Each side seeks the imprimatur of the Founding Fathers and Meacham’s book renders judgment. The Founding Fathers occupied the “sensible center” of American life and promoted a non-sectarian public religiosity. There would be no coercion in American religious life but religion would influence public policy because it influences the men and women in this nation. From the Founding itself to Lincoln’s civil war to the Civil Rights movement, Meacham contends that the center holds. The thesis is as calm, moderate and ‘sensible’ as Meacham himself. Too bad then that this book is so insipid, dishonest and ugly it could make the easygoing agnostic long for the clerical bloodshed of the guillotine and your local Unitarian nostalgic for the rack and thumbscrews. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Michael has another great bit where he digs into Meacham’s treatment of American history:

The American history that Meacham presents is almost comically like the caricature conservative critics make of American history classes in public high school. It goes like this: The Founding fell short of its ideals because of slavery. Then slavery, slavery slavery. Then Lincoln was our greatest President and then Wilson was a great idealist, then the evil isolationists were defeated by F.D.R – then Martin Luther King happened – and don’t say a bad thing about any of them. In Meacham’s story they are all perfect exemplars of the American Gospel.

Michael’s tone here is perfect and appropriately serious, but the picture he gives of Meacham’s understanding of history also calls to mind a similarly sophisticated account of world history in the movie Airplane 2:

McCroskey: Jacobs, I want to know absolutely everything that’s happened up till now.

Jacobs: Well, let’s see. First the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. And then the Arabs came and they bought Mercedes Benzes.

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