact upon American society. I was struck at the time as to how easy it was for the different points of view to polarize with little middle ground and how focused the dissent was upon the point of view of the reviewer. It was almost as if their need to incorporate Jefferson or any Founding Father into their "camp" trumped objective history.I read this book after having done more study and reading in the field, and in particular I read the entire correspondance between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and I was particularly interested in how well what I gathered from that primary source would compare with this secondary interpretation. In fact, based upon my conclusions from reading Church's take on Adams and Jefferson I was determined that I'd have a pretty good base on what to conclude on his information related to Washington, Madison and Monroe as I am not as familiar with their religious and constitutional views despite having done some reading in this field in the past as well.My conclusion is that Church has a very good handle and makes a fair and reasonable presentation that to me rang true in those areas where I was equipped to make that observation.Church is a Unitarian/Universalist Minister and it might be easy to dismiss him on that basis as biased toward finding religion wherever he looks. I found him to be reasonable in his treatment of each of the men and willing to deal objectively with their personal and public faith and willing to accept that being human, they at times were inconsistent and at times willing to make compromises to promote their own political careers and cater to the necessities of the day where religion was prevalent and entangled in public policy.The only real complaint I have, and it is the basis for the 4 star evaluation rather than the 5 I would have given it if I could, is that although there are end notes that provide sources for the more serious reader to explore and check, the lack of in-text notation leaves the reader having to rely upon the author's judgment to a great degree. The emphasis is upon flow and readability and Church does a good job in this regard. I think people taking the time to read this focused a book are going to want to be able to see the sources without having to continually turn to the back to see if there is a source in the first place and then once located by page to determine where on the page the source is incorporated. Any serious reader wishing to use this book for resource or reference will find this a frustrating element.Worth the time and effort to read and reasonably objective in my opinion.Bart Breen

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